Commentary: Black Officer’s Perspective on Ferguson

I just left a general session of the IACP Conference in Orlando. I was surprised to see several demonstrators had gotten into the Convention Center and were shouting, “Hands up, don’t shoot.” As an African American delegate, they took notice of me. As I walked past them, they changed their chants to, “Shame-shame-shame, whose side are you on?” I remembered hearing a similar chant as I watched protestors on television yelling at black police officers.

This made me think about the often-missing element in the national discourse in the aftermath of an incident with racial overtones. It is typically the questioning of the validity of community based policing in a particular locality. In reality, the missing element is the perspective of the black police officer. An experienced police officer understands 1) the application of force; 2) the training that officer receive; and 3) the fact that injustices can happen in society.

The story will usually begin with a video clip showing a police action. Often times the clip is of the police reaction. The clip of the events leading to that reaction is withheld. The public is asked to weigh in on whether the officer’s actions were proper or some violation of civil rights.

I sometimes think of it like me watching a video of a French Chef preparing a special dish and having to comment on whether he/she used the right spice to create the right effect. I certainly might hazard an opinion, but since French culinary cooking is not my profession, I would not be expected to provide expert testimony.

Yet, when the average citizen sees a portion of a tape or even an action in person, he/she may miss some important facts such as the presence of resistive tension or the dropping back of the strong side foot into a fighting stance. Many videos do not have audio so the public does not know what commands were given by law enforcement and if they were ignored. The use of force observed many look improper or even racist to an untrained civilian.

The other side of the coin is that a black police officer is also a citizen. When he/she if off duty and driving around in his/her personal car, the officer knows which communities have a lower tolerance for traffic violations and whether a particular action may have racial overtones. His/her unique perspective of being a trained law enforcement officer and a member of the black community gives him/her insight as to the effectiveness of the black community based policing in a particular locality.

It is interesting that as we rightly challenge agencies to increase their level of diversity within their ranks, certain protest groups will publicly yell at and harass black police officers. Is this a good recruitment tool to add additional minority police officers? Who would want to take a job on the local police force and then be asked, “Whose side are you on?”

There are times when an officer gets it wrong and breaks his/her department’s policies or even the law itself. These cases must be fairly investigated and the corrective action taken. When this is done in an appropriate fashion, employee morale will remain high and community support should remain.

It is clear that our nation is much divided. Some of our communities are really suffering. Maybe it is time to try something a little different.

How about bringing-willed clergy and law enforcement together to pray for each other, that our communities might be healed? Organizations such as the Fellowship of Christian Peace Officers-USA are encouraging police officers to meet in communities around the country to begin praying for our police departments and the community. This is probably the best next step to such a difficult social issue.

Randy Brashears is retired from the Baltimore County, Md. Police and a National Board Member of the Fellowship of Christian Peace Officers.