The Line Between Black and Blue

The execution of New York police officers, Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos, came at a politically expeditious time. This will bring no comfort to their families, even if it gives PBA boss Pat Lynch an excuse to blame Mayor Bill de Blasio, protesters, for the war about to come.

But another story, a tale of an internal rift between black police officers and their lighter skinned brothers, suggests that having a shield isn’t enough to protect them.  So if there’s a war, which side are they on?

Reuters interviewed 25 African American male officers on the NYPD, 15 of whom are retired and 10 of whom are still serving. All but one said that, when off duty and out of uniform, they had been victims of racial profiling, which refers to using race or ethnicity as grounds for suspecting someone of having committed a crime.

The officers said this included being pulled over for no reason, having their heads slammed against their cars, getting guns brandished in their faces, being thrown into prison vans and experiencing stop and frisks while shopping. The majority of the officers said they had been pulled over multiple times while driving. Five had had guns pulled on them.

There is a perpetual curiosity.  In the aftermath of Michael Brown’s killing in Ferguson, one of the significant issues raised was the racial composition of the community as compared with that of the police force. Hint: one was whiter than the other.  Implicit in this distinction is that if the police better reflected the racial makeup of the people it served, it would be more sensitive. Or to put it another way, it would be less violent and oppressive.

Says who?  We have a seat on the Supreme Court of the United States in which a black man sits in black robes. How’s that worked out for you?  What makes us think that race, gender, religion, or your immutable characteristic of choice, means that someone else is on the same team as everyone else who shares that characteristic?

It’s not as if the black officers in New York didn’t get what was happening to them when they weren’t in uniform. They got it.

The black officers interviewed said they had been racially profiled by white officers exclusively, and about one third said they made some form of complaint to a supervisor.

All but one said their supervisors either dismissed the complaints or retaliated against them by denying them overtime, choice assignments, or promotions. The remaining officers who made no complaints said they refrained from doing so either because they feared retribution or because they saw racial profiling as part of the system.

Worse still, sometimes, they don’t get the opportunity to complain about their treatment, because they die from a cop’s bullet just like anyone else.

John Jay professor Delores Jones-Brown cited a 2010 New York State Task Force report on police-on-police shootings – the first such inquiry of its kind – that found that in the previous 15 years, officers of color had suffered the highest fatalities in encounters with police officers who mistook them for criminals.

Does this mean that black police officers are less inclined to treat blacks harshly?  There is no basis for such an assumption.  Sure, it makes intuitive sense, but where is the empirical data to suggest that black cops are more black and less cop?

An alternative possibility, indeed a likelihood, is that when a black person puts on a uniform, he’s more blue than black.  That shield distinguishes him from those who share a skin color, and it’s a much closer tie.  It also serves to make him far safer, far more immune, from the vicissitudes of an unpleasant life that he might otherwise have to endure without a shield.  Would you rather be the guy with the power or the guy without it?

It’s possible, however, that the killings of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice and Akai Gurley, all creating a degree of introspection, are somehow finding their way into the consciousness of black police officers, raising an awareness that as much as they are on the blue team when they wear the shield, they are on the black team the rest of the time. As are their spouses, their children, who only get the benefit of being related to a blue team member.

At an ale house in Williamsburg, Brooklyn last week, a group of black police officers from across the city gathered for the beer and chicken wing special. They discussed how the officers involved in the Garner incident could have tried harder to talk down an upset Garner, or sprayed mace in his face, or forced him to the ground without using a chokehold. They all agreed his death was avoidable.

Said one officer from the 106th Precinct in Queens, “That could have been any one of us.”

Damn right, that could have been any of us.  While guys like Lynch use these deaths as an opportunity to build the wall between cops and non-cops higher, thicker, more impenetrable, maybe the time has finally come when black cops come to the realization that they can’t hide behind the shield to deny their race, and the treatment received at the hands of the police.

For years, I’ve argued that the shift needed to end police misconduct and abuse is cultural, and cultural changes must come from within.  The problem has long been that there was no impetus for internal change, with cops enjoying their privilege, with no one questioning or challenging that privilege, and with no consequence for abusing that privilege.

Maybe there will be a crack in the blue wall this time.  Maybe it will come from cops who realize they are just as much black as blue.  Maybe there are even some white cops who aren’t so self-serving as to not care who they kill in the process.


