If you’re looking for another race-baiting article about how ALL white cops are corrupt, you have come to the wrong place today, my friend.
Yes, we do indeed have a problem with institutional racism in many police departments across our nation — I won’t deny that fact. There is a genuine public health concern with the abuse of African Americans and people of color at the hands of law enforcement. If I were to reflect on the history of police brutality within our nation, it’s a bit of déjà vu, a never-ending vicious cycle of hatred. The most recent murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis was yet another reminder that we still have a lot more work to do within ourselves, our nation, and the communities we live and work in.
Today I want to share with you what it was like serving as a biracial policewoman in an all-white police department in the Midwest.
To accurately describe my experience, it makes sense to talk about how I got sucked into putting my life on the line in the first place! You see, I was probably the least likely person to jump at the idea of becoming a police officer. Why!? Because the cops harassed the kids in my community, the inner city of Northside Minneapolis. It was rough. But as fate would have it, a few Minneapolis Police Department recruiters came to my high school looking for women and minorities to join the force. It was an internship opportunity, but the program lost funding. One year after graduating from college, I joined the Brooklyn Center Police Department, in a suburb of Minneapolis. It was the year 2000, and I was at the tender age of 22.
My first week on the job was a fish-out-of-water experience. All that testosterone and brass — I didn’t think I was going to make it! The culture shock of working in a paramilitary environment was unreal. If you’re on time, you’re already late. There are no textbooks that offer up any real-life instructions on how to navigate a new career as a policewoman.
At first, it was hard for me to accept that I was the ONLY officer of color serving the city (more diversity came later). But hailing from a multicultural background, working alongside white cops was not intimidating. Being raised by a white mother and black father cultivated in me an acceptance of all cultures — or so I thought.
You see, I went into this job thinking I had life all figured out. Soon enough, what I thought I knew about people quickly became the catalyst in my acceptance of people’s differences.
Serving with my partners taught me a lot about interpersonal communication with a wide variety of people. I got to know my partners on a deeper level throughout the 911 calls we responded to over the years. Depending on the nature of the call, I would see how each officer handled themselves when dealing with a mostly inner-city community of color. How a police officer deals with people and situations says a lot about his or her character.
I remember being dispatched to a “baby not breathing” call at a daycare once. After the call, my male partner looked me in the eyes and asked: “How ya doing, kid?”. My partners saved my hide more times than once. Like the time I struggled with a bad guy who was reaching for a knife in his car. Out of nowhere like superman, my partner comes flying up in his squad to rescue me – it doesn’t get more heroic than that! The stories go on and on.
As a rookie, I noticed immediately that these police officers were different from what I was used to seeing. In the spirit of transparency, I’m quite sure that my background influenced any and all preconceived ideas of how white officers were supposed to behave. That is what I observed growing up. Instead, I witnessed men and women who served with integrity and accountability. Theirs was a partnership based on a good work ethic, and mutual respect with the community and their coworkers.
Why was the culture in this police department so different? One word — Leadership. Yes, it starts at the top. I served under three chiefs who all cared for the community and their officers.
It’s a shame how preconceived ideas about an entire race or culture can infect your whole outlook on life. A biased and prejudiced mindset is a dangerous way of life. If I had allowed my childhood experiences to keep me from connecting with my partners, I would have failed my assignment. Yes, we all had different backgrounds, and we had regular issues like most coworkers. But when you are responsible for your life and your partner’s, it creates a bond that surpasses the color of one’s skin. We all want to go home alive to our loved ones at the end of our shift. I can empathize with war veterans who share stories of survival — brothers of different skin colors. When you’re in the trenches, the only thing that matters is surviving to see your family again. I can understand this insight.
Perhaps most of us have, at one point in our lives, tasted the spoiled fruit of bias, prejudice or ignorance. The best way to tackle this disease is to get out of your bubble and get in the trenches with another brother or sister that may not look or speak like you. When your life is on the line, are you only willing to accept help from someone who looks like you? Every day we have an opportunity to become better people, to be more understanding of others and to embrace their differences.
The majority of the police officers I worked with were good people who served the community with dignity and respect. I refuse to give any shine to the bad apples; now is the time to share positive police stories. I was proud to have served with this department in the community where I grew up. I realize now after having retired early in 2009 that I may be an anomaly, and that many officers of color don’t share my experience. I’m pleased to say that I survived law enforcement because of the men and women who were willing to have my back as a woman of color with a badge. And they just so happened to be white. Character, integrity, bravery and service should be the only colors that flow through the veins of all police officers.