Picture this. An elderly woman is peering out of her living room window. She needs to go to the grocery store, so as always, she checks to see if it’s safe to leave the house.
She notices several young men hanging out on the sidewalk in front of her home. She’s seen them around before and believes these young men are selling drugs. They are making her nervous, and she is scared to go out to her car to drive to the store. The only thing she can do is call the police and ask for their help in moving these young men along.
The police respond, as we always do, and the officer asks the young men to move along. The young men are insulted and blame the purpose of the interaction on race. You see, the police officer is white, and the young men are black. They call the police officer a racist — a term the police are becoming used to hearing because of the frequency in which it is thrown around.
As it goes, the police officer has a decision to make. Does he explain that the woman in the house called the police because of their suspicious behavior, in an effort to dodge the racist comment? Or does he eat those words and move along, keeping the elderly woman’s call anonymous?
Of course, the officer chooses to keep the information to himself, keeping the woman’s identity a secret to keep her safe from potential retaliation.
What those young men don’t realize is that the elderly female the officer is trying to protect is also black. Would this information have changed their minds? Although the young men walk away believing that police approached them specifically because of their race, in reality, the officer is trying to protect the vulnerable and frightened that happen to share the same skin color as the young men. You see, men and women in uniform are willing to be berated with insults and have their integrity challenged for the greater good.
So why would those young men believe race has anything to do with the contact made? What 15 years of service as a police officer have shown me is that it’s due to the overwhelming amount of false narratives that come from local and national leaders. These false narratives skew perceptions which alter reality and change behavior.
Democratic Presidential Candidate Bernie Sanders was participating in the Presidential Justice Forum at Benedict College on October 26, 2019. A black student asked Sanders, “If I’m your son, what advice would you give me next time I’m pulled over by a police officer?”
Sanders’ responded, “I would respect what they are doing so that you don’t get shot in the back of the head.” This response, made in a throwaway fashion, furthers the idea that the police are commonly killing young black men execution-style. Not only is it not true, but it is also complete nonsense.
The same question was asked of former Vice President Joe Biden by a female student. His response, “If you were my daughter, you’d be a Caucasian girl, and you wouldn’t be pulled over.” I can assure you, Biden, white girls are pulled over frequently.
These comments are infuriating to police officers across the country. Not only does this generalization do no good in real-life situations, but it also perpetuates the idea of racial targeting by police officers, who are working to protect everyone. Remember, these are the elected officials we have placed into positions of leadership and power. With their position comes an incredible amount of influence, proven by the comments made by the young men on the corner.
These comments from presidential candidates fan the flames of racism in the criminal justice system. Now, when those young men on the corner see me, a white police officer approaching them, they don’t see me. They don’t see a hardworking officer set out to protect people; they see the uniform. A uniform draped in a cloak of false racist claims made by pandering politicians. It is indeed a sad situation on both sides. On the one hand, you have an undeserving police culture, and on the other, a demographic being told that police not only hate them but want to hurt them.
All the while, Sanders and Biden remain unaffected.