I was a police chief stopped by my own officer. After Floyd, we need change at all levels.
I could have been George Floyd.
That was my first thought when I saw the video of the Minneapolis police officer, Derek Chauvin, who swallowed George Floyd's life.
In 1957, I was a freshman at Cass Technical High School. When I went home after talking to my favorite teacher, four white policemen jumped out of their cruiser, threw me against it, and hit me hard. I hadn't done anything wrong. Officers of the dreaded “Big Four” were known in the black community for brutally maintaining their kind of “law and order”. The more I screamed, the more they beat me. The time seemed to stand still when I saw the anger on their faces and the horror on the faces of the black people gathered around us and asking the police to stop.
After a few hours they told me to get my ass out of there. I ran home crying but didn't tell my parents for fear it would put them in danger. I was 14, the same age as Emmett Till, when he was killed in Mississippi two years earlier. I was scared, angry, and confused. Why did you hurt me?
That day I promised myself that I would become a police officer in Detroit and change the police in Detroit from the inside.
After graduating and serving for four years in the Air Force, including an assignment in Vietnam, I joined the Detroit Police Department on August 2, 1965.
As a rookie officer, I encountered open and occasional bigotry as well as routine slander and brutality. Many white officers refused to ride alongside black officers. Some made cardboard dividers in patrol cars - labeled the "white" section of the "colored" one. Others used Lysol to "disinfect" seats on which black officers sat. Some of my white colleagues refused to speak to me during the shifts, did not dare to eat near me or with me, and often used the N-word to describe me and the Afro-American citizens whose protection they swore to protect .
A white colleague tried to kill me
Two years later, as an officer, during the 1967 uprising, I felt a stab of betrayal. One night, after a hard shift, two white DPD officers pulled me past. I was still wearing a uniform, a badge on my chest, and a # 2 lapel pin on my collar, indicating that I was working in the 2nd district. I identified myself as a co-officer and thought they would see me as equal. Instead, someone pointed his gun at me and said, "Tonight you're going to die, n -----" before shooting down his gun. I got back in my vehicle and miraculously managed to escape. I then realized that not even our common uniform could save me from racism. And I wondered if they were willing to shoot a black policeman and kill what they were willing to do to black civilians?
A few years later, as a superior, I prevented a group of officers from beating three black teenagers. I was finally able to hold them accountable for their excessive use of violence. But my district commander yelled at me for trying to "ruin the lives of these good officers." I have seen this type of complicity repeatedly. When other officials reported abuse as they should, they were outlawed, relegated to minor duties, and treated so badly that many stopped.
Enforcing the law while it's black: I understand the anger, but don't make the decision to the police. It could make things worse.
In those years my spiritual salvation was education. I have three degrees, including a master's degree and a doctorate. When I became Detroit Police Chief in 1994, it was important to me to exterminate the bad officials - like those who beat me as a teenager and tried to kill me in 1967. I have also worked to rebuild trust in the community for too long it felt like it was at the mercy of a violent and indifferent police force. It was my mission as a boss to improve the lives of the Detroit people.
However, eliminating implicit bias and systemic racism in the department was incredibly difficult. When I was boss, a white DPD officer pulled me over one night. He approached my unmarked vehicle and asked without looking at my driver's license and registration. To see how far that would go, I said, "Yes, officer." At some point he recognized who he had stopped and immediately apologized. My question to him was: "Why did you stop me?" He said, "I thought it was a stolen car." The officer was reprimanded for his actions.
Joe Biden: We urgently need to eradicate systemic racism, from policing to housing to opportunities
I later attended a Criminal Justice Forum in Washington as Deputy Mayor, which included chiefs of police and other senior officials from major cities in America. I told them my story and asked what suggestions they had to free our departments from similar actions. Nobody said anything. Unfortunately, silence has been the norm for too long in most departments.
Serve, protect and end discrimination
What can I do if my uniform, badge and training cannot protect me from violence against black people? Now is the time to get to the heart of the matter: great efforts must be made to fundamentally restructure the police stations so that they actually do what they promise: serve and protect everyone.
This should include a change at all levels. Here's what we need to do to get started:
►Require higher fitness and fitness standards for incoming recruits.
►Require regular mental health exams to deal with the stress and challenges of law enforcement.
►Develop a nationwide database of all officers to prevent bad officers from jumping departments to avoid marks in their constant record.
►Stop the transportation of officials to superiors who have multiple disciplinary complaints, particularly in positions of leaders such as sergeants and lieutenants.
►Rehabilitation within the police unions. Their intransigence makes it almost impossible to fire and hold officials accountable for violating the law and public trust.
The relationship between the community and the police is changing fundamentally. Departments should be at the forefront of a transformative model of public security in all possible outcomes, including police defusion. Arresting Derek Chauvin and three other Minneapolis police officers for murdering George Floyd is a step in the right direction. With hundreds of thousands of people around the world demanding accountability, the time has come for a significant change so that no one, especially black men and women, ever has to think again: "I could have been."
Isaiah McKinnon is a retired chief of the Detroit Police Department, retired associate professor of education at the University of Detroit Mercy, and former deputy mayor of Detroit. This column originally appeared in the Detroit Free Press.
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This article originally appeared in the Detroit Free Press: I could have been George Floyd, but I lived: Former Detroit Police Chief
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