The Visible Man: Balancing the Black Code of Silence on the Thin Blue Line

“While I have an expectation that officers are out of their cars, on foot, and engaging with citizens, I expect that it will be done professionally and constitutionally. I have zero tolerance for behavior like I witnessed on the video today. Officers have a responsibility and duty to control their emotions in the most stressful of situations.”

-Gary Tuggle, Interim Police Commissioner, Baltimore Police Department

 “Police officers are sworn to protect and serve, and when that oath is taken for granted and an abuse of that power is evident, we will hold them accountable to the fullest extent of the law.”

-Marilyn Mosby, Baltimore State’s Attorney

“His partner was not charged with a crime. He should be also be held responsible for failing to stop the attack. He should’ve stopped him before it was so bad.”

-Sandra Almond Cooper, President Baltimore chapter NAACP

“Arthur Williams, you have become what your community hates.”

-Charlamagne Tha God, radio talk host, The Breakfast Club (New York)

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My Dear Readers,

The Arthur Williams police brutality video has spread over social media like the wildfires spreading across the Pacific Northwest.  The repeated showings of the video has not only created intense trauma within the African-American community, but it has also, added to the further marginalization and isolation of our black and brown police officers, men and women who seek to serve and protect our diverse communities.

Willful blindness, political motives and yes…FEAR are the major factors feeding the flames.  There are more and more individuals willing to hop on the bus that former Baltimore Police Officer Arthur Williams has been tossed under.  The Interim Police Commissioner, Baltimore State’s Attorney, and the President of the Baltimore chapter NAACP have all lined up to stake out their positions, condemning the actions of Officer Williams.

And then there are those commenting in social media:

  • “Even the black police dislike ghetto blacks.”
  • “That thug cop is a total embarrassment to the black community.”
  • “Obviously Williams had a thuggish attitude before he joined the police department which was amplified once he was given the power of a gun and badge.”

Any comments that suggest any empathy or understanding for Officer Williams’ actions were disheartening at best:

  • “It’s not always the officer’s fault, but what Officer “Dickhead” did was wrong.  He became a thug.”
  • “Officer Dickhead?”
  • “Thug?”

Really?

The Black Code of Silence

Besides being black and rushing to tossing Officer Williams so deep under the bus that his body will disappear, what does the Interim Police Commissioner, Baltimore State’s Attorney, the Baltimore NAACP, and random social media commentators have in common?

  • They are members of a marginalized group, steeped in historical and inter-generational trauma, and:
  • They are reacting to the fact that they are Living in their own internalized Fear.

 

Historical and Inter-generational Trauma

 Historical trauma refers to the cumulative emotional and psychological wounding of an individual or generation caused by a traumatic experience or event.

Inter-generational trauma is trauma that is transferred from the first generation of trauma survivors to the second and further generations of offspring of the survivors via complex post-traumatic stress disorder mechanisms.

Over the last 300+ years of policing interactions with African-Americans, the community has deep-seated hard feelings and resentment towards the police, some of it well-deserved.  To combat police abuses, our community continues to press for more involvement and representation of black and brown people within local law enforcement. Those initiatives have been successful.

The percentage of minority police officers in U.S. law enforcement agencies has almost doubled between 1987 and 2013. In a study last conducted in 2013, found there were 130,000 minority local officers.  This represents an increase of 78,000 officers from 1987. Black Americans have become law enforcement leaders as well. This summer, Carmen Best was confirmed as the first black female police chief of the Seattle Police Department and Regina Scott was named as LAPD’s first black female deputy chief.

The downside of these statistics is that the increase in diversity in police departments has not resulted in improved relations between the police and communities of color.  In fact, the intensity and frequency of violence has increased as evidenced by the recent series of police killings of unarmed black men.

Living in Fear

When a traumatic event happens, the impact it has on individuals is ongoing.  Humans continue to maintain an internal hyper-vigilance, which creates an agitated emotional state that contributes to chronic anxiety due to the constant fear of another traumatic event.

This internalized fear of police is the same internalized fear that Representative John Lewis felt on Bloody Sunday in Selma, AL in 1965 when he and over 600 other civil rights activists were brutally attacked by state and local police.   This trauma is passed down in policies that parents impose on their children, and the way that people are expected to act in these situations, repressing their own self-expression, and creating the implication that to express their own humanness is to invite violence.

The Rush To Judgment

 On The Breakfast Club, a New York City radio talk show, host  Charlamagne Tha God, stated the following: 

“An investigation has been ordered.  What the hell is an investigation needed for?  We investigated the video all weekend.  We can clearly see what is going on.”

