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What it’s like to be a black cop, navigating two turbulent worlds

In 2017, Hahn became the first African-American Police Chief of the Sacramento Police Department. Although he understands the frustrations of the black community, the insults are hard to hear.

“I think it’s probably the hardest thing to have your own community, something you’ve been a part of since the day you were born…” has that perception, Hahn said.

But black policemen are also called in by others. Hahn recalls that during the protests, “young white children” approached them and called them “racial traitors.”

As black shootings continue to rock cities across America, debates over reform and what it means to dismantle the police continue, black officers find themselves navigating two worlds that are often at odds, and at times. even at war, with each other: Black and blue.

With police training programs under control after Derek Chauvin’s murder conviction, the Sacramento Police Department is using several high profile police killings against black Americans to train the next generation of officers to better anticipate and respond to high-risk encounters.

Under Hahn’s leadership, the department’s training techniques were largely shaped by the police murder of Stephon Clark, a 22-year-old black man, in the city in 2018. And graphic videos of recent fatal shootings by the police, including a 16-year-old. Ma’Khia Bryant in Columbus, Ohio, and Daunte Wright, 20, in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, serve as learning moments in the agency’s hands-on training.

Facing racism at work

De Lacy Davis remembers the moment vividly.

The New Jersey officer and another officer were patrolling the streets of East Orange when a black woman and her daughter accidentally fell in front of their police car.

The other officer, who was white, rolled down his window.

What the hell are you doing, you effin ‘ns?Davis remembers telling him, while censoring the racial insult.

Davis, who is black, is now retired from the force. But that moment some 30 years ago was just one of many times he realized how some of his white colleagues viewed his community.

“The ‘bad few apples’ theory is a theory which I think is postulated by my colleagues and politicians to downplay the impact of this racism which is ingrained in police culture,” Davis said.

They are aware of the deep divide

The chasm between cops and communities of color has always been deep – and it is getting deeper.

Black men are 2.5 times more likely to be killed by police than white men, according to a recent study. Black women are about 1.4 times more likely to be killed by police than white women.
And yet, only 27% of white officers believe the deaths of African Americans in clashes with police is a sign of a larger problem, according to a Pew survey. (57% of black officers think they are.)

Police brutality against blacks, Davis says, has not to become police culture; He always has summer police culture. Now he’s just filmed more.

He recognizes that not all cops are bad. But, he said, put two bad apples in a good bag, when you “check them next week, you’ll see you’ve got worms through all the apples.”

They came to accept it

It is this world that black officers must tread – a delicate balance of balancing allegiance and identity.

Retired LAPD Sergeant Cheryl Dorsey knows this all too well.

She worked as a patroller during the Los Angeles Riots of 1992, which began after four white officers were acquitted after beating a black man named Rodney King.

As a cop during these protests, Dorsey has been given many names. But she didn’t take it personally because “they don’t know Cheryl. They just know the uniform,” she said.

“I have never been torn apart. I can be a black woman and a police officer and do my job professionally because I have been trained, rely on my training and tactics so that I am not aggressive when it is not. necessary, ”says Dorsey, who wrote an autobiography titled“ Black and Blue, Creating a Social Advocate ”.

Davis knows it too.

He was called a “pig” among other names at protests, but must have understood that “it is not you personally that they are attacking. They are attacking the symbol you represent.”

They know where their loyalties lie

In the 1990s, Dorsey sat in court, testifying against a suspected criminal. But this suspect was not a civilian. Dorsey was testifying against one of her own brothers in blue.

A white officer has been accused of shooting and killing a black tow truck driver who failed to stop under his orders.

Dorsey said she knew the risks of reporting another officer. Just like in the military, the camaraderie and kinship between officers is strong.

But one way to mend this rift between cops and minorities is to resist abuse, says Dorsey.

What it’s like to be a black cop, navigating two turbulent worlds

“You have to decide who you want to be when you’re in that uniform as a black cop,” she says. “And I was clear who I was from day one.”

They know change is needed

Another way is to change perception by changing reality. If people in the community see the police as the enemy, it’s up to the police to show them otherwise, Davis says.

He started on his own by forming Black Cops Against Police Brutality in 1991. By being on both sides, he was able to champion police reform while proving to his black community that he was one. of them.

What it’s like to be a black cop, navigating two turbulent worlds

In 1995, Davis was invited to Paterson, New Jersey, after a 16-year-old black teenager died at the hands of a police officer. The city was out of breath.

“I promised them that when I was among them, I would come unarmed. There were times when it was extremely tense in the streets and they threatened to kill a black cop. However, I volunteered to be there, to support them ”. Davis said.

“When you take an oath to protect and serve the people, these are the risks you take.”

Some things change

This does not mean that things are not changing. Sergeant Rashun Drayton and Captain Sonia Pruitt are proof of that.

Drayton was the only black officer in the Santa Barbara Police Department when he began his career over 20 years ago. Now, he says, his department has employees of several races.

Pruitt, who is also president of the National Black Police Association, was the first black woman to be appointed captain of the Montgomery County Police Department in Maryland.

Yet police forces are generally whiter than the communities they serve.

“When you see a police force that is 90% white and they patrol a 100% black neighborhood and they don’t really know the people in the neighborhood, I don’t know how effective that can be,” says Drayton.

He says his ministry tries to meet regularly with community groups to talk about their experiences and how the police can better serve them.

Standard police policy will help, they say

Diversifying a police force and building trust with the community can take years. What needs to be done now is normalize police policy across the country, they say.

“There has to be a very consistent use of force policy across the country so that there can be no question of whether an officer used excessive force,” says Pruitt.

“There should also be a national database to track officers who have been accused of misconduct … so that they are not allowed to be hired elsewhere in the country.”

Davis became a police officer to finance his musical career as a percussionist.

Dorsey became a police officer because she was a single mother who needed a “high paying job with great benefits.”

Pruitt became a police officer because she wanted “to be released from an office”.

Drayton didn’t even want to join the force, but was recruited into the nightclub where he worked.

But when they did, their duty went beyond the police motto “protect and serve.” They had to push for change from within.

Because, they say, when you’re black, the color of your skin carries a responsibility that goes beyond the color of your uniform.

CNN’s Emma Tucker, Ryan Young and Julia Jones contributed to this report.


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