“Givens! Can you print the arrest and case reports for all the guns you got this month? I’m going to put you in for officer of the month.”
With excitement and speed I rush to log into the computer, print the reports, and re-read them all again before handing them in.
A feeling of accomplishment was an understatement. Cloud nine was where I was.
But I wouldn’t be there long.
At 29 years old I am the son of a Black mother that raised six children, alone. Two of my siblings are adopted.
I have a brother that trains everyone from professional athletes to grade-school soccer clubs. Another brother lives out west and is in the process of moving further west to call Hawaii home. The elder of my two sisters founded her first business three years ago and burns the midnight oil every night to ensure it succeeds. My youngest sister, the crown-jewel of our family, just concluded two years as a Peace Corps volunteer in Malawi, Africa and is now the US representative for a non-profit that serves children in Malawi.
The youngest of the six is currently a high school track star, Fortnite enthusiast, and as fate would have it — the same age, height, skin complexion and haircut style as the first person I arrested for unlawful use of a gun. Like a firefighter never forgets their first fire, neither does a policeman forget their first gun and every single detail that accompanies it.
Oh, then there’s me. I’m the Police. I’m also — the middle child — whatever that means.
As children, our mother would wake us early in the morning, prior to the sunrise, and take us downtown every year on January 18th to participate in the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. march. It is at these marches that I learned Black spirituals such as “We Shall Overcome’’ and “Keep Your Eyes on the Prize.” Spirituals, with words that were sometimes the last line of defense for a physically, mentally, and emotionally persecuted people at the hands of their own police. In short, it is at these marches that I learned that inner sense of right vs. wrong: the foundations of my conscience were formed there— a conscience that would be put to the test many years later.
“Raise your right hand and repeat after me.”
When I accepted my Star (in other US cities police departments have badges — in Chicago, we have Stars) and was sworn-in as the Police, I took an oath to The Constitution of The United States. A Constitution which reads:
We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice…
That winter morning I subscribed publicly to what I’d been doing privately, act justly in the face of another man’s adversity in hope of making our Union more perfect. In hope of making our criminal justice system just. In that moment I was given enormous power, opportunity, and a moral responsibility to improve society — choosing right versus wrong even if wrong is lawful.
What I’m about to say next is no secret. Police officers use officer discretion every day while on patrol. Discretion is a good tool for officers to have. Why? Because the homeless man drinking at the bus stop doesn’t need to go to jail. In my experience, he undoubtedly needs a mental health clinic and then shelter tailored to support his health conditions. It is in these interactions with the public where seeking to first understand takes priority over being understood.
Everyone needs a champion. Someone to understand that they are not as bad as their worst day may portray. Take it from me. In my youth I was arrested more times than I care to remember and kicked out of class more than I can actually remember. In truth, it was as if my mother raised two times as many children as she actually did considering my behavior.
Thus, while my first encounter with the boy who resembled my brother may have begun adversarial — the conclusion was stark in contrast. Over the next several hours we discussed alternatives to his current lifestyle, a lifestyle that forced our introduction, and why that day wasn’t going to determine the rest of his young and bright life. What’s more is that we discussed how to confront his mom — after having already spoken with her, I knew the pain she’d felt. I’d heard it in my own mother’s voice too many times before. I am confident he handled this with compassion and as gentleman.
As everyone in my family will tell you: I was excited to be the police. Prior to my career as the Police I worked in tech, most recently at Uber on their DevX team with people committed to setting the world in motion — a worthwhile experience to have been a part of. In addition to working in tech, I founded an after-school program, called The Explorer Program, that introduces art and creative thinking to high school students to enable them to solve real-world problems in real-time. Nonetheless, and while one of the most valuable experiences of my life, I still wanted to be the Police.
Here is a journal entry from May 16th, the day I started the Police academy:
My bike ride into the academy this morning was one of the best rides I’d had in my life. Music was on point. Speed was good. Just under 9 mins (which I can totally get down).
Although we did more paperwork and I wrote down my birth date wrong more times than I’d like to remember I was happy to be there. I enjoyed meeting everyone. The backgrounds — the stories — I love it.
What excited me most about this new adventure was two-fold.
One, I’d be on the ground every day interacting with people and helping them find solutions to their problems. Two, I would play a role in ensuring my department led the way for police customer service across the country, forever, reshaping the Police service.
In It is an extraordinary privilege to be a Police Officer I write that my observations are that citizens want effective, accountable, and trustworthy police officers. What’s more is that citizens also want police officers who look like them and can relate to their experiences. But more than racial representation citizens want public servants who choose right over wrong.
This is our great trial: can public servants, specifically the Police, align their conscience with that of the public we serve? I believe we can. We must. Given the totality of our responsibilities, our options are limited to one outcome: success at all costs.
Dispatch: Units in one and on the city wide, person with a gun…
Beat 112: show us going!
Beat: 114: 10–4, show us going!
Beat 121: show us going!
Dispatch: all units just go — keep the air clear! First unit on scene advise.
After printing the reports, handing them in, and finishing the next 10 hours of my shift I went home. At midnight, my girlfriend is asleep which leaves me two options: finally finish reading Grant or shower, conducting a personal reflection of the day. I choose the latter; which I am known to sometimes regret.
It is in the shower, bare, defenseless, and all alone — nothing but my conscience. Why did those guys have guns? Why did each of them lie to me about them? What will happen to them next? Why did they all look like me? Is this effective Police work?
Then I hear it.
Keep Your Eyes On the Prize, Hold On!
Yes, I am young, I am Black, I am conscience, and I am the Police. It is through this lived intersection that I implore all of us to “rethink our notions of justice.” David Harris of the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race & Justice at Harvard Law School suggests, “justice as being made whole, which promotes practices that center on health and well-being of all residents, and whole communities, as the hallmarks of safety.” My experience agrees. Moreover, I am fortunate to share all of these identities — identities that make me proud, hopeful, and most importantly, mindful, that we have a momentous task ahead.
If there were ever a time for great men or women, genius’, or heroes since The War of Rebellion, The Second Great War or The American Civil Rights Movement, then that time is upon us now. How we rise to answer this moment, not just on our respective social platforms, but through our collective actions will decide the Soul of America.
“This is the time for American heroes. We will do what is hard. We will achieve what is great. This is a time for American heroes and we reach for the stars.”
— Josiah Bartlet, 20 Hours in America: Part 2