Matt – Law Enforcement Officer
Yesterday, I read an opinion piece written by Kevin Johnson, the mayor of Sacramento, CA. In his article, he wrote about what he felt needed to be done to have Sacramento avoid becoming the next Ferguson, which mostly centered on his views on race and how racial disparities were somehow the fault of law enforcement. Not surprisingly, I took exception to most of his thoughts.
The following is the letter I sent him in response to his article.
Dear Mayor Johnson,
I recently read your opinion piece in the Sacramento Bee titled “Views on race: Ferguson doesn’t need to happen in Sacramento”, and I have to say, as a cop familiar with Sacramento, I was quite disappointed. In your opening paragraph you draw some correlation between yourself and Michael Brown and seem to suggest the same pile of baloney that the likes of Benjamin Crump and Al Sharpton are shoveling: that Brown was shot merely because he was a young black man. To even insinuate what happened to Brown was due to his race is overly simplistic, and completely ignores the facts that he was contacted due to his actions, and was eventually shot because of his actions, not because of his skin color.
You share two, and only two, similar traits with the former Michael Brown. Skin color and gender. For that matter, despite the fact that I am white, you share much more in common with me than you do with Brown. You wisely chose a path of education and heeded the good advice given to you by family members, obtaining a good career and spending wisely, you chose to be a responsible person, to not break the law, and to respect people, which coincidentally also includes the police. Brown’s path was one in the complete opposite direction to yours, one of drug use, joining a street gang, rapping about abusing women and drugs, and participating in criminal behavior, which as we now know included strong arm robbery and assaulting a police officer. The fact that you ignore those vast differences just to draw a comparison to you is disheartening.
I grew up in Sacramento (I no longer live there), in an extremely diverse middle class neighborhood, where nearly every other house was a family of a different ethnicity. I never treated anyone differently based on their race or religion, and in turn, I was never treated any differently by them. Growing up, and participating in some of the typical teenager stupidity, I too was stopped and detained by the Sacramento Police Department on a great number of occasions, most of which were completely justified stops. During one incident, and to draw a comparison to an event that Eric Holder likes to recount in order to elicit some sort of “racist cop conspiracy”, I too had my car illegally searched, while I stood there in a tuxedo with my prom date on the side of the road, completely embarrassed. On a number of occasions, I received very poor treatment by the officers I came into contact with, despite the fact that I always treated them with courtesy and honesty. However, I never once considered that mistreatment had anything to do with my race, gender or anything else. The officer that illegally searched my car was an Asian male, but I did not attribute his actions to some sort of racism. I chalked it up to the fact that cops are just people, and some people are just plain rude or grumpy or just plain jerks.
Just like you, and very much unlike the former Mr. Brown, I chose not to let my bad experiences with law enforcement officers shape my future. I grew up, got an education, including a college degree, and then I entered a law enforcement academy. I graduated and got hired. I have been a full time law enforcement officer for 18 years now. Like you, I did not allow my bad experiences to define me, but rather I used them as fuel to better myself, and I still use them as reminders of how to treat people when I am at work. Like you, I chose a path of responsibility and service to my community. Like it or not, you and I, despite our different skin pigmentation, share FAR more in common than you do with the deceased Mike Brown.
I would like to specifically address some of your areas that you singled out where you feel changes are needed. I agree that changes are needed, but I differ from you on where those changes need to originate.
I completely agree that people need to be more involved in choosing their elected officials. But rather than just suggesting they vote, it would be more prudent to suggest they become educated about those people for whom they will be casting their vote. Voting based on image versus content can be far more dangerous to the society than not voting at all. People need to vote intelligently, not just vote to say they did it.
You say that we are not living in a post-racial America. I find that particularly entertaining coming from a black man who was elected as the mayor of a city where blacks are only 14% of the population. Does racism exist? You’re damn right it does, but in my experience, it is not the type you are describing. In performing my job, I cannot count the number of times I have had racist epithets cast my way by people of color. I have been accused of being racist by more people than I can count. You used a few of your encounters with the cops to make your point, so please allow me to do the same.
