Blaine Police Chief: It’s long past time the two Americas come together


America is going through a challenging time. Many in America are responding to the deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Atatiana Jefferson, and many others at the hands of the police. They are also responding to systemic racism that has affected people of color for many years. Too many years.

As the chief of police of Blaine, Washington, I stand for truth and righteousness. I condemn any abuse, however slight, of police power and authority. The members of the Blaine Police Department are highly trained and have the utmost respect for life and humanity. Blaine police officers are trained in de-escalation techniques, effective use of force, crisis intervention and the unjustness of bias-based policing. We have been taught how to recognize our own implicit biases, understand how biased policing impacts community members and have developed skills and tactics to reduce the influence of bias.

I also support peaceful speech and expression. Expression that is constructive and not destructive. I do not support looting, arson, thievery, destruction of property, violent attacks or murder. On Monday, one of my former police supervisors was murdered on the streets of St. Louis, Missouri, by a looter.

I am a retired military veteran with 22 years of voluntary, faithful and unwavering service. I have served in the homeland and abroad and have proudly worn the “red, white, and blue” which represents our country.

I have been a law enforcement officer for almost 27 years, protecting those who cannot protect themselves. I am a guardian who affords others safe havens and safe spaces. I’ve served in communities and on college campuses so all people may live comfortably, educate comfortably, and be freely able to love one another and have the freedom to peacefully live.

I am also a black man in America. It has not been easy being Black in America. There are several different Americas, depending on the lens through which you are viewing. I will only speak of what I see through my lens. My truth. A lens that has experienced racism, bias, preconceived judgments and assumptions.

People often ask me why I decided to become a police officer. I tell them a story about an incident I had while living in Ferguson, Missouri, in the late 1980s and attending community college there. Incidentally, I lived in the same apartment complex where Michael Brown was shot and killed many years later in 2014.

One Sunday morning, two cars of mostly friends and one relative decided to go horseback riding at a horse farm in an adjacent county. After about 45 minutes of driving, I decided to exit the interstate so we could get a bite to eat. We ate our meal, got back into our cars and entered the ramp onto the interstate to continue our journey. As we entered onto the entrance ramp, we were pulled over by four or five police cars. Both of our cars were pulled over. The officer approached my driver’s side window and asked me where we were going. I told him we were going to ride horses. I then asked the officer the reason why he stopped “us”? The officer said he stopped us because I failed to use my electric signal (blinker) when I exited the interstate an hour ago. I was stunned and I knew this encounter was about much more than an alleged signal violation. This encounter was about why two cars with young black males were in this county on a Sunday morning.

Thereafter, the officers summoned us out of the cars, demanded identification from everyone, thoroughly searched us from head to toe and demanded to search the vehicles. I asked if searching my car was legal and he said to me, “Oh, you must be one of those smart niggers.” The officer told me if I did not let him search the car then he would arrest me for “Failure to Signal” and the arrest would give him the opportunity to search the car. In Missouri, traffic offenses are criminal charges and officers can arrest and book someone into jail at their discretion. As a young black man surrounded by four or five white police officers on the side of a road in a majority white county in Missouri, I did not have much choice. Jail was not an option. I agreed to the search. The search was overly extensive, illegal and unjust; seat cushions removed, and parts of the dashboard disassembled with a complete disregard of property. The officers found nothing of interest to them. I recall the female officer asking one of my friends, “Why you niggers didn’t go horseback riding in St. Louis?” He told her he wasn’t aware of any places to ride horses in St. Louis.

At one point they were extremely excited after a radio transmission, which I now know was from their dispatcher. The dispatcher informed them one of the occupants had an infraction warrant for “Failing to Display a Fishing License” from the Department of Conservation. I vividly remember the excitement from the officer when he loudly said, “We got one.” The officers applied the handcuffs and led my relative to a patrol car. Prior to getting into the car, he was able to tell us he had paid the fine and the receipt was on top of his dresser drawer at his home.

After the arrest, the officers seemed satisfied that their work was done. I inquired where I could file a complaint and the officer told me at the station. No address, no directions, no nothing. Of course we did not have cell phones and this was pre-internet. Nevertheless, we traveled back to St. Louis to retrieve the proof of payment for the fine and found the address of the police station in the phone book. Three hours later we arrived at the station, and provided the receipt. My relative was released from custody.

What didn’t happen? The police department would not let me file a formal complaint. The person I talked to told me he would have a conversation with the officer. That day I knew I wanted to become a police officer. I believed there had to be a better way to treat the community. I believed and hoped not all police officers were like the ones we encountered. I was right – but I was also wrong.

Fast-forward a few years. After being a police officer at the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department for a few years, I was granted the opportunity to teach our next generation of police officers at the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Academy. I told this story to each academy class. I felt it was important to let new officers know that each and every encounter can have a profound effect on someone’s life. Words matter and actions matter. Being just matters. How do you want to be remembered?

A few weeks after telling the story to a new recruit class, I received a phone call from a lieutenant of a neighboring county. You see, when I told the story I used the officer’s name. I never forgot it — his name is etched in my brain like my social security number and my birthdate. The now ranking officer wanted to know why I was defaming his name and he had no idea who I was or what incident I was referring to. I respectfully told him what he did to us on that entrance of the interstate; how unjust and illegal his actions were, how that one car stop of his impacted me and led me to the desk I was sitting in. He warned me that he would file a complaint against me if I continued to defame his name. I thought that was ironic considering a few years back I was not afforded the opportunity of filing a complaint.

Nevertheless, I told the lieutenant it didn’t surprise me that he didn’t remember the incident. Oftentimes people selectively forget. I ended the call by telling him what bothered me the most was that I believed him. I told him that he had unconstitutionally stopped so many young black people, specifically black males, in his career that one car stop on a Sunday afternoon was a blur. I told the lieutenant my hope was that he didn’t have much time left as a police officer and that he was a disgrace to officers who are doing it right. The lieutenant never filed the complaint.

My family has experienced many more instances of racism and bigotry, not only at the hands of the police but also from others. They are products of the south – specifically the area of Philadelphia, Mississippi. I can recall as a youngster listening to the elders recapping what they knew and experienced in 1964 when three civil rights workers were killed.

I can recall when I was five years old asking my grandfather why he made his own bullets for his .38 revolver and reloaded cartridges for his twelve-gauge shotgun. He told me that in Mississippi they would not sell ammunition to a black man so he had to make his own in order to hunt.

A couple of years ago, my twenty-something daughter phoned me. She was crying and very upset. She was distraught about recent events of police brutality and abuse. She said, “Daddy, I am more afraid of being stopped by the police than being robbed at gunpoint by a stranger.” She added, “I know the robber means harm to me but in the case of the police – at this point I am not sure if they will help me or kill me.” Let that sink in.

These life experiences that are rooted deep into the fabric of people of color. The experiences are real. And it hurts.

My hope is that we as a nation can come together in unity. Love each other. Bless each other. Embrace each other as equal citizens – equal brothers and sisters and equal Americans of the United States of America. God bless.


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