What Can We Do To Get Rid Of Racist People In Law Enforcement?

I interviewed several members of law enforcement for the Ferguson Interview Project. Officer D is an African American police officer who works for the St. Louis County Police Department in North County. We talked about the process by which one becomes a police officer in the St. Louis area. Here is the excerpt from the interview where we touch upon the accreditation that police departments and police officers go through.

In terms of law enforcement…How can we get rid of racist cops? Is it even possible? Am I looking through rose colored glasses?                                                                                                                                                    Officer D.: I thought about that, and, you have it both ways because you have black officers who probably hate white people. Or, Hispanic officers who don’t like black people, or whatever. The only way I can think of— if somebody fill out an application, in my opinion, on the application you got to ask them how diverse are they. Now, just because grew up in an all white town, and they didn’t have any black friends, or Hispanic friends, or Asian friends don’t mean they racist. If you can hire people that is more diverse, like, hey, I went to a diverse school, or I grew up in a diverse neighborhood maybe…, but you can have a racist guy that lives— Black people start moving around him he don’t want to move, but he lives around blacks.

Right now, you have polygraphs and stuff like that, the county does a polygraph, and they ask you questions like that to try to ween out— if they can see if…you’re being deceptive about, if you like, if you hate— Say if I was white, and they say, “Hey, do you hate blacks, or do you hate Hispanics, or do you hate Asians or something like that? Then they can see if you’re being deceptive, and maybe they’ll eliminate you from the process. If they’re saying, “Hey, he might have some racist tendencies.” Even black— “Hey, do you hate white people? Blah, blah, blah, blah.” Then, if I’m like yeah I like white people, but it’s showing that I’m being deceptive. Then maybe they ween you out. I don’t know how that process works, but…I was asked.

Like when you took the psych test, they had asked you questions about that, too. They try to ween that out. When you have so many [police] departments in St. Louis County, that doesn’t have the same standards as St. Louis County [Police Department]. In my opinion, I think the state should have a guideline set. For example, I think they’re trying to pass a law now where your department has to be accredited by CALEA (Commission for the Accreditation of Law Enforcement Agencies). St. Louis County is accredited by CALEA, so St. Louis County has a very high standard.

Ninety precent of the municipalities in St. Louis County, doesn’t have a— I mean, we call them muni jumpers. He works for this muni, and then he gets fired. Then he go works for this muni because they paying them seven bucks, eight bucks an hour, and he just want to be a police officer. He doesn’t have the proper training, or the training like he would get with St. Louis County, but he’s still out there being a police officer.

If the state could step in, in my opinion, and make a minimum standard to be a commissioned police officer within the State of Missouri. So much training that you have to do— the department has to have a certain amount of standards, and [the] only way you can do it is CALEA, because they come out every year, and they go though the entire police department. It’s like an audit. County has been— I’m not sure on the years, but ever since I’ve been a police officer, they’ve been accredited with CALEA. That’s the only thing I can think, but—

What on the federal level, can be done to standardize this? Is it really going to be a state’s rights issue to determine the guidelines for acceptable law enforcement policy?                                                              Officer D.: I think so, because we’re all commissioned by the state, and not federal. If you was a federal agent, like the FBI, DEA, then they could. Unless they make it a federal law, then the state has to abide by that federal law. But then look at it,…Marijuana is illegally, federal, but then you have states who made it legal.

Know Your Rights: The Three Types Of Law Enforcement Stops

In one of the interviews in the Ferguson Interview Project, David Whitt who is a resident of the Canfield Green Apartments and a member of Copwatch, explains the three types of stops that law enforcement make. It is important to know what to do in the event that law enforcement stops you. Here is a quote from the interview he gave:

A lot of times before I leave a person I will try to make sure they understand what the three stops are: the casual stop, the detention, and the arrest. A lot of times police are there to gather information. [In] a lot cases you’re not even being detained. The police will ask you a lot of questions. You actually have the right to remain silent, or you have the right to walk away. You have to find out are you being detained, so you ask the police officer, “Am I being detained?” If the police say, “No.” That’s what you call a casual stop.

In a casual stop, you don’t have to cooperate with the cops. This is what you’re doing in a casual stop: If you stay there, and you continue to talk to the police then you’re cooperating with law enforcement, and you don’t have to. 

