From day one, all I have ever wanted to do is help. But I was unprepared for the immense complexity that came with that simple goal.
A black policeman can at times feel like a slave serving two masters, particularly when he is policing a predominantly Black community. On one hand, he is sworn to uphold and enforce the law, as expected by the department that employs him and the government agencies he represents. On the other, he is asked to offer leniency to the brothers and sisters, because “the game is rigged” and we don’t want to ruin the lives of young African Americans by “putting them into the system” at an early age.
To paraphrase what Samuel L. Jackson’s character said in the remake of the movie “Shaft,” sometimes I’m too Black for the badge, and sometimes I’m too blue for the brothers. I’ve been trapped in the middle for two decades.
Now, within the pages of this newspaper, I’m being asked by activists to step up and stamp out the oppression and inherent racism that is crushing the African-American community. To that, I can only say this: I’m doing the best I can. But I can’t do it alone. I need you, the citizens and activists, to help me.
It’s easy to point a finger at one agency or aspect of society and declare them the reason for that society’s failure. But the truth is much more complex, and everyone knows it. If we are to stamp out the wrongdoing of police officers in Black communities, we must first acknowledge that the cause of these horrible incidents is part of a cycle.
A lack of education, resources and opportunity lead to desperation. Desperation leads to crime. Crime leads to increased police presence. And increased police presence leads to potential abuse. All of these aspects must be addressed for the cycle to be broken.
Yes, there are a disproportionate number of Blacks in our prison system. But that disproportion is also represented on my police radio every day. Shootings, cuttings, assaults, robberies, burglaries … far too often, the dispatcher’s description of the wanted subject starts the same way: “Black male.”
If we know the game is rigged, isn’t the first, most sensible option to not play the game in the first place? The best way to avoid being stuck in the system is to not be part of it, period. We must educate and teach our black youth – particularly young men – to do more productive, legitimate things with their lives. And they must want to hear us, which can be a Herculean task in and of itself
The Black Lives Matter movement, while certainly well-intended, is horribly myopic. If Black lives truly matter (and I believe they do), then all Black lives must matter all the time, and not just when a police officer is involved! The movement should be ready to protest any and all senseless violence in the community, regardless of who is involved. Only then can we truly get to the most important roots of the issue, and work together to make things better.
When you encounter me on the job, you will be treated respectfully and fairly, regardless of what you look like or where you live. Even if you are arrested, I will do my utmost to treat you as respectfully as possible. As a field training officer, I teach rookie officers to do the same thing. Hopefully, that will help to make a difference. I work with numerous other black officers in a racially diverse district. We each go out of our way to treat every person we encounter the same.
I’ve been told by more than one activist that I can do my part to root out the corruption I see. There’s only one problem: It doesn’t happen around me. In two decades, I’ve earned a reputation for doing things the right way. As such, any officer looking to do something shady knows better than to do it with me around. I’m not going to prison for anybody! The outcry from the community would also hold more weight if the people making demands of me didn’t adhere to the “stop snitching” code, or if they offered up something more than silence during an investigation.
The time for speeches is done. It is, indeed, time to act. We must emphasize healing over hyperbole. We must stress rationality over rhetoric. We must focus on solutions instead of slogans. And we must do it together.
Cedrix Hendrix is a patrol officer in District 2 in the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department. He has worked in all three patrol divisions within the department over two decades.