Learner’s Permit: Police Relations in the Black Community

I’m a millennial mayor. In fact, I’m the youngest millennial mayor in Braddock’s history. As a mayor, I get to break ties when the six person council can’t decide, make recommendations on projects and programs, bridge the communication gap between community and council, and last but not least I oversee a police department. This includes interviewing potential candidates for open officer positions.

I’m a black woman so I was raised to never call the police department unless it was life or death because otherwise that call could be the difference between life and death. My second memorable encounter with a police officer was me watching my older brother get thrown to the ground at a birthday party in front of the entire community. He was a teenager. He was arrested because he had an outstanding warrant. Oddly enough that warrant wasn’t for anything major but that day those police officers made impressions on not only me but the entire party that night. For some, that might have been their first encounter. My first encounter was opening the house door because someone was throwing rocks at the attic window. Upon opening door it was discovered that it was indeed the police and they came to arrest a family member. I was in awe. I didn’t understand and before I could reach eighteen I had more negative encounters with a police officer than I did positive and I knew my white counterparts didn’t have police community relations as soon as they were old enough to have a learner’s permit but I continued to smile.

Learner's Permit: Police Relations in the Black CommunitySomehow, I’m an optimist. We may not have had money growing up but I had love. If love was currency I would be living somewhere in a mansion sipping mojitos poolside. I’m okay that I’m not. But I digress. After seeing so many terrible encounters with police officers before eighteen and being ingrained to not call the police unless it’s life or death I still manage to not hold the things I’ve seen against the people who didn’t do anything to me.

The saying about a few bad apples isn’t true. I oversee some amazing people who do extraordinary things in such a small community with a tiny budget. Just the other day someone complimented the police department for their response to a house fire. An officer’s first instinct was to make sure everyone was okay. The same officer got a compliment when she arrived at a house disturbance and that person needed to feel safe. It’s not to say that we don’t get some complaints as we do. I write up officers when things go awry. I know one bad encounter with a resident could crumble all the hard work that they do and that’s the last thing my community needs. That trust is so hard to build and so easy to crumble.

I read the news every morning and every other month there’s a story of a black man being gunned down because his skin color is intimidating and I want to cry. I will never get used to it. I don’t have any children and I couldn’t imagine the pain a mother goes through discovering her child was killed by the people sworn to protect him/her. This is only happening in America. People looking from the outside in are appalled. People looking from the inside counter the argument by asking, “what about black on black crime,” when no one ever questions, “what about white on white crime.”

Learner's Permit: Police Relations in the Black Community

We protest and protest and we cry and it’s as if the cards are stacked against us. I can’t turn my back on my community and I refuse to turn my back on the police department because a community can’t run effectively and smoothly without a safety department. I’m currently in the midst of putting together a very unbiased resident led civil service commission. I want them to have a voice in what goes on within the police department in their community. I have another year left of this millennial mayor thing and if I can change one kid’s impression of what and who police officers are, I’ll feel like this was all worth it.

I was pulled over in January and even as a mayor I replayed all the things my parents ingrained in me when I got the talk. “Speak clearly, make eye contact, don’t look nervous, keep your hands where they can see them, don’t be intimidating (I don’t know what that means as I’m 5’5” and petite but I’ve seen how this plays out), don’t say too much, don’t say too little just take your ticket and go.” I would have rather been sliding on ice as I have more control in the situation sliding on ice. I’ve slid on ice way more than I’ve been pulled over by the police and neither are very often. Together I can count on one hand. Black people shouldn’t be praying on blizzards to save them when police officers take oaths to protect and serve. Until we find some way to bridge that communication gap we’ll be stuck where we’re at.

First, it’s time for everyone to stand up to injustices as we’re obviously getting nowhere if it’s justice for some. Everyone should be held accountable and to the same standards and justice system. Secondly, we need police review boards in all communities. Police review boards create accountability and a trail. This way we can avoid dealing with the next Michael Rosfeld who allegedly had previously been let go from his last police job and applied for another. It’s up to the police departments to seek out previous employers and disciplinary issues never make it to the next employer. Good government is about checks and balances and justice is definitely unbalanced in black communities all over the country.

“We know the problem, we know the solution, it’s almost as everyone is blind to how we get there but not blind to the biases in the black communities.”

*I’m an optimist so I refuse to be anti-police and I cannot turn a blind eye to biases. I’m blessed to live in a community where I feel like the trust in the community and the police department is there. I interview officers and I ask them if they understand and comprehend the repercussions of putting a person in handcuffs. I don’t care how long they’ve been an officer but I ask them why they do what they do. A person’s purpose and motivation is what I want to know and understand.

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