Because of all of the brouhaha that is continuing to swirl around policing of the citizenry around the country, something that recently happened that involves the Denver Police Department caught my attention. What happened was that Denver Police Chief Robert White called for his police officers to stand down when protesters defaced the Denver Police Departments Fallen Officer Memorial in front of the main police building located at 1331 Cherokee Street in Downtown Denver.
Although those responsible were later arrested and charged with a felony, this did not set well with many of these police officers and they made it known by calling for Chief White’s resignation. According to KUSA in Denver, the head of the police union spoke about the incident: “We will no longer follow him as we move forward” said Nick Rogers, president of the Police Protective Association. “He is not our chief.”
If these words sound eerily familiar, it may be because the head of the police union in New York made a similar statement about Mayor Bill de Blasio when NYPD police officers were offended by a decision that he made. Ultimately, some of them turned their backs on him when he appeared at public events. This kind of behavior is counterproductive to solving problems and must stop.
Issues with the police and how they deal with the citizenry is not just an issue in Denver, Colorado but it is a national issue. With the Erick Garner situation that occurred in New York and the Michael Brown situation that occurred in Missouri along with the problems that followed as a result of how those situations were handled, it is no wonder that the police chief in Denver would be extra sensitive when dealing with a potentially volatile situation.
The Denver Police Department has had problems in the past with lawsuits and claims of police brutality and it continues to have them now so Chief White likely did not want to call any unwanted attention to his Department.
And now, in light of articles in the Guardian covering allegations of the existence of a ‘black site’ run by the Chicago Police Department, it appears that Police Chief White might have been wise in his cautious approach and trying to deescalate and control the situation and prevent it from getting out of hand. In this alleged ‘black site’ American citizens are allegedly virtually kidnapped, held prisoner and interrogated by Chicago police while being deprived of their constitutional rights before being formally taken into custody and getting booked. If this proves to be true, there is something very scary and terribly wrong with this picture.
This is America and to deprive citizens of their Constitutional rights is not who we are. While one of the unions representing the largest police department in the country has cried foul and accused those of being police haters who say that police too often overstep their bounds and need to be subject to checks and balances like everyone else, visible instances of police brutality continue to occur. What is allegedly happening in Chicago would be off the chart and can only be made worse if management is lying when they deny it.
All police departments have been under the microscope lately as a result of the Erick Garner and Michael Brown cases and others like them. Likely as a result of public pressure brought about by protesters, both James Comey – the head of the FBI, and Police Commissioner Bill Bratton recently spoke out on the problem that exists between the police and people of color. Both said some things that were critical of the police that went far beyond anything that either Attorney General Erick Holder or Mayor Bill de Blasio had said and were praised for it. When Attorney General Holder and Mayor de Blasio said those things, they were severely criticized.
It is my opinion that Attorney General Holder was criticized because he is Black and Mayor de Blasio was criticized because he is married to a Black woman and they have a biracial son. The fact is that, although it should not, color does matter. But in this case – if there is such a thing, it matters for what might prove to be a good reason.
If having a powerful White person echo the words of a powerful Black person, or someone who is considered to be too closely tied to a Black person, is what it takes to get opposing sides to listen then sit down and have a reasonable conversation to solve a problem that has to be solved then I am all for it.
I am glad that FBI Director Comey and Commissioner Bratton had the courage to step forward and say what they said. I do not agree with Commissioner Bratton’s assessment that the problem in the NYPD is not systemic and that police officers in the Department have been unfairly accused of being overzealous but those are the kind of things that can be discussed and fixed.
I do not think that Commissioner Bratton’s determination should be a non-starter; however, I do believe that the perspective of those on each side of this issue needs to be validated by the opposing side in order to have a meaningful conversation with the potential of resulting in a successful conclusion.
During these discussions, it is okay for participants to be angry and fight (verbally) but both sides must fight fair just like people in a successful marriage fight fair (perhaps a poor example and one that a lot of you won’t like). But if there is to be any chance of success, I reiterate, participants have to fight fair! This is one of those situations where all of us must shed our blinders – whether they are color, ethnicity, religious belief, or any other prejudice that we may have and; in the words of Commissioner Bratton, “see each other.”
I have no doubt that all police officers feel bound to some degree by the so called blue code, code of blue or whatever it is called but I also have no doubt that they struggle with the black and white, or people of color and white, issue just like the rest of America does. I don’t profess to know how they can get beyond this situation but they must get beyond it.
Because of the nature of police officers’ job, they naturally form a close bond within their ranks and are at all times wary and vigilant of those outside of that bond. They do not allow themselves to become too trusting of anyone other than a fellow police officer.
They must always protect themselves because when they must enforce the law, by doing so, they can provoke anger and unacceptable behavior. There may be times when at a moment’s notice, they will have to take those people who they are laughing and interacting with into custody and this could create resistance from the person they are arresting and sometimes anger other members of that community. Those of us who are not police officers need to accept those parameters even if we find them hard to understand.
On the other hand, good police officers must stop using the blue code to protect bad ones regardless of what it is that those bad police officers have done. In addition, the culture of police management from the very top-level manager to the lowest level supervisor must be revisited and revamped in order to rid management of all of those who condone and perpetuate any type of behavior that is outside the law.
The ideal situation would be for the police and members of the communities that they serve and protect to somehow foster a mutual respect for each other and conduct themselves accordingly. The police should be able to do their job with the respect and support of those communities as long as they operate within the parameters of the law, treat all community members with dignity and respect, and enforce the law without bias. Unfortunately, that is not our current situation.
I once had the occasion to speak to a young Black man who had just had an encounter with the police in which he felt that he was treated with disrespect and loathing for no apparent reason. He said that he was treated that way simply because he is Black. And then after a short pause he added angrily, the police are just a gang with badges!
My encounter with that young man was a long time ago but his comment that “the police are just a gang with badges” stayed with me. It is important to me that our young Black men and other people of color do not see police in that light. But with all of the highly publicized negative things that are happening now with regard to the interaction between the police and people of color, it is not hard to understand why others like him might feel the same way.
The White experience and the Black experience with the police is not the same and America needs to fix that. The only way that this can be done is for all of us to first admit that this problem exists. Once we do that then the opposing sides can begin a conversation that can lead to a solution. I hope that as a result of Director Comey and Commissioner Bratton acknowledging that there is a problem and speaking out about it, that is what will happen.