On one occasion, a black man in his 50’s, who had been apprehended by store security while shoplifting, and was found to be on parole, so he was going to jail and I was there solely to transport him there. He accused me of being racist because I was taking him to jail. On another occasion, I stopped a car late at night because it had no brake lights. It was a dark area of town and the car had very dark tinted windows. I could not see the occupants at all, not even how many were in the car. When I approached the car, there were three young black males onboard, and the driver immediately went into his “you only stopped me because I’m black” speech. Because it was slow that night, I actually took a few minutes and spoke with him. I pointed out his ridiculously dark tinted windows, the lack of lighting, and the fact that I had only seen his car from behind. I asked him to tell me how he thought it was possible that I knew his race before I reached his door on foot. To my surprise, he actually admitted he was wrong and our encounter was fairly pleasant from that point on. I get accused of being racist on a weekly basis because I am a white male cop. It comes with the territory and has absolutely nothing to do with my actions. It is automatically assumed. It used to bother me, a lot, because I don’t have a racist bone in my body, but now it just rolls off of me because I know that it is only an excuse that the person being contacted is using to try and avoid personal responsibility for their own actions.
Please don’t take that to mean I am saying there are not racist white cops out there, because there are, just like there are racist Hispanic cops and racist black cops, but just because a cop is white does not mean his is racist. Also, just because a cop is rude, does not mean he is racist. Racism exists, but it is in the person, not the institution.
The study you quoted, in which you say that minorities were stopped at disproportionate rates, is just a series of numbers and fails to address a number of the underlying reasons. In order to properly use statistics, you must look at all of the factors, not just the raw data. Let me explain what I mean by that.
Next page please…
As a patrol cop, I work 10 hours a day. The area I work is a 44 square mile district that contains large suburban communities consisting of single family homes, but it also contains a large number of apartment complexes, town home communities and neighborhoods consisting solely of duplexes. Several of the larger complexes are government subsidized, low income housing. Most of the apartments and other high density housing is grouped in one particular part of my district.
Now, if we look at socioeconomic factors, factors that are fairly consistent across the entire country, it should not be surprising that the lower income areas contain a higher population of minorities. Additionally, those same socioeconomic factors have a direct relation to crime. Lower income areas are, not surprisingly, higher crime areas. Most law enforcement calls for service come from the lower income, higher crime areas. In direct correlation to that, we cops spend most of our time in the high crime areas. Considering where we spend most of our time, explaining the “disproportionate rates“ is pretty much a no-brainer. If we are spending most of our time in areas with a higher density minority population, we are going to stop/contact a larger percentage of minorities when you are comparing the rate to the population as a whole.
Create a Diverse Police Force
Sadly, you are so far off base in your comments here I don’t know where to start. The problem does not lie in the recruiting or hiring practices of the Police Department. The Sacramento Police Department, just like about every other agency in this country, for longer than I have been a cop, have actively recruited minorities to the point that minorities and females are given hiring preference over white males. As a white male, that used to bother me, but I really can’t blame those in charge of the hiring process. Given two applicants with nearly equal qualifications, it only makes sense to hire someone from an under-represented group, if for no other reason than to show the media, the community and politicians such as you that they are actively trying.
However, that hiring practice is only a tiny bandage trying to stop a bleeding artery. The true problem does not lie in the recruiting or hiring process of the agencies, but in the attitude of the communities they serve. When communities raise their children to fear, distrust and hate the police, is it any wonder that none of them grow up wanting to be a cop? I know a great number of cops from a large number of agencies, from a diverse ethnic background. Most of us come from similar upbringings; middle class homes where we were taught personal responsibility and respect for the law enforcement. We were taught the cops were the good guys, not the enemy.
Very early in my career, a young black woman came to the jail to visit someone and she was holding a very young child on her hip, perhaps 3 years old. The child looked at me and began crying and asked her mother, “Mama, is the po-po going to shoot me?” Who on earth teaches their children that the cops are going to kill them? In order to create a diverse police force, the community needs to start from within. Until parents stop teaching hatred and fear of law enforcement, nothing is going to change.
Engage kids in activities and avoid gang violence
I completely agree that the kids need a proper outlet, education and an alternative to criminal and gang activity, but that needs to start in their home as much, if not more, than it needs to start at a city level. It does not matter what the community does to try and fix a problem if the child’s parents, who are their primary influence until their teen years, are teaching the kids the wrong message.
Thank you for your time.
Matt is a full time Deputy Sheriff that has been on the job for 17 years. During his time as a LEO he’s attended countless training classes and is a court recognized firearms expert. Matt brings a unique perspective given his LEO experience and life time appreciation of firearms and our 2nd Amendment rights.