What is the role of black police officers?
By Frederick H. Lowe
Three African-American police officers in Baltimore have been charged with a range of crimes related to the death of Freddie Gray, a 25 year-old man who suffered a severe neck injury after police arrested him and transported him in a paddy wagon. Gray’s death has been ruled a homicide by the Baltimore City State’s Attorney.
Police arrested Gray on April 12 and he slipped into a coma and died April 19th after undergoing surgery for three broken vertebrae and a broken voice box. It is still not clear why police even arrested Gray. His death sparked days of both violent rebellion and peaceful protest in Baltimore and elsewhere.
Gray’s death raises questions about the role African-American police officers play in arresting black suspects and the treatment of black suspects. Some African Americans once believed that black officers would be kinder in their treatment of black suspects since African Americans are often regarded with disdain that borders on hatred by whites, Hispanics and Asians.
Some African Americans have urged black mayors to take over their city’s police departments and recruit more black officers to end police brutality and unlawful arrests and shootings.
But it hasn’t always worked out that way.
Fred Rice, Chicago’s first African-American police superintendent, double promoted from lieutenant to deputy commander now disgraced former police officer Jon Burge.
Burge and his crew tortured more than 100 black men over 20 years, forcing them into confessing to crimes they did not commit. Rice was followed by two other African-American police superintendents, LeRoy Martin and Terry Hillard, who both knew about Burge’s brutal tactics but did nothing to get rid of him.
Burge was released from prison in October after serving 4 ½ years for lying about having meted out torture to black suspects, but due to the statute of limitations on his crimes, he was not prosecuted for torture.
The three black officers in Baltimore are Sgt. Alicia D. White, 30, Officer William G. Porter, 25, and Officer Caesar R. Goodson, Jr. 45. They were among six Baltimore police officers charged with crimes related to Gray’s death. The three white officers charged are: Lt. Brian W. Rice, 41, Officer Edward M. Nero, 29, and Officer Garrett E. Miller, 26.
- Miller is charged with two counts of second-degree assault, two counts of misconduct in office and one count of false imprisonment;
- Nero is charged with two counts of second-degree assault, two counts of misconduct in office and one count of false imprisonment
- Goodson is charged with one count of second-degree depraved- heart murder, involuntary manslaughter, second-degree assault, manslaughter by vehicle (gross negligence), manslaughter by vehicle (criminal negligence) and misconduct in office
- Rice is charged with one count of involuntary manslaughter, two counts of second-degree assault, two counts of misconduct in office and one count of false imprisonment
- White is charged with one count of involuntary manslaughter, second-degree assault and misconduct in office
- Porter is charged with one count of involuntary manslaughter, second-degree assault and misconduct in office.
Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby said Gray died after suffering a severe and critical neck injury while being handcuffed, shackled by his feet and unrestrained inside a police van. “It is against police policy to transport a passenger without proper restraints such as a seat belt.”
If convicted, the officers charged face decades in prison. They were all released on bail Friday. Goodson, White, Porter and Rice paid bail at $350,000 each and Nero and Miller paid $250,000 each.
Gray’s death raises questions about the role black cops play in the arrests and deaths of African-Anerican suspects, but this isn’t the first time the issue has been discussed. Because of social media and the increase in citizen videotaping, cops of all races are subject to greater public scrutiny.
During a demonstration in Baltimore, one protestor held up a sign listing the names of black men shot to death by police. One of the names was Sean Bell, who was shot to death on November 25, 2006, by undercover New York City police officers. Bell and two friends had left his bachelor’s party at a Queens, N.Y., night club.
Five police officers, including two black cops, fired 50 shots into Bell’s car after one of the officers, Gescard Isnora, claimed he saw one of Bell’s friends holding a gun. Neither Bell nor his two friends, Trent Benefield and Joseph Guzman, were armed.
Marc Cooper, a black detective, fired five shots, and Isnora, another black cop, fired 11 shots. His actions set off the 50-shot fusillade. Isnora was forced to leave the NYPD. Cooper apparently is still with the NYPD.
I was a police reporter for the Chicago Tribune. A police commander told me told me that once an individual joins the department they no longer see black or white, they just see blue. I think that’s completely true for black cops, but not so true for white cops.