Two Fergusons

West Florrisant Tag

In Ferguson, Missouri there are two streets named Florissant. There is South Florissant and West Florrisant. Some of the interviewees referred to the difference between these two streets as White Ferguson and Black Ferguson respectively. Some members of the mainstream media referred to West Florrisant is a “troubled area” because it was the location of several businesses that were burned and destroyed during the nighttime riots following Michael Brown Jr.’s death, such as the local Quick Trip, a popular gasoline station and convenient store that can be found throughout the Midwest and the Southern portion of the United States. The store where Michael Brown Jr. allegedly stole the cigarillos, the Ferguson Market, is also on this street, and it is a short walk from the Canfield Green Apartments with Michael Brown Jr. lived. However, that store is not easy to walk to. West Florissant is a very wide street, the speed limit is over 40 miles an hour, and it spans four lanes. The sidewalks are narrow. There are very few pedestrian crosswalks, and there is a lot of jaywalking, which is pretty prevalent in the area in general. The street is made up of several strip malls, and during the riots in August when the Quick Trip was destroyed and looted before being burned to the ground, the words “Snitch” and “R.I.P. Mike Brown” was tagged onto the property. The businesses that line this street are beauty supply stores, vacant rental properties, and fast food chains for the most part.

North Florissant is lined with small businesses: a cake shop, beauty supply shops, beauty shops, churches, restaurants, the I♥Ferguson gift shop, the library, the police station, the fire department, and beautiful murals in place of broken windows that call for peace, rejuvenation, and exude hope. The owners of these businesses are diverse. I met men, women, African-Americans, Caucasians, Latinos, and Asian business owners when I walked from business to business inquiring about how Michael Brown Jr.’s death had affected their businesses and their experience during the protests and riots.

One of the interviews I conducted was with Joseph Wurm who is the co-owner of Andy Wurm Tire & Wheel Co., a mom and pop business that has been operating in the St. Louis area for two generations. They sell tires and car rims. During the protests, this business allowed members of the community to use their restrooms and facilities. Their parking lot served as the central location of members of the media who went to Ferguson to report about what was happening on the ground. Their business is across the street from the police station in Ferguson. It was one of the few businesses that stayed open throughout the peaceful protests in August. When the riots began, Wurm was pressured into asking the protestors and media to leave at the urging of law enforcement. Joseph Wurm explained to me that they went from “making good money,” to seeing a significant loss in profits after the death of Michael Brown Jr. He explained to me that customers have been afraid to come into the area. Potential customers call and ask, “Is it safe?”

The interconnectedness between White Ferguson and Black Ferguson is unmissable. There is a perception that all of Ferguson, Missouri is the same. While one side of Ferguson has hope, the other has despair, a lot of unemployment, and more visible poverty. Both sides of Ferguson have sole proprietor businesses that are leaving, but big businesses are leaving Black Ferguson, too. For instance, I heard that the Walmart where many members of the community-at-large work will be moving over to the other side, from Black Ferguson to White Ferguson where it will be much more difficult for employees without cars to get to. On the other hand, the Quick Trip in Black Ferguson that was destroyed is purportedly being converted into an educational facility to serve the community and provide the training needed for the members of the West Florissant community to create better lives for themselves and their families in the future. These two streets that share the same name are both in need of a massive amount of re-development in order to save this entire community in my opinion. The loss of either side of Ferguson would be a loss for everyone in the area.  It seemed to me during my conversations with various members of in the community that everyone in the area wants the same thing: Peace and opportunities to achieve economic prosperity and self-sustainability. There were a few owners who told me they just want to forget about it and never talk about it again. I really don’t see how that will ever possible.

Peace For Ferguson

Body Cameras

Many of the people I spoke with in Ferguson and St. Louis talked about body cameras for police officers and access to cameras for citizens to be able to document incidents of unconstitutional law enforcement within their own community. Today I watched the video footage from an incident in McKinney, Texas and the response on social media to what people were seeing in this footage. In the video, we are able to see an unimaginable response from law enforcement professionals and one particular police officer who uses mentally and physically abusive tactics as he fails to help calm a domestic dispute at a party. Without this video, would we as citizens believe that this gross misuse of power occurred? The tactics of physical and verbal abuse, intimidation, and shaming are evident in this video, and the unnecessary response and use of threatening behavior and excessive force from the police officer is also apparent when watching this video. In my opinion, it is easy to see why this video is in the process of going viral on the Internet, and why it is forcing the police department in McKinney, Texas and police departments all across the United States of America to be held accountable for their police officer’s actions while on duty.

