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Any Black-on-White officer-involved shootings?
When was the last time you heard outrage over the fact that a Black police officer, deputy sheriff, highway patrolman, or any other Black law-enforcement officer unjustifiably shot and killed a member of some White supremacist group (or any White person for that matter)? Yea, that’s what I thought. Calling attention to the rarity of such an event is not at all a subliminal suggestion that it should happen more often, if at all. But then comes the $64,000 question: Why does it rarely happen to them but happen so often to us? The answer is simple: racism. When law-enforcement agencies across the country accepted Blacks on the force, they were not allowed to arrest Whites. That restriction has evolved today into the de facto rule that says a Black officer better think twice before pulling the trigger on a White suspect. Take the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) for example.
“The first black officer joined the LAPD in 1886,” says the Los Angeles Times of July 13, 1998, “17 years after the department became a paid police force. Thirty years later, the first black female officer joined the agency. The number of black officers grew in relation to the burgeoning black population, particularly around the turn of the century.” Then comes the quiet revelation. “In those days, they were restricted to working in the black communities, first in the area that is known today as the Central Division and later in the Newton Division.” Translation? They couldn’t arrest White people. It was part of what I call “Colored Cop Conundrum,” the marginalization of Black peace officers. If a White man was committing a crime the Black officer had to call for a White officer to intervene. “In those days,” the article continues, “the downtown areas were sometimes referred to at the LAPD as the ‘ghetto divisions.’...Blacks only were partnered with each other; if one partner did not show up for work, the other was sent home.” The unwritten rule now is: You can arrest Whites, but you can’t shoot them.
Whites, in or out of the LAPD, are considered more important than Blacks. Sgt. Ronnie Cato, President (and “Minster of Truth”) of the Oscar Joel Bryant Foundation, an organization of predominantly Black officers within the LAPD, wrote in the latest issue of OJB Magazine (Volume I, Issue II, June ‘08): “Over the year, the Oscar Joel Bryant Foundation (OJB) has been making the case that African American employees have been discriminated against because of institutional racism on the Los Angeles Police Department. We have cited a number of cases where Black employees have been denied promotions, pay-grade advancements, and job opportunities that would have placed them in a position to improve their skills and to promote. But because of the unpopularity and the taboo nature of the subject of racism, OJB has been a lonely voice on this subject.
“In fact, the LAPD has never admitted to the racial divide that has polarized this department. There have also been many employees (Whites and Blacks) who have taken issue with the organization’s position on race, some claiming that there is no evidence of racism on the department. But of course, when we interview the average Black employee and they talk about their experience and innermost feelings of the LAPD, it doesn’t take long before you hear the deep despair in their voices, and see the sense of surrender and hopelessness in their eyes.
“In talking to our members, mostly African American, we found that at every level and in virtually every division in this department, there are Black employees with their own stories and experiences of racial prejudice. We have also found that even those who would publicly deny being victims of racism are crying inside and welcome the opportunity to quietly and privately share their experiences, but for fear of reprisal they internalize these feeling[s] and go along to get along. Indeed, the Black experience on this department has been very different from the White experience, and the effects have been devastating both personally and professionally for some Blacks; so severe that many have simply given up, surrendered their rights, while others are just waiting for an opportunity to quit or retire.” Sgt. Cato assures me there’s much more to be said.
Another “Color Cop Conundrum” is that when SWAT Police Officer Randal “Randy” Simmons, the very personification of bravery and dedication, gave his life in the line of duty on Thursday, February 7, 2008, he die for an organization whose initials “S.W.A.T.” (Special Weapons and Tactics) could easily stand for “Start With African (American) Targets” since the internal LAPD organization was the brainchild of Officer John Nelson and then inspector but future police chief Daryl Gates in 1965, the year of what was then called the Watts’ Riot. Why was SWAT created? “To deal with threats from organized factions such as the Black Panther Party and other radical groups operating during that time,” says one source. The Klan had been around for 100 years, yet, no one came up with “Stopping White American Terrorists.” This takes nothing away Randy Simmons, a hero and role model in ways too numerous to list here. Nor does it diminish the collective effort and outstanding sacrifice of both sworn and civilian Black LAPD employees. Calling attention to the conundrum highlights the unique challenge these employees face on the job and at home where the tentacles of deep rooted job inspired racism penetrate.
Is this just the experience of African Americans? “A report [in 2006] from Scotland Yard, headquarters for London’s Metropolitan Police, on race and marijuana arrests is leading to charges of racism,” says one source. “The report found that people from an African or Caribbean background made up 40% of all marijuana arrests in London, despite making up only 12% of the population. To make matters worse, once someone was stopped by police for violating the marijuana laws, he was more likely to be arrested if he was black.” Sounds familiar? Like the LAPD, Scotland Yard denies that racism is a factor. And like Ronnie Cato, George Rhoden, chairman of the Yard’s Black Police Association asserts: “It has got to be about racism. These figures show that racism plays a significant part in the way police deal with people of color.”
Down in Winnfield, Louisiana (about 40 miles northwest of Jena), White police officer Scott Nugent murdered Baron Pikes, a 21-year-old Black man, by what I call “electronic lynching.” Nugent tortured a handcuffed Pikes to death by tasering him nine times with 50,000 volts. Who was it that said the stun-gun was non-lethal force? Inglewood police officer Brian Ragan shot and killed Kevin Wicks last month and Michael Byoune earlier this year, and has apparently been involved in several other police shooting according to attorneys representing the Wicks family. Among other things these facts provoke is a series of questions:
How often do White-on-Black officer-involved shootings occur? What about Black-on-White? White-on-White? Black-on-Black? Black-on-Latino? White-on-Latino? Latino-on-Black? Latino-on-Latino? Latino-on-White? Are such records kept? These and other questions will be entertained in one of my September articles wherein I’ll also make a major announcement regarding Black officers from across the country. Stay tuned. Amen.
Word for the Week (or is it “Weak”?): conundrum: “A kind of riddle based upon some fanciful or fantastic resemblance between things quite unlike; a puzzling question, of which the answer is or involves a pun.”
Dr. Firpo Carr can be reached at 800.501.2713 or