The controversial arrest of a local resident by Troy police officers caught on video – and the social media reaction to it – caused outrage inside, and outside the country for the thousands of people who have seen the video.
The incident itself has personally left me in an interesting position, for I have been on both sides of the block as far as my relationship with law enforcement in my 44 years of life.
Now I am not here to bash the police. Let me make this perfectly clear. I am, however, going to share both positive, and negative, experiences I’ve had with them in the past.
As a reporter with the Mt. Vernon Sentinel in Illinois, I worked side by side with the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office, as well as the Mt. Vernon Police Department. I developed close relationships with former Sheriff Travis Allen and Chief Deputy Clint Taylor, as well as Chief of Police Trent Page, both professionally and personally. I also worked with the police department’s lead homicide detective, Roger Hayse, who later became the county coroner.
When I first met Sheriff Allen, we talked for nearly an hour off the record about community policing and crime in the county before he offered to take me on a tour of the county jail, which I accepted.
I might be the only African-American to have ever taken a tour of the Jefferson County Jail – and walked out 45 minutes later.
The men and women who swore an oath to serve and protect the people of Jefferson County, Illinois, from my experiences, were good people with good intentions who made themselves available to their community. They almost made me forget about some not-so-positive incidents I had with law enforcement a couple of decades before.
The summer before I started college at the University of South Carolina in the mid-1990s, I waited tables at one of the local restaurants in my hometown. After closing, I gave one of our cooks a ride home. He didn’t live in the best neighborhood, but I knew the area and drove him to his house without a hitch.
As I drove out of the neighborhood to head home, I was pulled over by police. I wasn’t speeding. I wasn’t under the influence of any substances. I was giving a coworker a ride home.
Next thing I know, I’m getting patted down and they’re wanting to search my car because I was driving in a “bad neighborhood,” so I had to be looking to score or sell drugs, or pick up a prostitute. Once again, I was heading home after dropping off one of my coworkers, but the truth wasn’t a satisfactory answer for the two officers who pulled me over.
After about a half-hour of harassment, I was finally allowed to go home. I felt violated and angry, for it was the first time I had been racially profiled by law enforcement.
A little over a year later, I came home to visit during fall break. On my way to pick my mother up from work, I was pulled over by police once again. This time, they were looking for someone who robbed a pawn shop.
I didn’t even get a chance to say anything before my face left a dent on the hood of my car, and I’m being handcuffed. The officers said I fit the description. What description? I’ve never robbed anyone in my life. Forget the fact I was nowhere near the area of town where the robbery took place – and there were at least 10 witnesses to corroborate my alibi.
I could hear over their radio the suspect was apprehended, and I was uncuffed and released. No apology at all.
I’ve been mugged with more respect than that.
When I watched the news later that evening, a photo was released of the suspect. This guy looked nothing like me! He was around 6 feet 4 inches tall and 175 pounds. At the time, I was 5 foot 10 inches tall and 220 pounds.
Once again, I felt violated, this time physically, as well as mentally and emotionally. And it made me even angrier. We don’t all look alike!
Remember, this was just a few years after the Rodney King beating, and the subsequent riots in Los Angeles because of it, so tensions between law enforcement and communities across the country were still pretty raw.
At the present time, once again, law enforcement is not the most popular team in America. The Ferguson riots, the recent shooting of a woman in Louisville, Kentucky and other police shootings have cast those sworn to protect and serve in a negative light once again.
I have family and friends in law enforcement. One of my closest friends is a St. Louis Metropolitan Police officer who patrols the streets of North St. Louis City, a pretty dangerous area. I worry about his safety on a daily basis, because he has a wife and a young daughter at home.
As I said before, the recent incidents between police and the people those officers took an oath to protect have left me torn due to my experiences on both sides with them. Not all cops are jerks looking to harass and beat up people, but good men and women with a job to do who want to come home to their families safe and sound every night.
At the same time, not all of them are good either. Many of them abuse their power, arrogantly expecting their fellow officers to turn a blind eye to their transgressions.
I have tried not to lump all law enforcement officials in the same group. That was not always the case, and recent events have made it hard not to.
However, looking back at my writing career has shown me there are some good people in this profession – and as long as there are those people out there – I feel a little less apprehensive about the boys in blue.
And that makes me feel a little less red.