Would wearing body cameras reduce or end these incidents where law enforcement takes an inappropriate position that sometimes ends with the death of a black or brown male? Would having body cameras or designated members of a community armed with cameras and working with organizations like Copwatch help stop these senseless tragedies and the consistent harassment from some members of law enforcement in black and brown communities.

In the collection of interviews that I am in the process of preparing to publish regarding the incidents in Ferguson, Missouri in connection to Micheal Brown Jr.’s death, law enforcement and community leaders frequently stated that they think placing body cameras on police officers and in the hands of designated citizens would help to stop these types of despicable abuse of power.  On the other hand, what about the right to privacy? Do police officers who are serving a community have the right to privacy when they are on duty or not on duty for that matter? Is there another way to make law enforcement and police departments accountable for the actions of their officers without body cameras? Many of the people I interviewed regarding Michael Brown Jr.’s death felt that the cameras would help more than they hurt. The power of seeing with your own eyes can not be denied. Are cameras fail proof? Obviously not, they can get moved during physical altercations or while in pursuit into a position where they are no longer able to capture the video that is needed to assess the incident, and sometimes they break at crucial moments in interactions between law enforcement and citizens.

In my opinion, body cameras cannot be the only solution to preventing incidents of police brutality; it is important to take into account police officer selection, training, and the policy that drives their decisions as law enforcement professionals. Cameras for citizens and police officers will help in documenting these incidents, and the video that is collected would most-likely help to make these incidents more visible and make it easier to understand the actual series events that happened in those erroneous interactions between those individual members of law enforcement and within police departments that are abusing their power regarding the citizens they have been employed to serve and protect.

Let’s Take a Drive to the Canfield Green Apartments

After meeting with Representative Pastor Tommie Pierson of the Greater St. Mark Family Church, I was informed that I could take the road next to the church to the Canfield Green Apartments where Michael Brown Jr. lived with his family. Greater St. Mark served as a central meeting place during the peaceful protests due to its close and walkable proximity to the Canfield Green Apartments. It was a place where members of the Ferguson community gathered to conduct non-violent protest trainings and to have conversations about the best next steps for the community. It is also the church where Reverend Al Sharpton Jr. spoke and met with members of the community at when he arrived in Ferguson to access the situation for himself.

While there are areas of poverty surrounding the St. Mark Family Church and the Canfield Green Apartments, Ferguson, Missouri is a mixed income community. One of the key takeaways from my interviews was that many of the African-Americans who lived in this predominantly African-American area in Missouri had moved there to get away from St. Louis and to create better and safer lives for themselves and their families.  As you will see in the embedded video, there is a lot of grass and trees that can be seen easily while driving down these back roads to the Canfield Green Apartments. There is a perception that Coppercreek Rd., the road where Mike Brown Jr. died, is a busy thoroughfare, but it is really a quiet two lane road. It is these inaccuracies that the mainstream media helped portrayed that had a pivotal role in leading the general public to believe an inaccurate account of the place where Michael Brown Jr. died on August 9, 2014. I am sharing this video because I thought that you might like to see for yourself. This is what you would see if you visited the Michael Brown Jr. permanent memorial on a normal day. As I have mentioned before, Ferguson, Missouri is different than how the media portrayed it, and the interviews I collected will hopefully illustrate this point with the plethora of sides that are presented in these conversations.

Can you take this drive to the Canfield Green Apartments with me today?

Law Enforcement: Sitting At The Table

Law Enforcement Sitting At The Table

My opinion every life matters….no matter who you are…what you do for a living…what your beliefs are…a life is a life. I spend most of my time saving all lives in my profession..Unfortunately the rest of the world doesn’t see it that way. They let petty reason guide them through there [sic] life forgetting what basic fact is.