7 thoughts on “The Line Between Black and Blue

  1. Anne Krone

    But this is not new, and yet so many are always surprised when they discover that character, culture, ethics, taste,”inherent criminality”, or what have you, don’t actually reside in your genitalia, job description, or skin pigment. Assuming that that is true because someone who is making money from your assumption has told you they do can lead to a whole special world of butthurt.

  2. John Barleycorn

    You can be so optimistically orderly with your hopeful, at times, that it is nearly enough to brush aside a few million metric shit-tons of “cultural” work that has been being flagrantly ignored if not long past sacrificed on the alter of taxable income defining ones “culture”.

    Relax have another drink, no problems, in no time at all black officers will be convincing their white peers that perhaps its time to remove the top few layers of the blue wall in an orderly fashion?

    I can almost see the unity scaffolding being erected right now on the citizens side of the blue wall. Any day now brave police officers will be handing down individual bricks to their fellow officers perched on the scaffolding. One by one the bricks making their way down to the cheerful “citizens” on the street to be passed one by one, hand to hand, for twenty blocks where new memorials will be constructed in parks across the nation.

    Or was your “crack in the blue wall” analogy insinuating that the current “cultural wrecking balls” of frustration with the “first rule” may knock a few bricks loose and the chunks of mortar that fall into the police camp side of the wall will become the perfect conversation pieces for black officers to explain to their white peers why the BLACK PEOPLE are a little upset. WTF?!

    Heck…if some combination of that doesn’t work out for you how about a bunch of suburban Quakers from the Midwest organize some cultural officer exchange programs and the officers from the Bronx and St. Louis can trade places with officers from county sherifs departments in Iowa and the North Dakota?

    Who’s tribe are you in? How refreshing esteemed one how god-awfully refreshing.

    P.S. Who knows perhaps Loki will convince everyone it is 2025 in a few days and not 2015 while playing tunes from 1975.

      1. John Barleycorn

        True. I will be having lunch with Loki this afternoon about the set list. He told me had a few beers with Santa and crew last night after work and they are in for helping out with Loki’s New Years party which should keep things organized, optimistic, and orderly.

  3. Rebecca

    “It’s possible, however, that the killings of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice and Akai Gurley, all creating a degree of introspection, are somehow finding their way into the consciousness of black police officers, raising an awareness ”

    That seems to be true of the country in general at the moment. Eric Garner’s death in particular seems to be a galvanizing moment – it’s so weird to see people like Bill O’Reily and Krauthammer agreeing that his death was unnecessary and punishable. Maybe I’m wrong, though – I’m kind of young and naive.

  4. John Barleycorn

    Troubling as the filters of “officer safety reform” evolving via blue lines considering form and history within the spectrum of colors that a golden badge reflects are the complete bullshit nuisances of the esteemed one floating some absurd “tribal” hope while throwing a figuratively “drunken” dart within a cricket game long lost but for hope, but for one dart.

    Does “anyone” make room to give shit! (‘O to thrash this post with a tracked vehicle under my control right now, it could land cod from the sea if the pleasure had a thumb and a bucket to keep turning the entire section of soul to dust while throwing the rocks and boulders with rage).

    Duck, yield, deflect, and fuck off. The overwhelming masses of the most directly affected have flush toilets and they currently don’t seem too interested in flushing out the margins that they would rather not consider or even acknowledging, nor adopting honey buckets for sport in order to flush the streets and “clean up” the “stench”.

    May I beg the question while suckling “reflection” ? I may not.

    It gives me hope through and through though that most of your back page readers may be too hung over or distracted with much more pleasant engagements than to put your hopeful theory to the rail with a hundred thousand pounds of locomotive.

    This post fails, in ways that crush.

    P.S. Loki told me to fuck off but agreed that the set shouldn’t speak so much as give everyone pause… Tricky bastard.

    BTW: fuck you (in the gentlest of dinner party conversation tones where the conversation finds space for balance and reflection including retort after the rants find a special free space..and encourage others) for omitting the heavy lifting your guild can’t figure out and has not brought to fruition via all and everything indirectly related to the “problem”.

    Just imagine if the “start” was being “determined”(both sides) in an “open” courtroom.

    Your niche in the guild does still hold itself as functionary of the third branch?

    Happy new year!

    Why hold on? Stop bluffing it is right there.

    Tragic love is only dust off the rust. The leap frogging generational message is building a head of steam to put steel to rust.

    Keep holding your guild responsible for their part.

    Black and Blue just like an exuberant toddler will leave on you landing into open arms.

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