Dr. John L. Hudgins
Almost a month ago as I stopped for my morning 7/11 coffee in Baltimore County, Inoticed several young people sitting outside the store. As I got my coffee (actually chocolate) a Black woman police officer came in and had a brief discussion with the person behind the counter, an elderly White woman. As I was leaving, a young White male officer had joined the Black female officer and they were discussing trespassing with the youngsters. One young man was quite persistent with the questions; “What have I done? How am I trespassing? As the two officers attempted to explain the situation, another officer, a Black male corporal, arrived. He walked past the first two officers into the store, talked with the cashier and came out confronting the young people (actually two Black males and a White female). The first young man persisted with the questions. The Black male officer became agitated and said, “You need to get off the premises before I throw your ass in jail.” Next, he slammed the questioner against the wall, placed handcuffs on him and forced him into the back seat of his patrol car and drove away. The other two officers simply watched.
A few weeks ago a video was released showing a Baltimore City Police officer attacking a Black male at the corner of Greenmount and North avenues. Apparently there were some words between the officer and the male leaving a store. The officer appears to push past other officers and commenced to beating the man. This action was caught on the city police camera. The officer was a Black male.
A Baltimore County police officer in Randallstown chased down a young Black man who he thought had thrown rocks at his home and choked the young man to death. The officer was a Black male.
Earlier last year as his fellow officers watched and sought shelter, a Baltimore City Police officer shot and killed his girlfriend from an upstairs window as she pleaded for help. The officer was a Black male.
A few years ago as I left class at Coppin State University, an unmarked police car followed a young man in a jeep onto the campus. Two officers (plain clothes) were in the car, a White male and a Black male. The Black male, a rather large individual proceeds to almost pull the young man from the jeep and briefly searched it. He then called a Black woman officer to search the female passenger. Interestingly the White male officer stepped back and simply watched the whole occurrence. When apparently nothing was found the officers got into their cars and left. Word is the young man had come to campus to pick up his mother after class.
For the last few months our attention has been focused on the tragic, probably malicious shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. by a White police officer. We have noticed the many parallels across the country where White police officers have been brutal and homicidal especially toward Black males. Ironically if the police officer had been a Black male, most of us would not have heard of the shooting/homicide.
During slavery there were a few Black males who became overseers, a job normally reserved for poor Whites. These chosen Blacks were often as brutal if not more brutal than their White counterparts. They were apparently chosen for their strength, their obedience and their insensitivity to the suffering of other Blacks who also were enslaved.
During the twentieth century many police departments including Baltimore had desegregated by adding Black police officers. These officers were restricted to policing in the Black community and were not allowed to arrest Whites. My understanding is that in Baltimore they also were not even assigned patrol cars. This desegregation came in many cases after much protest and political action on the part of the Black community. The feeling at the time was that Black officers in police departments would be more sensitive and concerned about issues affecting the Black community including White police brutality against Black citizens. Because of this feeling the assumption was often made that Black police officers were generally better for the African-American community.
This history often gave Black police officers a pass when it came to issues involving police behavior in the African-American community. Thus the misbehavior by Black police officers was ignored by the White community (why should they care) and the Black community pretended that it did not happen. In time African Americans gained political control of many of the larger cities with Black mayors, Black City Council majorities and yes, Black police chiefs. In too many cases these advances meant very little in terms of police behavior in the rank and file, poor and working class Black communities. In many cities like Baltimore the police departments remained controlled by the White ranking officers even with a Black police chief. The Black police chief was almost symbolic as the majority White police department was controlled by the very White ranking officers. It is likely that some of these hierarchies encouraged and expected maximum application of force by Black police officers against the Black community. The Police color became “blue” and Black officers were expected to fall in line much like the Black overseers during slavery. This took place despite the rampant racism and discrimination they themselves experienced within these departments.
Today the African-American Community must demand fairness and civility not only from White police officers but all police officers. It is likely that a significant amount of the 5.7 million dollars paid in police brutality cases by the city of Baltimore involved Black police officers. Black police officers should no longer get a pass when it comes to abusive behaviors in the Black community. In true fashion, they rarely if ever commit such atrocities in the White community. If anything Black police officers should be held to a higher standard in providing protection for the Black community. The expectation to protect and to serve should not stop at White middle class neighborhoods. Black police officers should take the lead in providing high quality non abusive services to the communities of their families, relatives, church members, former classmates and fellow travelers in what continues to be an often very racist society. They should be an active part of the solution. They must not be a major part of the problem and be allowed to take shelter under the cover of their skin, a skin which they in too many instances demonstrate that they do not cherish and in some cases even hate. Obviously there are many good, professional, caring and concerned Black police officers everywhere. The thugs however should be sent packing away from inflicting harm and abuse in the African American Community.
Dr. John Hudgins is associate professor of sociology at Coppin State University.
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