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Friday, December 19, 2014

The Thick Blue Line



Law enforcement has been a controversial topic lately. The enforcement of laws, methods applied and outcomes from those methods has been the subject of lively public debate.

People in and around Utica have not ignored the subject. The entire community in Utica is well aware of the two most publicized cases where it appears members of law enforcement were given free reign over the well-being (lives) of Black American citizens. Even Students at Hamilton College in Clinton demonstrated, taking part in an international 'hands up don't shoot' movement.

Along with the demonstrations a large number of hand held phone and police dashcam videos have been posted on social media, exposing a pattern of abuse and indifference among many different officers and departments nationwide. Things seemed bad enough for the President to weigh in, suggesting officers wear body cameras to accurately catalog their behavior toward the people they are sworn to serve and protect.

It does not take an expert to note the cultural consistency in the most deadly encounters. Often times the officers are White and the victims are Black. The contact is usually initiated by some petty offense like seatbelt, innadequate license plate light or walking in the street.

Sound Familiar?

Many Black Uticans have historically avoided contact with law enforcement for obvious reasons, a healthy distrust, and in some cases, fear, of what could happen if they let the police into their homes and or personal lives. Fears that have been validated by past actions of law enforcement. Imagine calling for help and getting a hard time instead. For some officers it is difficult to see some people as innocent victims.

We don't have to look to far back for examples that helped feed the distrust and fear. April 12, 2007 City Of Utica Police Officer Thomas Lindsey was gunned down. The search for evidence and a suspect was frantic; the Chief at the time (Pylman) conveniently and incorrectly blamed the crime on a black male in a hoodie. Law Enforcement swooped in on Cornhill like an occupying army. A big complaint was the treatment of the people within the neighborhood (99.9% innocent of said crime). Unfortunately many were treated like criminals.

People remember these interactions and those memories play a part in everyday decisions. Familiar faces and people with an understanding of our cultural nuances can help alleviate those, very real fears and help solve crimes. That’s exactly why many people feel Utica needs, more Black and Hispanic police officers.

This obviously is not just a Utica problem, nationwide minorities are less likely to work in law enforcement even when they are the majority of the (urban) population. A 2007 survey by Bureau of Justice reveals some telling statistics. One out of four officers nationwide is a member of a racial or ethnic group. For larger cities it jumps to about 30%; but for small cities like Utica the disparity is larger. There are many theories that could explain this phenomenon. On a micro-level: a change in the unique 'culture' of individual departments with challenges recruiting would be a start.

It should be understood that Black folks do not ridicule each other for seeking jobs like police officer, that is a myth. The people that have those goals are not on the corner talking about it, they are usually active in pursuit of their goals. They usually participate in sports, do their schoolwork and prepare themselves the best way they can to achieve their goals. Quietly looking for ways to increase their chances; they start by staying out of trouble.

The City of Utica Police Department put posters up at all the corner stores in Utica's 'inner city', announcing the upcoming Civil Service exam necessary for entry to the academy. Recently a Black American recruit from Utica, Wesley Jackson, took the test and passed.

Before anyone could celebrate, he was forced (coerced) to resign one week before his graduation from the Academy.

The story was leaked to The OD and the subject of the article, written by Rocco LaDuca, was how difficult it is to find qualified minority candidates within the City of Utica.

A narrative was developed that would supposedly provide a temporary excuse for the small number of Black officers. It is a narrative that insinuates the integrity required for anyone who desires a career in law enforcement is in short supply within the minority community of Utica.

During a sit-down interview last week Jackson explained his experience. "Basically, he (Chief Williams) called me in the office and asked me to sit down." Gathering his thoughts, Jackson continued. "He told me I was the subject of two Internal Affairs investigations over the last five months and my activities off the clock had come into question."

Jackson explained he was in the final week of a 26 week training course. He was in good standing and had everything worked out he would be on the streets right now.

When contacted, Chief Williams was open and candid regarding Wesley's termination. But he also explained that he was unable to talk about the specifics of the Internal Affairs investigation (the reason for his dismissal).

"He can say all he wants about it...I can't," Williams said.

Dancyscorner asked Chief Williams if it was routine for a candidate to be investigated by Internal Affairs before hitting the streets, after all, he had passed all the necessary physicals and civil service examinations.

"No, it’s not," he said.

But Wesley’s case is different. His father, Ray Jackson, Sr., has an active lawsuit against The City of Utica Police Department and,we all know this should not matter but, he is also Black.

"It might have been the lawsuit. I honestly thought they hired me thinking my dad would drop it," Wesley thought aloud searching for reasons. "My sister, who passed away two years ago, has an old boyfriend who they thought I talked to."

When asked, "what is so important about him?" Jackson replied, "They were looking for him and since he is still at large they thought I was passing on information."

So the story gets stranger. A shadowy figure that law enforcement is looking for was tied to Jackson due to his relationship with his deceased sister. Wesley emphasized his innocence and steadfastly denies any relations with 'undesirables.'

But for him to even think they hired him because he was anything but qualified speaks to the dire reality. The collective self-esteem and trust of the Black community is at an all-time low. The establishment, right wing, 'Obama Backlash' (knee-jerk negativity for all things Black) has hurt Black communities all over the nation.

"They also said a lot of the guys (current cops) don't want me (on the force) and don't think I deserve to be there" Jackson added.

Jackson would have been the seventh officer among the 163 active. That’s a whopping 4% of the force. It would be foolish to assume every member of the department would welcome him with open arms but to look for reasons to get rid of him before he even starts is hard to overcome for anyone regardless of race.

The active Black officers have not been quoted for this article on purpose. They have Sworn to work within and for a system that has historically made life difficult for men just like them. They have successfully straddled the line of decency and have enforced the law with fairness and equity, like the majority of their White brethren and sisters.

Dancyscorner would like to Highlight and celebrate the valuable trust within the professional ranks that they have earned.

The leadership within law enforcement is concerned with crime. It is their first priority, however they are not proud of the lack of diversity. They would like to think everyone is welcome to join 'The Boys in Blue'.




Strikeslip said...

Good post!

Departments usually refuse to talk about the specifics of an internal investigation . . . I could be wrong but I think it is to protect the privacy of the object of the investigation.

What happens if the object of the investigation here (Mr. Jackson) signs an agreement waiving his privacy rights to allow public disclosure of the results of the investigation?

Would Chief Williams then disclose what happened?

David B. Dancy said...

The Chief mentioned the waiver...he was forthcoming