Yesterday, a friend of mine posted the fundraising link for the Ferguson Interview Project on their Facebook page. My friend is a person who comes from a family of law enforcement. Their relatives who work in law enforcement became immediately upset about the perceived content in the book of interviews. Ironically, I went out of my way to make sure that the opinions of law enforcement in St. Louis County are represented in this collection of interviews. My friend was forced to take the post down, and that is the opposite response from law enforcement than I what is really necessary for us to make progress around unconstitutional law enforcement in my opinion. We have to be able to talk freely, and all members of society have to have freedom of speech and the opportunity to live a life free from bullying when they share their opinions on complex issues that are important to them.

Law enforcement is a dangerous and difficult job, and most of the people I interviewed agree that it  is a small group of wayward police officers who are giving all police officers a bad name. One of the important parts of conversations that developed out of these interviews is how to discuss the problem of a few members of law enforcement who are abusing their power and intentionally disregarding the constitution rights of the people they have been employed to protect and serve. I had the opportunity to interview three different police officers associated with the St. Louis County Police Department about their experience on the night of Mike Brown Jr.’s death and during the subsequent weeks and months that followed leading up to and following the grand jury decision not to indict Police Officer Darren Wilson in late November last year.

In each interview with members of law enforcement, the comment was made that the police officers who are abusing their power are making it more difficult for other members of law enforcement to do their jobs effectively due to the erosion of trust within the community. What is needed is a system of accountability, and one of the big debates is what that system would look like and how would it perform its duties. In order to have that conversation: Activist, community leaders, politicians, and law enforcement need to be at the table. This conversation can’t happen if all of these groups are not represented and engaged in the dialogue and the process of determining the best next steps for long-term success on the issue of police brutality regarding all American citizens regardless of the color of their skin.

In order to make our communities safer in the future, we can’t afford to forget that everyone at this table has a lot to gain if we can find a way to vet out the members of law enforcement whose biases are the guiding factors in how they do their job on a day to day basis. We can’t afford to let a few bad apples endanger the lives of all Americans, and the only way we can create police departments that are serving and protecting all members of our community is to sit down at the table together and have a conversation about what happened, what is happening, and what needs to happen in the future.

My hope is that the Ferguson Interview Project will help to create progress in moving us as a people closer to sitting at that table and having those conversations.

Learn more about the project here: http://www.gofundme.com/FergusonWritProj

Why Crowdsource This Project

Stop Murder By Police

When I embarked on this journey to go to Ferguson, Missouri to conduct these interviews, I spent some time researching the writings of others about this topic. When I began to conceive of the way to approach this project, I was struck by the need to keep myself independent from being forced to put a particular spin on the event of Mike Brown Jr.’s death and the subsequent events that followed. I have been very fortunate to have received the funding for this project from my friends, colleagues, and concerned citizens of the United States and the World.

A friend of mine wrote me today:

Why Are You Asking Your Friends For Money For This Project

I replied:

Here Is Why I am Crowdsourcing This Project

Several of the people I interviewed asked me “Who are you working for? Why are you doing this project?” When I informed them that I wasn’t working for anyone, and that this project was an independent endeavour on my part because of a true interest and concern in how the story of the events in Ferguson were being told and truncated in the media. They agreed to allow me to conduct the interview with them. They trusted me to allow them to tell their stories based on their firsthand accounts of the situation on the ground in St. Louis and Ferguson. Through the crowdsourcing of this project, I am able to present their words as they delivered them without having to shape them to appeal to any editors or corporate backers who might want the story told from a particular perspective that aids them in validating their position on unconstitutional law enforcement and the role of peaceful protest to create the change in our society.

My friend went on to comment:

Unfortunately as great as a project as it is, it is not something you need.

I would argue that this book of interviews from these members of the Ferguson community is something that we all need. We need to read these narratives. We need to have a better understanding of what happened last year in St. Louis metropolitan area from the variety of perspectives that are represented in this book. We need to hear these versions of the truth, and we need these versions to guide our path towards creating safer communities for everyone. My hope is that these interviews with politicians, organizers, activists, and law enforcement will serve as a tool when we sit down in-person to talk about the important issues that these horrific events that occurred in connection with Mike Brown Jr.’s death have raised. My hope is that these interviews provide an entry point to keep this conversation going.

If you want to contribute to the publishing costs associated with this book, please go to this website: http://www.gofundme.com/FergusonWritProj