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Last year I watched two childhood friends have a series of online debates over police brutality. One of my friends is a black police officer. The other, also black, has been very outspoken on the subject. For instance, that friend accused our police officer friend of having been "brainwashed," and of doing "the white man's work," as he put it.
The double consciousness black police officers sometimes face isn't talked about much. Black police officers often have dual loyalty. On one hand, they have an allegiance to the culture they grew up in. On the other hand, they swore an oath to serve and protect. Also, there's the checkered history between the black community and law enforcement we've seen play out in real time.
I reached out to some black Chicago police officers to get their take on recent events. Three male officers I'm calling Foley, Tubbs, and Shelton agreed to speak with me on the condition I keep their real names and ranks out of the story.
Evan Moore: Did your experience growing up black in Chicago factor into you becoming a police officer?
Foley: As a kid my friends and I met a black juvenile officer that came and talked to us one day while we were playing basketball. We had a ton of questions for him about becoming a cop. It was my first interaction with a black police officer and it left a positive impression. I wanted to be like him when I grew up.
Shelton: Actually, when I was younger I wanted to be CFD [Chicago Fire Department]. But growing up, I idolized Action Jackson and the Miami Vice guys. [Laughs]
What was your reaction to the Laquan McDonald footage?
Shelton: Literally—oh shit!
Foley: I was shocked and in disbelief. When you shoot someone 16 times, and the first two shots stop his actions and he is no longer a threat, you are trying to kill him.
Tubbs: He [officer Jason Van Dyke] is fucked and he's a piece of shit. That was not a bad shoot—[Van Dyke] executed him.
What's your take on the protests?
Foley: I see why they're happening and understand the issues at hand, but the organizers and protesters themselves really need to be vetted to be taken seriously. Black people feel they don't have a voice, so they take to the streets and try to force the powers that be to listen to their voice by marching on Michigan Ave and disrupting the one thing that the powers that be don't want disrupted—money. It's a form of bullying, and I don't agree with it, but I understand it.
Tubbs: I believe the protests are a positive thing. I just wish this amount of energy was spent on fixing other issues, which I personally believe are much more prevalent.
Shelton: They are doing their thing. I don't know what's going to come from it. I like the little guy, Lamon Reccord [the teenage activist who stares at police officers during protests]. Good kid. I just wish he give that same stare into the eyes of the guys doing the killings in the hood. [Laughs]
Is Black Lives Matter a hinderance to policing?
Foley: It's not about that. But most cops look at it as a threat and counteract with "blue lives matter" or "all lives matter." White cops just don't understand what it is to be black and live under the veil that all people are treated equally when is it is far from true. We hire cops that just don't give a fuck about the communities—they want the action and the thrill of the hunt.
Shelton: BLM is a good movement but they are targeting the wrong issues.
Have you ever seen a coworker post something racially charged on social media?
Foley: Yes, it happens often. I'm not Facebook friends with any racists that I know of, but I have seen prejudicial posts that have definitely made me look at people differently.
Shelton: Yes, I have seen some. Plus, we as black people have to really ask ourselves, "Is it racist or is it the horrible unspoken truth?"
Do you feel that black officers are punished more severely than white officers for similar infractions?
Foley: I'll say this: as a black officer I've had to work twice as hard to get half the recognition or benefits that my white colleagues have gotten. It varies from department to department but generally this is a predominantly white profession, and I knew the score going in.
Shelton: I honestly do not know, because I've seen all races get fired with no hesitation on various issues. However, we as blacks don't have much string to hang from, so we may get it quicker than others.
Do black police officers confide in one another when things happen on the job?
Tubbs: Loyalties are more often drawn on what department, unit, or specialty you belong to. A black officer assigned to narcotics is more likely to trust a white officer from narcotics than he is a black officer assigned to a traffic unit.
Is there a fear amongst black police officers when going to superiors about racism?
Foley: Not a fear, but you better have your facts and hard-core evidence—video, audio, latent fingerprints, written testimony, DNA, affidavits, etc, before they even take you seriously. The burden of proof for racism is greater than it is for treason. That's an exaggeration, but you get the jist of what I'm saying. There is a high level of denial.
Shelton: No, because there's thousands of ways to go about it.
Do you think the "militarization" of the police has come at the expense of the officers who walk the beat?
Shelton: No, because when we have a mass shooting, the people will thank us. Plus the gangs are militarized. I've seen weapons the gangs carry. They look like they robbed an armory.
Foley: I think some departments have misallocated how this equipment is used/deployed and this misallocation has been polarized by some media and politicians with an agenda. And it has come at the expense of the officer on the beat.
Would you recommend the job if someone you knew was interested?
Foley: Sadly, no. They'd have to really understand what they're getting themselves into and be mentally prepared for it.
Shelton: Yes, a thousand times, even if they are not interested. I wasn't interested, but then ten years later, boom, here I am.
Tubbs: Right now, no.
What can the police do to rebuild trust with the community?
Foley: Start actually caring about the community. It will take time, but it's like a girlfriend you cheated on and want to win her trust back because you actually care. It will take time, and you have to earn it by your actions and behavior. And she has to believe it.
Shelton: Probably nothing, because the community will always feel some kind of way. Can't make everyone happy. When body cameras come, the community will most definitely hate the police. [Laughs]