It’s the laws — not just law enforcement — that deserve scrutiny

Booker H.I.TAs I sit and listen, read, and watch all the criticism of law enforcement that is taking place around this county, I think it may be time to set the record straight on a few things.

I have been a police officer for almost 10 years and I served as president of the Minneapolis NAACP for five of those 10 years. Prior to becoming a police officer I served as an executive director for a nonprofit organization and I was one of community members who signed the federal mediation agreement between the Minneapolis Police Department and the community. My experience gives me a slightly different and unique perspective on everything that is going on.

First, I think that it is important to understand the history of law enforcement in the United States. Many of the pioneering law enforcement officers that came into contact with people of color were either slave overseers or Union soldiers charged with eradicating Native Americans. After slavery was abolished many law enforcement officials in the south would eventually become open members of a domestic terrorist group called the Ku Klux Klan.

As recently as 50 years ago, many law enforcement officers in the south openly enforced segregation laws. Modern law enforcement organizations, like most government agencies, have low turnover rates, meaning people typically stay in the profession for 25-30 years. With such low turnover rates, it often takes a long time to change organizational culture, but from what I have witnessed over the last 10 years, the culture of law enforcement is changing for the better.

It’s hard to forget that police officers throughout our history have been asked to defend public policies that are not always favorable to people of color. Today not much has changed in this regard, but what has changed from what I have seen is the women and men who wear the uniform.

The women and men who serve as police officers are some of the finest individuals in our society. Everyday when they put on the uniform they are telling you that your life is more important than their own. The media has been unabashed about painting all those in law enforcement with the same brush. As a person of color, I have fought almost my entire adult life to defy stereotypes and to eradicate the use of stereotypes to judge an entire group of people.

As a person of color I get offended when people try to paint all of us with the same brush, so personally I don’t understand why people are doing the same thing to police officers. Are police officers perfect? No. Are people perfect? No. Are police officers going to make mistakes? Yes. Do people make mistakes? Yes.

Does every cop that makes a mistake get charged with a crime? No. Does every citizen who makes a mistake get charged with a crime? No. I say all this to say that people need to stop painting each other with broad brushes and focus on real issues.

As I stated previously, police have historically been charged with enforcing laws that are disproportionately directed towards imprisoning people of color. Unfortunately, the focus today is not on changing these laws it’s on bashing the police.

The city where all the recent dust up started, Ferguson, only had a 30 percent voter turnout after everything had taken place — 30 percent! I would be willing to bet a higher percentage of their population participated in protests.

The laws should be the focus, not bashing those who enforce the laws. We could diversify every police department in the country and we would still have a disproportionate number of people of color being incarcerated. Law enforcement organizations answer to law makers as shown in the DOJ report on the Ferguson Police Department (FPD). The DOJ report clearly demonstrated how law makers pressured law enforcement to use traffic enforcement efforts as a revenue generator for the City of Ferguson. So much so that the court system was used to issue warrants for traffic violators, forcing them to pay oppressive fines or be subjected to extended stays in jail.

I say all this to say if people really want to change the way things are going, you have to do it at the ballot box, and 30 percent is not going to do it. Laws last longer than protesters who were promised a salary of $5000 a month from now defunct organizations to protest. Change the laws and maybe we won’t have some of these deadly encounters over cigarettes or child support.

Lastly, all lives matter, not just those taken by the hands of police officers. Everyone gets buried in the same dirt.

 

Booker T Hodges welcomes reader responses to bhodges@spokesman-recorder.com.