Panic in the streets: Black cops weigh in on Ferguson

African American law enforcement professionals converge in the midst of Midwest civil unrest

Gregg Reese | 8/21/2014, midnight
It is perhaps just one of the oxymorons of modern society that Black men, among the most marginalized within the ...
Cover Design by Andrew Nunez

It is perhaps just one of the oxymorons of modern society that Black men, among the most marginalized within the American justice/legal system, find gainful employment within the law enforcement entity that is so often at odds with the African American presence here in the United States.

It is also a quirky phenomenon that the event of a highly publicized shooting (by law enforcement) of another Black American young man on the cusp of adulthood coincided with a convention of the National Black Police Association, a week-long confab here in the “City of Angels.”

Last Thursday, the attendees gathered at the West Adams District’s Messiah Baptist Church to honor their fallen brethren of color at an “end-of-watch” ceremony. In spite of the volatile political atmosphere in Black neighborhoods around the country, several members of the community observing confessed to a moment of emotional sentiment as dozens of uniformed officers marched down Adams Boulevard, executed a smart column left, then up the steps and into the chapel.

Prior to the ceremony, the mood in front of the church was similar to the experience, prior to and after an actual Sunday service in the ’hood, with people socializing in cordial fellowship; in this instance united by their shared vocation as officers of the law. The primary topic, as might be expected, centered on events transpiring 1,500 miles to the east in Missouri, and the casual listener could easily pick up snippets of conversation throughout the crowd.

“Did you catch the news today?”

“Ferguson was a nice, quiet town until this happened.”

“Did you see how they put Ron (Johnson, the Missouri Highway Patrol Captain placed in command for security in the area) on ‘front-street’?”

“How long you think it’ll be before they bring in the National Guard?”

“They can just write this off until they bring the feds in!”

The incident that sparked this animated exchange was the shooting death of Michael Brown by Ferguson policeman Darren Wilson on Aug. 9. The character of the deceased has been alternately depicted as a gentle giant who shunned trouble, or an oppositional delinquent who used his size as a tool of intimidation which ultimately got him killed.

Almost as if guided by providence, a succession of Black men have suffered violent deaths at the hands of law enforcement in recent months. They include Eric Garner 43, who expired after New York City Police applied a chokehold on July 17; 37 year old Andre Milton who was shot and killed by an Alameda County Sheriff’s Deputy responding to a domestic disturbance in San Leandro, Calif., also on July 17; 22 year old John Crawford was shot to death after he waved around a toy gun in a Walmart just outside of Dayton, Ohio, on Aug. 5; and developmentally challenged 25 year old Ezell Ford was shot and killed by the LAPD on Aug. 11.

The conference attendees were probably aware of all this, but were mainly concerned with the opportunity to fellowship with like-minded peers who’ve chosen careers that mandate they uphold society’s rules. Here was a chance to renew old acquaintances and make new ones.