Posted on December 11, 2014

Black Officers Torn Between Duty and Race

Jesse J. Holland and Kristin J. Bender, AP, December 11, 2014

Jorge “Jinho” Ferreira feels the tension between being black and carrying a badge every day as a sheriff’s deputy in Alameda County, California.

“I feel like you have to prove yourself on every level,” said Ferreira, 39, who patrols about 30 miles east of San Francisco. “You have to prove yourself to the black community, you have to prove yourself to all of your co-workers, you have to prove yourself to society.”

With the nation roiled by two grand juries’ recent decisions not to indict white police officers in the deaths of unarmed black men, some black officers say that as they enforce the law, they also wonder whether the system they’re sworn to uphold is stacked against black men.

In interviews conducted by Associated Press reporters across the nation, retired and active black officers expressed concern about how black men are treated by the largely white police forces in the United States, an issue that has led to protests alleging police brutality. The officers say they want change just as much as anyone else, and advocate for it where they can because they, too, have something to lose.

“A lot of us have sons, and we want to make sure our colleagues are treating our young boys with dignity and respect,” said Oakland Police Lt. LeRonne Armstrong, a 16-year veteran.


{snip} There were an estimated 55,267 African-Americans in local police departments and an additional 15,500 in sheriff’s departments in 2007, the latest information available from the Justice Department.

“We’re called things like Uncle Toms and traitors to our community, in spite of the fact that we sympathize or we agree with the anger that our community holds, because we feel that same anger,” said Noel Leader, a retired New York City police sergeant who in 1995 co-founded an advocacy group, 100 Blacks In Law Enforcement Who Care.

Black officers point out that they contend with many of the same racial issues as black civilians, such as stereotypes, racism on the job and even confrontations with the police. Black plainclothes or undercover police officers have been shot by their white counterparts, as in the 2009 death of NYPD Officer Omar J. Edwards, who was killed while he was chasing a man who had broken into his car.


While acknowledging the rage felt by communities that feel persecuted by the police, some of the black officers were not quick to blame race for some of the deadly encounters.

“I believe that some of these incidents could have been prevented if you comply with the law,” Williams said. “If someone says put your hands up, put your hands up.”