Charlamagne continues, as if speaking directly to Officer Williams:

“I don’t know you personally, Arthur, so I can’t speak for you.  I can’t tell you the thing you hate.  I don’t know if you are part of that system of white supremacy; you might be an agent for them.  But I will tell you that you have become what your community hates.  If you are not trying to change things and become part of the solution, you might as well move on.  We don’t any more of you adding on to our existing problems.”

Officer Williams was arrested and was criminally charged for his actions.  So, without a judicial trial or internal investigation, he has been found guilty by the court of public opinion and is now a pariah; isolated and abandoned by his community. Social opinion leaders like Charlamagne Tha God are quick to criticize Officer Williams while at the same time, admitting that he doesn’t know the man personally.

Do we really know Officer Williams?  Who is this “thuggish” cop, hater of urban dwelling blacks and embarrassment to the black community? Information from media sources reveals the following about Officer Williams:

  • He is married, has one young child and is taking care of his mother who is recovering from a stroke
  • He attended a Jesuit High School in Baltimore where he was an athlete and star lacrosse player
  • He served in the US Marine Corps with two tours in Iraq and received an honorable discharge.
  • He graduated at the top of his class, receiving the Commissioner’s Award for Excellence. He won honors for defense tactics, physical training and emergency vehicle operations.
  • Due to his honors and advance academics, he was awarded the prestigious honor of “bearer of colors” of his graduating class at the police academy.

The information available indicates that Officer Williams was well liked and respected by his superiors and peers.  He is a family man, a good father, spouse and provider.  He provides care for his disabled parent.  He served his country during times of war with distinction and was on track following graduation from the police academy to a career and advancement in a police department rebuilding from years of internal strife and corruption. That is, until this event happened. In an instant, this promising career was gone.

  • Why did this unfortunate situation happen?
  • Why were there no safeguards in place?
  • Why didn’t Officer Williams receive support from the police department, police union or the African-American community of Baltimore, the place in which he grew up?

“Why” questions invite responses that circle back on themselves and as a result, they can be distracting.  They fail to provide an adequate understanding of the issues being targeted. A more useful method of inquiry would be focusing on “what” questions instead.  Specifically,

  • What stressors do black police officers have to contend with while policing within their own communities?
  • What are the police interdepartmental and community safeguards for black police officers?
  • What are the possible psychological impacts that black police officers may deal with while policing within their own communities?

 

What stressors do black police officers have to contend with while policing within their own communities?

These are several stressors faced by Black police officers:

  • There is the community expectation that they will serve in the dual roles of serving the community and protecting the community from white police officers who might systematically over police and deploy violence against African-Americans.
  • There is the expectation of the police departmental hierarchy that in the process of policing, these officers serve as a “bridge” between the department and the black community.
  • There is the expectation that “brothers and sisters in blue” will protect each other while out on the street and when dealing with over demanding and unwanted policing supervision.
  • There is the presence of being observed by a watchful and naïve public/majority society who expects the presence of black police officers to be evidence that racism has been erased.
  • Finally, there is the stressor of negotiating and reconciling the psychological impact of striving to be “blue” and “black” in one dark body.

 

What are the community safeguards and police interdepartmental for black police officers?

Although civil rights and community advocates pressured local, state and federal governmental bodies for inclusion of black police officers at all levels, no specific safeguards were provided to protect black officers from racism within police departments. Following the end of WWII, black officers:

  • Were segregated in separate and unequal facilities and were not granted the same policing powers as white officers.
  • In many police departments across the country, black officers could not exercise arrest powers over whites and:
  • Black officers were restricted to policing black neighborhoods.

Black police officers have created their own safeguards to advocate within the police department, protect their interests and further their commitment to serve their communities.  One of these safeguards is an organization called the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives (NOBLE).  Its mission is to “ensure equity in the administration of justice in the provision of public service to all communities, and to serve as the conscience of law enforcement by being committed to justice by action.” serve as the conscience of law enforcement by being committed

 

What are the possible psychological impacts would black police officers may respond while policing within their own communities?

There are several possible psychological impacts to be considered:

  • Conscious or unconscious racial biases might lead black police officers to aggressively police other African-Americans. This is also known as “same-race biases” or “intra-racial” biases because both the victims and the perpetrators of these biases have the same racial identity.
  • Black police officers, like white police officers, may experience a set of anxieties that increase the likelihood that they will employ violence as a reaction to a heated situation with other African-Americans. This is known as the “masculinity threat.”

Research has shown that police officers that feel their masculinity is being challenged or undermined in the context of a particular interaction are more likely to use violence than officers who do not experience that masculinity threat.

  • A black police officer may also experience “racial anxiety.” Research on this concept shows that police officers who worry that they will be perceived as racist in particular interactions are more likely to use force against black citizens than officers who do not experience racial anxiety.
  • Finally, there is anxiety of what can be called the “squeeze” or “tight fit.” This may occur when black police officers become overwhelmed by balancing the desire to fit into the law enforcement community of without having to disassociate themselves from their own African-American community and the concerns that face that community.

