On the night of November 24, I walked down to the ground floor of my apartment building to put in another load of laundry. As soon as I descended the stairs, I heard the roar of helicopters and the scream of police sirens. I paused for a minute or two to watch the helicopters circle the air above. I live about two miles from downtown Oakland. Oh sh**t, I thought. I had a pretty good idea why they were there. I checked the news as soon as I got back inside and learned about the decision. The decision not to indict Darren Wilson.
The helicopters and sirens continued well through the final wash. When I walked outside a second time, I saw blue lights flashing on nearby I-580. I also heard voices, shouting. Announcing. Something was happening close to me. I soon learned that protesters had blocked a section of I-580 and marched through the Grand Lake area of Oakland, which is about a five block walk from my apartment.
The next morning, I listened to an interview with a civil rights activist on NPR. I don’t remember the man’s name. I do remember that he explained his belief that many officers are trained to either shoot to kill or use as little force as necessary depending on race. The activist argued that some officers are taught to believe that black men are dangerous regardless of whether they have a weapon. It’s a fundamental, deep-seated problem that could take years, or decades, to change.
This discussion did little to ease the pain, frustration and helplessness that sat heavy on my heart since the night before. I know there are police officers that work hard to serve and protect the community without such strong biases. But where are they? Are they the exception to the rule? My head spun as I grappled with the decision.
Last week, I received a letter from Kops for Kids, a local nonprofit that helps at-risk youth in Contra Costa County. Comprised of active and retired police officers, Kops for Kids’ mission is to help prevent violence, drug abuse, gangs, and juvenile delinquency.
So far this year, the organization has reached more than 6,200 youth through Positive Mental Attitudes Seminars and a Sports Clinic Program (which includes a track and field program, which as a runner, I am hugely supportive of!!). Kops for Kids offers these programs at no cost to schools. The Contra Costa Times reported that cofounder Neil Stratton receives no salary for his work.
After I read the donation letter, I had my answer. “Good cops” do exist. They just don’t get much attention on the news these days. I don’t deny that we are at the breaking point of change. The decision was like the stone that got dropped in the stream, which stirred up all of the muck that had settled down at the bottom, ignored for decades. Now it’s time to clear the water.