Friday, July 08, 2016

A Police Officer Speaks Out - Will Others Join Her?

A couple of days ago, I promised a post that would contain two videos. It took longer than I expected to get working links for both videos, but here we go.

The first video comes from New York City radio station WQHT, known as Hot 97. On-air personality Peter Rosenberg was discussing the death of Alton Sterling when a police officer called in to comment. Rosenberg asked, "Tell me this: on the surface, as an officer yourself, it looks bad, no?"

The caller hesitated to respond, and Rosenberg responded to that hesitation:



Rosenberg articulated something that I have long believed: that the cases of officers killing unarmed and/or compliant citizens represent bad policing, and that police officers should be the first ones to say so, because such bad policing degrades the entire profession. These killings represent and illustrate defects in training and in culture in America's police departments that will not be cured until officers themselves demand it.

The so-called "blue wall of silence" must come down. For good cops to remain silent while some of their own violate the rights of those whom they are sworn to protect is immoral.

In every single one of the high-profile cases of citizen deaths at the hands of law enforcement over the past two years, the citizen has been Black (for the record, I believe that cases involving non-Black victims deserve more attention than they have received. I'll return to that subject in a future post.). So perhaps it was inevitable that in the first video that I have seen of a police officer calling out fellow officers, the officer speaking is Black.

Nakia Jones is a police officer in Warrensville Heights, a suburb of Cleveland. After viewing the video of Alton Sterling's death multiple times, she posted this video to Facebook. She speaks from her heart; please listen from yours:




I thank Officer Jones for speaking up as she has. Now I'm going to speak directly to rank and file members of police departments across the country. This is to officers who, like Officer Jones, experience anger and pain when they see fellow officers' misconduct result in citizen deaths.

America needs you to speak up.

At the very least, you need to go ahead and say that the death of Alton Sterling looks bad. But if, like Officer Jones, when you watch the video, you see murder, you need to say that it IS bad. You need to express your own anger and pain beyond whispering in your locker room, weeping in your bed, or whatever else you may be doing other than speaking boldly. Because whatever that is, it's not working. It's not working for America, and it's not working for you.

I know that it's a whole lot easier for me to say, "Speak up," than it is for you to do that. I accept that the blue wall of silence is real. I know that speaking boldly, not only for the preservation of citizens' rights, but for the betterment of your profession, could cost you. I know that some of your colleagues, and some of your superiors, may believe that from Eric Garner to Philando Castile, the slain citizens likely got what they deserved.

But I'm guessing that those people are a minority among police officers. If I'm right - if the majority of you agree with Officer Jones - then America needs to know that.

And if saying so results in any type of retaliations from your departments, America needs to know that, too, and to stand with you as you stand up.

You may feel that you, as an individual, are too small for your speaking up to matter. Perhaps you agree that something must be said, but believe that it should be said by someone higher up - a department chief, or even Chuck Canterbury, national president of the Fraternal Order of Police.

But America can't wait for them. America needs you to speak up, now. You, the good cops, can make this horrific week the turning point in how America does policing by bringing your insights, your integrity and your authenticity to our conversations about it.

I'm addressing myself to police officers, but I know that - initially at least - more civilians than officers will read this. So I'm asking each reader, civilian or officer, to join me in taking what may feel like a radical leap of trust. In writing this, I am trusting that there are more good cops than bad ones out there. So I'm asking my fellow civilians to join me in that trust, and in saying to those good cops, "If you speak up, we'll stand beside you - not just with good wishes but in whatever practical ways are needed." And I'm asking good cops to join together in trusting that there are more civilians for you than against you, and that if you speak up, we will stand with you.

If we, civilians and officers, do not do this together now, I believe that the mass killing of officers in Dallas will prove to be a starting point, as more Americans respond to the worst of police misconduct with terrorism.

Only good cops can tear down the wall of silence. America is waiting.
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