————————————————

Concluding Words-Dr. Kane 

My Dear Readers:

Although Officer Williams has resigned from the Baltimore Police Department, I will continue to refer to him as “Officer Williams.”  In my past interactions with police officers, I know that being a sworn and commissioned police officer will be in his heart forever.  Officer Williams did not dishonor the badge, his peers, his oath or the community he swore to protect and serve. Officer Williams lost perspective, lost his calmness and made a most unfortunate mistake.

I write for the general readership, but in this writing of The Visible Man blog, I am directing my concluding remarks to the African-American community:

SHAME ON YOU…  SHAME ON US.

As civil rights and community activists, we demanded and pressured the white majority, to open and employ African-Americans as police officers.  There was the expectation that these black officers would protect us from them while serving the community.

The police hierarchy looked to these black officers to serve as a bridge between them and us.  Mission accomplished, the white majority smiled and stepped away…. and so did we.

As we stepped away…we abandoned these dedicated people,  leaving them to fend for themselves within a system steeped in institutionalized racism.  Alone and encircled, they did the best they could.  They went on to create organizations such as NOBLE and local chapters to not only look after their own concerns, but the concerns of the community that abandoned them as well.

Along comes the incident with Officer Williams.  Yes, the actions taken by him as seen on video was wrong.  He should have his day in court.   As stated by his attorney Thomas Maronick, following the bail hearing:

 “Arthur is not a threat to anyone in the community. He looks very much forward to his day in court, his chance to tell his side of the story.”

Following exposure of the incident, Gary Tuggle, Interim Police Commissioner Baltimore Police Department stated,

“If it were borne out of emotion, we are trained — we should be trained — to never act in an emotional way, particularly when it comes to engaging with citizens.”

Shame on Interim Police Commissioner Tuggle.  As a black police officer, he is well aware that there is no training provided to any black police officer to respond to the stressors and psychological impacts that have been identified in this writing.

Shame on the State Attorney for seeking a no bail bond citing Officer Williams as a “significant threat to the community.” The judge, denying the prosecutor‘s request to release Officer Williams on his own recognizance, said that “there was no argument that he will show up for trial.”

Shame on the Baltimore NAACP chapter President for not advocating for Officer Williams’ civil rights of fairness and equality under the law.

Shame on the Baltimore City Fraternal Order of Police, Lodge 3 and National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives for their “silence” for a brother officer in crisis.

But most importantly, shame, shame, and shame again on us in the nationwide African-American community for either our indifference or support in abandoning this young man at a very critical time in his life.

Regarding Officer Williams’ resignation, Charlamagne Tha God, the radio talk host, said:

“He resigned because of the shame of letting his people down was too much to bear.”

I disagree.  I believe that Officer Williams is a conscious and committed police officer who resigned not out of shame, but because he did not want to bring more negative attention nationally on his fellow black police officers. Officer Williams is a representation of the best this community has to offer in public service.  He did not deserve to be abandoned by our community.  We must do better for those who risk their physical and psychological health every day they put on the uniform and the badge.

It is our shame that we abandoned one of our own.  We must want to live and learn from this tragedy. The African-American community prides itself as having a strong religious/spiritual orientation.  Let us hold to the scriptures below:

John 8:7: “He that is without sin among you let him cast the first stone.”

Matthew 7:1: “Judge not lest ye be judged.”

We simply must do better.

I hope the day never comes when those of us in the black community will need a police officer who looks “exactly like me” to protect me from “them.”   If that day ever comes, I hope that officer will have forgiveness in their heart for the way we in the community treated one of their black brethren.

Black Police Officers have maintained a code of silence regarding the shameful way Officer Arthur Williams has been treated.  These dedicated women and men deserved far more support than what we in the African-American community have shown them.

************************************

“(Arthur Williams), You are supposed to be one of us.  You’re supposed to have more patience with your people, no matter how angry you get.  You have to ball your fists up and realize you have all the power.”

-Charlamagne Tha God

**************************************

“To err is human” is a common expression, but we should not believe there is always room for error.  In some cases, there is no room for error.  None.

“Ten Flashes of Light-Journey of Self Discovery”

-Micheal Kane Psy.D Clinical Traumatologist

*************************************

A shout out to four of Seattle Police Department’s finest as they continue to serve and protect the African-American community and the citizens of the City of Seattle:

  • Captain John Hayes
  • Detective Denise “Cookie” Bolden
  • Felicia Cross, Community Outreach Program Manager (civilian)
  • Donna Brown, Community Program Manager, African-American Community Advisory Council (civilian)

 

Until We Speak Again…I am…The Visible Man.

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