I’m not going to recap the case because just about everyone on the planet has probably heard about it by now. In fact, I’m barely going to talk about it at all because it’s a tragedy that touches some very raw nerves. What I am going to address is LZ Granderson’s opinion piece on CNN entitled “Why black people don’t trust the police.” In his commentary, Granderson states his experiences with the police, including being handcuffed and harrassed by police for no reason, and generally makes the sweeping statement that blacks don’t like police. I respect Mr. Granderson’s work and opinions, and I understand that he wasn’t attempting to speak for everyone, but I want to point out that there are a lot of us that do like the police.
In my case, I’m a little biased. Although I grew up in and currently live within the city limits of the city of Detroit, my father was a police officer, my mother worked at the Detroit House of Corrections, an uncle was employed as an officer with the Wayne County sheriff, and my sister is currently an active duty sergeant with the Detroit Police Department. When I was a child, our house had been broken into a number of times, the thieves were never caught. Back in the 80s, a neighbor next door was shot while sitting in his living room because of something his grandson had done. I witnessed a drive-by shooting at the corner of my block in the early 90s, in which — thankfully — no one was apparently injured. I remember the Malice Green and Rodney King incidents clearly, as well as the whole O.J. Simpson affair. A young woman was accidentally killed by a handgun by her boyfriend just a year or so ago on my block a few houses down the street. And less than two weeks ago, a woman apparently defending herself from her boyfriend shot and wounded him across the street.
I’ve seen crime and I’ve seen law enforcement.
What I have never seen is a police officer pull me, my family members or friends over for no reason. I have no tales of my black friends and family being unjustly accused of anything, either while I lived 29 of my 40 years in Detroit, or when I lived in various parts of California. I have lived in fear of being accused of breaking some law some where but have never actually experienced it. I have walked through predominantly white neighborhoods in California late at night by myself, where I could easily be considered a suspicious individual and I’ve driven around all parts of the Detroit area late at night, but never once have I been stopped and investigated beyond a speeding violation or a car accident. Even when I’ve been pulled over, without having car insurance, I was not taken out of my vehicle, searched, or had my identity checked for outstanding warrants. And believe me, my connections to law enforcement agencies haven’t had anything to do with this “fair” treatment.
There’s been a long standing fear in the black community that police officers are out to get black people. Some of that was reinforced by historical and suspected infiltration of the law enforcement agencies by members of the Ku Klux Klan decades ago, not to mention the struggles during the civil rights movement during the 50s and 60s. This fear has lingered, sometimes rightfully, sometimes not for decades. We tend to forget that there are a substantial number of black people working as police, sheriffs and deputies, FBI agents, secret service, Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents and other law enforcement roles around the country. Blacks are just as much a part of the system that we supposedly don’t fear as non-blacks are.
I’m not going to say that black law enforcement agents don’t cause as many problems as white law enforcement agents sometimes do, or that they’re any more or less racist or difficult to deal with than any others, but the bottom line as I’ve seen it over the years is that enforcement officers are generally looking out for the best interests of everyone. We can’t forget that these officers are people too; they make mistakes and have bad days just like the rest of us. They sometimes hate their jobs, wish they could afford a better lifestyle, send their children to military school to keep them out of trouble, and wish there was more they could do to make their cities safer than they really are. They’re our neighbors, our friends, our families, the nice guys that let us have a parking spot, and occasionally the pains in the ass that cut us off on the freeway. What they aren’t, in the same sweeping generalization that Mr. Granderson used, is out to get us.
Getting back to the Trayvon Martin case, I’m really sorry that the boy was placed in the situation that he was, and that he died for no reason. I’m sorry that it took his death to bring a spotlight to that law, and make us question how its good intentions can be so woefully abused. But we can’t forget that the confessed shooter, whether we was right or wrong, murderer or not, is not a part of the local law enforcement community. We don’t know how his own injuries were sustained, but George Zimmerman did not work for the police department, and the officers on the scene did make some assumptions based on his injuries and statement that seemed to validate the local law. I’m not going to attack those officers for doing their job; they accumulated the statements and evidence as they saw it. They were not privy to the information the 911 calls gave the dispatchers. They could only see what looked like a man defending himself from an attacker. The officers responding to the scene, based on information they acquired from the shooter and his condition, made the only reasonable assumptions they could at the time: Zimmerman looked like the victim, not the attacker. It was and is up to the detectives that work the case at a later time to determine what really happened. With all the evidence that has come out as they worked the case, the evidence that has built the picture we’re now examining: it’s clear that Zimmerman should have been arrested. But that’s the advantage of 20/20 hindsight.
Should we — blacks, whites, Latinos, or Asians — trust the police? Only as much and as little as we trust anyone else. The police may be there to protect us, which generally means we should trust them, but they’re made of people. You should be questioning whether you trust people more than you should be questioning whether you trust the police.