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Black Cop

A Black Cop's Burden—Herbert Dyer

Why Black Cops Are Often Worse Than Even the Most Racist White Cops

For his last book, The Evidence of Things Not Seen, the late, great James Baldwin assumed the role of literary reporter anddescribed an encounter with a black policeman in Atlanta.It was 1980, yet another year of terror for the masses of black people. That year presaged the rise of Ronald Reagan to the presidency and thus the official kickoff ofyet another, if more “sophisticated,” incarnation of “white backlash.” That is, the Reagan response by so-called conservative (and not so conservative) white Americans was the not so delayed reaction tothecleansing social, political, cultural, and economic actions and breakthroughs of the 1960s generally, and most particularly of the modest victories of the Civil Rights Movement.

Baldwin was investigating the unsolved Atlanta child murders.For more than a year, Atlanta and this nation-state had been transfixed by the regular appearance of apparently randomly selected blackyouths' kidnapped and murdered corpses turning up in and around the “city too busy to hate.”

As Baldwin walked through Atlanta's vast black ghetto seeking interviews with mothers of these dead black boys, he came upon a black policeman grillinga woman whose son's body had recently been found.Forlorn and grief-stricken, she sat on her stoop as the black cop third-degreed her about both her and her son's “lifestyle,”“background,” and “criminal” proclivities.This public servant loudly, gleefully, mercilessly ridiculed both her and her dead child.

Finally, the stricken mother had had enough.As Baldwin describes the scene, she somehow shook off her sorrow long enough to accuse her tormentor:“Why you talkin' to me like this?” she implored. “You're black just like me!”

The cop was having none of it.In a statement fraught with all the condescension, sarcasm, colorism, and classism that the masses of black people endure every single day, he said, “Yeah, you're damn right, I'm black.Yeah, I may be black all right...but I'm not black like you!”

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In yet another white-created hellhole, the ghettoized black side of Baltimore, the trial of six killers in blue (three white, three black) of Freddie Gray has begun.First up is black cop, William Porter.

Porter's image comes to us through the white-hot gaze of the mostly white-controlled media as that of a youthful, dedicated, sympathetic, andmisunderstood public servant.At this early stage of the trial, Porter's attorneys have subjected the black judge, the black prosecutor, the black-dominated jury, and the larger national White Gaze to various tweaks of the standard, well-worn defenses put up by all cops – white, black, or otherwise –when they are so very, very rarely held to account for snuffing out the life any black citizen:

  • He feared for his life; therefore,
  • He had no choice and was forced into
  • Making a split-second decision.In any event,
  • “The black” was oh so menacing.And dangerous.And wild.
  • The end result, of course and as always—the catchall for all such killings—
  • The poor, overworked and put-upon officer was just doing his job.

At some level, black cops know that they labor in the primary institution purposely and specifically set up to contain, control and oppress, and when necessary, eliminate black people.

At some level, black cops know that they labor in the primary institution purposely and specifically set up to contain, control and oppress, and when necessary, eliminate black people.They understand, even if only subconsciously, that Job One of every police department in the white nation-state is the protection and preservation of what euphemistically is called the status quo.But in practical terms, that “job” has always been and remains the protection and preservation of white folks' domination of material wealth and property and the underlying ideas employed to legitimize that domination—white supremacy.If they don't know, they should know that in the American context, the whole notion of “policing” comes straight out of the original slave patrols set up to capture, punish and return runawayslaves.

Put another way, Porter was simply doing what he was paid to do.Black people in “law enforcement,” especially at street level, serve as defenders of white supremacy because in order to “succeed” as a law enforcement officer, officer of the court, prison or jail guard, one must first accept the premise that black people as a whole are the enemy of white supremacy.Hell, they may not even be “people” at all—as black cops often learn when they are sometimes caught out of uniform and confronted by their white counterparts.

The concept of “justice” is just that—a nice sounding but empty word.It has no tangible meaning or practical relevance to the material condition of black people in 21st century America.As Ta-nehisi Coates, among others, has pointed out recently, historically and currently, black people have always been and continue to be mere fodder and scapegoats for whatever ails white America.Black cops and black law enforcement types serve as frontline agents—“first responders”—for this system which has, as Coates exquisitely points out, systematically and consistently plundered black wealth, black labor, black health, and black culture at every single historical and current point in our sad and tortuous sojourn here.

This explains why the mere presence of more black police officers does not—and cannot—end police brutality.As Baldwin says, many of these selfsame cops go far out of their way to purposely intimidate, harass, brutalize black “suspects” in order to prove their “law enforcement” bona fides to their white colleagues, to show them that they are all on the same team, and that they are as deserving of accolades, medals, and promotion as are the whitest of white racists among the “rank-and-file.”


Herbert Dyer, Jr.