I love this city, I love the Chicago Police Department, and I love my chosen profession. It has cost me dearly, but I do not regret my choice to become a Copper.
Police Officers and the law enforcement profession have come under fire, and not just figuratively. It’s time to start talking about what needs to be done.
I have been on the sidelines for the past 18 years or so, on permanent disability after a squad car accident that left me paralyzed and legally blind, among other things. So I’m not exactly in the loop, and I get my information where other citizens get theirs: from TV news and the internet, but I do have that special filter of having been on the inside, and I’m not shy about calling bullshit when I see it, near it, or smell it…
The first bullshit is the notion, fairly widespread apparently, that White Cops like nothing better than to shoot and kill young African American men. Yeah, right: we just love risking our job, life in prison, making our families destitute, and going through the remainder of our days with a bull’s-eye on our backs. If anyone truly believes this, you can stop reading now: you are beyond help.
The Chicago Police Department, like many large metropolitan police departments, does have a high incidence of police-involved shootings. In almost every case, the officers had to defend themselves against an armed offender who thought he could escape justice by pointing his own weapon at the police. Are all these cases of White Cop vs Black Offender? No, but many are.
So why is this? Well, there are several factors that tend to get mixed up.
First of all, there are not enough qualified African Americans who pass the Chicago Police Exam and subsequent screening procedures. I don’t know the demographic breakdown, but I see the evidence when I visit the Chicago Police Training Academy: a disproportionate number of White officers.
I know, some of you are sharpening your pencil, ready to say "See, they rigged the process to keep Blacks out!"
Nice try! No, there are not enough qualified Black applicants because:
1. They Lack the educational requirements.
2. They have a criminal record.
3. They have drugs in their system when they are tested.
4. They don’t want to be the Police…
Would having more African American cops result in fewer African American young men getting shot by the Police? I tend to think not, but it certainly would unmask the myth that it’s all the fault of those White Cops….
The overwhelming reason – in my humble opinion – that so many young African American males get shot by police, is because these same young African American men are going through life with a pistol in their waistband and have only one solution to every problem that comes along: take out that gun and shoot!
For whatever reasons, and there are lots of contributing factors, these young men have lost hope. They don’t see education as their ticket out of the Ghetto, and they really don’t know anything about life outside the Ghetto. Many of them live in a parallel universe where gang rules trump all others, and where solutions that seem common sense to us, are alien to them.
The solution, is, of course, better education, and the availability of decent jobs in neighborhoods like Englewood, Grand Crossing, South Shore, East Garfield Park, Lawndale, Roseland, and so many more.
Intervention is long overdue, but it must focus primarily on the very young. By the time they’re 10 or 12 years old, it’s already too late for way too many of these kids. That doesn’t mean we have to abandon them, but we must concentrate on the very young, and accept the fact that this is a long-term commitment. There has been talk of a Marshall Plan to tackle these problems, and I agree.
Secondly, as our Police Superintendents have been saying for years now, we must get the guns off the street. We must stem the tide of illegal guns and ammunition flowing into the hands of seasoned criminals by choking off the supply from Gun Shows and outside gun dealers through so-called straw-purchasers. Background checks should be inescapable, and there should be strict penalties for violating existing gun laws.
Concealed carry is not a solution. In most cases, it just means that there’s one more opportunity for criminals to obtain guns. I’ve seen my share of security guards who had been disarmed and executed with their own weapons, and I know that dozens of Chicago Police Officers have been disarmed and killed with their own guns, some quite recently, like Officer Thor Soderberg. The answer is less guns, not more.
Anthony Ewing, the offender who shot my partner in December of 1990 and tried to do the same to me, had obtained his gun from the corner dope-dealer. He told the guy he wanted to buy some rocks of crack cocaine and when the man pulled out his stash, Anthony grabbed the whole bag. When the dealer then pulled out his pistol, Anthony took that away from him as well. "He was a pussy," was his only comment about that later on.
You think you’ll do better, Mr. Suburban office manager or salesman? You really think you can keep the Anthony Eaqings of this world from taking your gun away from you? Remember, you are dealing with a criminal who doesn’t have anything to lose, and you are all that stands between him and the firearm he needs to move up the predatory ladder.
Do we have a responsibility to do better as law enforcement officers? Dawn right. We must find new ways to interact with the people we serve. We must find ways to cut through the bullshit and deliver quality services to a highly skeptical population.
We must make it our business to learn everything there is to know about our Beat and all the people who live there – not just the criminals – just like the Coppers who used to walk a Beat a century ago. Detailed knowledge of crime conditions, and face to face contact with the people we serve, is far more powerful than any weapon in our arsenal. We need to be the Smart Police, not just the Kick-Ass Police.
We must also be realistic. Many crime victims are beyond help because of the choices they themselves make. Should you be wandering the streets at 3 am? Is the alley the safest route to get your to your destination? Should you invite a known gang-banger or career criminal into your home, just because right now he’s flush with cash and dope? Should we really be sitting in a parked car in Roseland at 2:00 in the morning? These are potentially fatal choices and there’s little law enforcement can do to save people who stumble through life from one stupid decision to another.
The community also has to make an effort to cooperate with the police. You cannot spread hatred of police officers and then complain when cops circle the wagons and dig in for a siege. Like it or not, we’re in this mess together: we just for 40 hours a week, you 24/7.
When I was working the streets of Chicago, I was aghast to see mothers tell her infant sons, "you see that policeman over there? He’s gonna come and get you if you’re bad…"
That’s where it starts, the distrust, with stupid remarks like that, repeated again and again…
For our part, we have to get our heads out of our ass as well. We also, can not dig in our heels and treat everyone who’s not the police as an enemy combatant. We have to remind ourselves – and each other – to see the humanity in those we deal with on a daily basis. We have to be open enough so that the people in the neighborhood can see the humanity in us as well. We can’t just be law enforcement robots who have a single solution for every problem: slap on the cuffs and haul ’em off to jail…
Feel free to comment, but, do me a favor: don’t just rant, there’s been enough of that already.
(Photo by Lisa Thomos.)
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If you are interested in reading my other writings on this subject, go to the Album marked "Chicago Cop." You can also get my book "Chicago Cop: Tales from the Street" in paperback as well as e-book from Amazon.com. If you are an Amazon Prime member, you can read it for FREE.