Police Brutality: Current Thoughts and Past Memories

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As a 72-year-old, African-American and SeasonedSistah, I write this post to share current thoughts and past memories about Police Brutality after reading The Seeker’s Dungeon Prompt:

“In many countries where guns are not legal the police also don’t carry guns themselves — only the military does.  In America because guns are so widespread, we couldn’t even conceptualize an unarmed police force.  But now, with the full militarization of the police, do you think it has gone too far?  Do you feel scared when you see the cop strapping a gun while waiting for coffee in line next to you at the Starbucks?  What is your relationship with the police and how do you think your race has colored that?  Has race colored your perception of police brutality.”

 

CURRENT THOUGHTS

Full militarization of police departments

In my lifetime, an unarmed police force is highly unlikely; but, I do feel the  militarization of police departments diminishes our perception that they are here to serve and protect us.

Do you feel scared when you see the cop strapping a gun while waiting for coffee in line next to you at the Starbucks?

My own fear and distrust of police escalated when I viewed the television news footage of the police descending on Ferguson, Missouri:

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After viewing this, I was left with the impression that the police officer’s role has changed from “protect and serve” to “fight and battle.”  

However, I don’t personally feel threatened when I see a police officer carrying a holstered gun.  Because, my age bracket, 72, does not meet their racial profiling protocol.  At least, I believe this is the case.

What is your relationship with the police and how do you think your race has colored that.

After, the many questionable killings of African-American men by police officers throughout the country, I fear for my son and three grandsons if they were to have an encounter with the police.

PAST MEMORIES

Full militarization of police departments

In the South, during the Civil Rights Movement, the police did not have militarized equipment.  On television, I watched law enforcement officers approach peaceful protesters with looks of hate on their faces to “fight and battle” the enemies.  Their purpose in being there was definitely not to “protect and serve” the non-violent protesters in their fight to gain equal rights for African-Americans in America.

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Do you feel scared when you see the cop strapping a gun while waiting for coffee in line next to you at the Starbucks?

As a child, I feared law enforcement officers, especially in the South.  This stemmed from listening to my elders tell stories about racist and inhumane acts against African-Americans perpetrated by law enforcement officers in Mississippi.

It was this fear that caused many African-Americans to drive at night when traveling in the South.  They didn’t want to meet law enforcement officers on the highway or in small towns.  The common belief was that law enforcement officers targeted African-American travelers in newer automobiles with northern license plates.  And, when stopped, they faced trumped-up charges, heavy fines, racial harassment, beatings; and, sometimes even jail sentences.

What is your relationship with the police and how do you think your race has colored that?

In 1978, my father’s death was ruled a suicide based on information provided by a police officer and his brother who said they saw the suicide.

This is the real story, as reported years later on January 24, 2007, in the Chicago Reader titled “The Good Cop – Frank Laverty.

The author, John Conroy, describes Detective Laverty, as the “Chicago police detective, who did the right things and paid for it for years.”

It’s an eight-page article, but several paragraphs are about Detective Laverty’s  investigation of my father’s death:

“One summer morning in 1978 Laverty was ordered to notify the family of Hamp Burks, a janitor, had committed suicide the night before in a tavern on 103rd Street,  The paperwork, written by an Area Two detective, said Burks had grabbed the gun of Chicago police sergeant Henry Cooper, who was also in the bar, and shot himself in the head.  “I don’t know why the midnight crew can’t make their own damn notifications.”  Laverty told me, “but I went over to make the notifications by myself.”

Laverty, however, also dropped by the tavern.  He found witnesses who said the sergeant, a 25-year veteran whose brother owned the place, had executed the janitor.  At first Laverty thought the suicide report must have been a mistake made by a detective who didn’t know better, but he later concluded that the detective had given the sergeant a pass.  “I locked (Cooper) up,” he said, “It was hard to make it stick.”

