It’s fair to say black men are distrustful of law enforcement, and for valid reasons. But should they be fearful, too?
Last week, as I was preparing for a live broadcast, I conducted informal interviews with black men to see how they truly feel about law enforcement and whether they believe black men in general should fear the police.
My personal feelings about the issue, which are connected to how I was raised –I never had the talk of how to survive a police interaction with my parents – are that of conflict, because I’ve never been stopped-and-frisked and I”ve never really had a bad encounter with law enforcement, but I know those who have and I’m aware of both the studies that highlight the inherent racial bias of white officers and the disproportionate rate at which black bodies are disposed of by police violence.
When I visited with my barber, a black father nearing fifty, we talked about this issue at length.
“Police are people, too. They want to do their jobs and get home safely,” he tells me, informing me that out of all his encounters with police – which were mostly traffic stops for speeding, and they were valid stops – only a few of them involved arrogant, pompous police officers who got their rocks off by intimidating others.
When I asked if he was fearful of police, he replied: “No.” If you’re doing criminal sh*t, he added, then yes, you should be fearful of law enforcement coming after you.
I tend to disagree with my barber on politics, but on the issue of black men fearing the police, I agree with him, for the most part. While I think its fair to say that community and police relations have a far way to go before it resembles any sort of an utopian existence – the police don’t trust black men and black men don’t trust police – I don’t think black men in general should live in constant fear of law enforcement, though I certainly can understand why most do – and the trauma that under girds it – and the “breaking news” stories of unarmed black men being shot/kill don’t help ease the anxiety.
Attorney General Eric Holder said something similar to my stance in a recent interview with Joy Ann-Reid.
“I don’t think that they (black and brown men and boys) should fear the police,” he said, “but I certainly think that we have to build up a better relationship between young people, people of color, and people in law enforcement. There’s distrust that exists on both sides.”
My friend, Mr. Greg Brinkley, a former correctional officer, disagrees unequivocally with Mr. Holder – and I guess, me, too, since I’m leaning towards more of fair and accurate stance on the issue, instead of a positive or negative assessment.
“Anybody who can seriously say, with a straight face, that black men aren’t fearful of the police doesn’t have their pulse on the black community,” Mr. Brinkley asserted, adding “we feel targeted,” he added.
Beyond disagreeing with Mr. Holder, Mr. Brinkley actually thinks the outgoing attorney general should be held accountable in some of the cases of fatal police violence against unarmed citizens.
“You always hear the justice department say they’re investigating these cases, but you never hear of a prosecution,” he states.
And while on the subject of the United States Department of Justice, Mr. Brinkley, a lifelong Philadelphian who used to run the local chapter of the National Action Network, questioned whether the appointment of Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey would comprise the justice department’s current investigation into the Philadelphia Police Department’s use of force and fatal officer-involved shootings, of which four occurred in 2014.
With a cast on his foot, Mr. Brinkley testified at City Hall during the hearing, and, like others, expounded on their reasons for being fearful of law enforcement. But unlike those who speak out against police violence, Mr. Brinkley doesn’t preface his statements by acknowledging most cops are good.
“I’m glad there are good cops on the street… that’s what we pay them for. If I can criticize the Mayor of Philadelphia, than I can criticize the police without an apologetic tone. I’m not going to praise you because you’re not out there acting like an a*shole,” he tells me during our more than two hour conversation on Wednesday evening.
Mr. Brinkley knows the difference between good policing and harassment, though he also knows calling the police is like buying a box of chocolate: “you never know what you’re going to get,” he says.
My heroes are firefighters, he tells me, “I love to see them coming… they’re the real heroes.”
As far as Mr. Holder is concerned – and anyone for that matter who disagrees with the idea that black men should fear the police – Mr. Brinkley says show me a reason why I shouldn’t be afraid, and “I’ll show you reasons why I should be.”
Thanks for reading. Until next time, I’m Flood the Drummer® & I’m Drumming for JUSTICE!™