On Thursday July 7, 2016, I was having dinner with friends when I received a disturbing text from a former co-worker. It read simply “Three Dallas police shot.” I remarked to my dinner companions –who also happened to be former co-workers – that I hoped the officers’ shootings had nothing to do with the preceding day’s events.
As I drove home from the restaurant, I received another text: “Three Dallas officers dead.” As soon as I arrived home, I tuned in to CNN, which reported that a fourth officer was now dead. I was caught up in a state of what seemed to be a kind of suspended animation. I knew that I should stop watching the broadcast as the tragic scene played over and over, but I just couldn’t stop. Finally out of sheer exhaustion, I slept for about an hour before I was awakened by the jarring blare of my alarm.
Morning brought no relief, as learned that another Dallas officer had succumbed to his injuries. I pulled it together and readied myself for the workday. Years of training had prepared me, like many others, to forge ahead and deal with the responsibilities of life in spite of bearing witness to the inhumanity that has become so acceptable in our society.
Trying to Understand “the Why”
As a retired homicide detective for the City of Chicago, I am certainly familiar with working a crime scene and conducting the subsequent investigation. Throughout the day, I imagined being assigned to the Dallas investigation. I remembered standing at a crime scene and scanning the area for anything of evidentiary value, identifying the victims, looking for witnesses and putting the pieces of the puzzle together in an effort to understand “the why.”
As I struggled emotionally through the workday, I found myself haunted by “the why.” I questioned if I had some responsibility in the deterioration of the relationship between law enforcement and the community, particularly the black community. You see, for twenty-five years I was a Chicago Police Officer. But for much longer than that, I have been a black woman.
I was and am still hurting. I was hurting not only for my fallen “brothers in blue,” but also for my black brothers and sisters who have been screaming for years about the inequity of the law enforcement system – an inequity which is now being exposed and broadcast in 1080 high-definition into the homes of previous non-believers thanks to cell phones and law enforcement video footage.
A Line Has Been Drawn
I have to accept some responsibility because I knew that a storm was brewing, and knowledge is responsibility. I was there when things began to change. I witnessed the breakdown in the relationship between the police and the community. It was like knowing a marriage is troubled and not seeking counseling or even discussing concerns with your spouse. You just trudge on day by day, dissatisfied until you can’t take another day. You are responsible because you did nothing to make things better.
I knew the relationship was in trouble for quite some time but for me it became crystal clear when I appeared as a guest on The Steve Harvey Show. As a retired violent crimes detective, I was asked to speak about murder investigations in Chicago. I approached the appearance as an opportunity to educate and inform the audience about the actual investigative process, not the television version.
I was faced with the harsh reality that the studio audience didn’t want to hear anything I had to say. They didn’t know me. They only knew I was a retired member of the Chicago Police Department. That meant I was the enemy, a conspirator, not to be trusted.
I left the show’s taping feeling that a line had been drawn. There were two sides and one must be chosen. Why didn’t that audience understand that I couldn’t choose a side? I’m just me, an African-American woman who grew up in a police family. I was encouraged and inspired to join the department and make a difference in society.
I worked hard to represent and care for the communities I served, especially because most were communities I had grown up in. I took pride in being the police, forging relationships, nurturing those relationships and making a difference where I could. I knew I was good at my job and it wasn’t because I was some kind of super human. It was because I knew I was human, just a GOD-fearing, flawed, mistake-making, hard-working human who believed there was something to be learned from everyone and every experience.
Choosing Black and Blue
I won’t choose, nor can I choose because I am a combination of both worlds. I am proud of my African-American heritage and I am also proud to have been a member of the Chicago Police Department. I took pride in being the police and most especially a black, female homicide detective in the City of Chicago. These are challenging times for me; I am an off-spring of that dysfunctional relationship. Most days I feel like that child caught in a custody battle. I won’t deny or turn my back on either side. I hurt for both and remember when times were not this bad. I remember when there was at least conversation and belief that things would get better.
We all have to accept responsibility. This much bad did not manifest overnight. There were “tells” along the way which were ignored, minimized and disregarded. We didn’t just stop talking, we stopped listening to each other.
I have to hold on to the belief that things can get better, change can occur, we can settle not all, but some differences. I have to believe because I’ll always be BLACK AND BLUE.