Cooper was convicted in January 1980 and sentenced to 20 years.  Not long after Laverty was looking at a homicide victim in a hospital when a sergeant told him he wished it was Laverty on the slab, “because I locked up Henry Cooper and he was their favorite.  He was the corruption king of the Fifth District.”  Laverty realized he’d made enemies he didn’t know.

I was estranged from my father at the time of his death.  Along with my stepbrother, we made the funeral arrangements.  And, I left Chicago immediately after his burial.  At the time, I chose not to receive information during the investigation; but I was informed when Mr. Cooper was found guilty and sentenced to twenty years.

Mr. Cooper was an African-American and Detective Frank Laverty an Irish American.  On one hand, Mr. Cooper relied on the code of silence to save him from a murder charge.  And on the other, Detective Laverty broke the code of silence and did the right thing.

Today, as in the past, I do not trust the police to do the right thing.

I believe, many police officers bring racial bias and hatred into the workplace, including some who are African-Americans.

Also, I believe, like Detective Laverty,  there are police officers who, philosophically, do not agree with this code of silence; but, unlike Detective Laverty, they lack the courage to break the code.

 

26 thoughts on “Police Brutality: Current Thoughts and Past Memories

  1. This is an incredible post. I really appreciate that you were willing to revisit those memories so that others will know what happened.

    I am so sorry to hear that your father was executed by a policeman. What a tragedy. I’m glad that Frank Laverty was willing to expose the coverup.

    Liked by 1 person

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  3. What a horrible situation. You clearly have a wealth of experience to draw from for this subject. Thank you so much for sharing your experiences with us.

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  4. Thank you for telling us about your painful history with the police in light of present brutal police actions against black men. You are being true to your mantra about fear by choosing to face everything and rise. My heart is with you.

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    • It was a difficult story to tell. I had buried this part of my life for more than thirty-five years. But felt given the recent acts of police brutality to share what I faced more than 35 years ago. I still believe that is a strong code of silence amongst police offier. Thank you for your comments.

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  5. Yvonne,
    You are an incredible “light being”. Your story is BIG medicine for us to remember. I am hoping that Ferguson is the next point of change. I do not like what is going on between the police brutality and voter rights getting stripped away. We must all stand up and together. You have my support. God bless you too for sharing. Diana

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  6. What a powerful post!
    I was saddened to read how your father died…so sorry that
    you lost him that way.

    As for the targeting of African American males by police officers,
    that is a reality that hasn’t changed much over time.
    I have a small poster that reads, Driving while black shouldn’t be
    a crime”, yet it’s more likely that a black male will be followed and/or
    pulled over than a white one. The same for arrests..

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    • Thank you, Jane. The story about my father was buried deep for over 35 years, I just shared it with the children before writing this post. But, I am so frustrated with the action of some police officers that I wanted to put a personal voice to their long-term code blue system of protecting each other. Hugs.

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  7. dear Yvonne,

    I listened to a 2 hour NPR conversation held in Ferguson this evening. a community leader was phoned by one of his staff members and was told that police were in the parking lot checking license plates of those who attended. such a sorry commentary…a reinforcement of the fact of continual harassment…

    thank you for sharing your very powerful story about the murder of your father. thank you for shedding light on the origins of fear and mistrust of police. until we can all put ourselves in the place of persons in these United States of America in this 21st century – especially about the sad but true fact of how African American mothers and fathers of children fear for their childrens’ safety( at the hands of police) every single day – these States will not be worthy of being called United.

    much love,

    Karen

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    • Thank you for your comments. I visited a part of my past that had been closed for years. But, I wanted to enlighten those who read the post, given my personal experience, that “code blue” existed 30+ plus years ago and, likely, continues today. Ferguson, along with other acts of police brutality, is disappointing. As an African-American woman, I ask why is there so much hate against those of us who are different. Then, I look at my neighbors, my white friends, my social network friends, and my blogging friends, especially you, and feel comforted that this is not the way most people think. Your words are much appreciated.

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