With a fever pitch that has ebbed and flowed, at times to great extremes, the American Law Enforcement profession has found itself on the receiving end of accusations of implicit, explicit, or systemic racism to an extent that largely has not been seen in almost 40 to 50 years.
When it comes to the topic, some individuals can have extremely polarized views on race and policing.
At one end of the spectrum, a person may believe that all of the law-enforcement are themselves, overt racists and explicit oppressors. Conversely, on the opposite side, individuals may believe that law-enforcement can do no wrong and the concerns being protested are simply fictitious or the work of some deep-state liberal agenda.
Sadly, over the last few years, some of the loudest voices have come from individuals who foster these extreme views on racism and policing. Even worse, the voices shared, have often been from individuals who are supposed to be promoting civil rights or people within the police profession. Ultimately, this has proved to be destructive and not constructive towards supporting law enforcement or fostering equality.
Now, my opinion is that, when it comes to race and policing, the majority of people fall into the category of being “logic and reason” driven individuals. These are persons that recognize there is always both, good and bad, in any one group of people.
“Logic and Reason” driven people accept that indeed the bulk of law enforcement officers are good people, however, they also recognize that the power and authority afforded to the police provides one with the ability to do significant harm. Essentially, even in isolated instances, a cop who is a “bad apple,” can do far more than simply making a "mistake."
Depending on personal experience, people driven by logic and reason may lean in one direction or another with their opinion. However, rarely will they dramatically swing in one particular direction and accept the reality of things they may not personally have experienced.
For people in the “Logic or Reason” group, they seek to have an accurate understanding of issues and aim to form their opinions on truth and facts. However, even with the purest of intent, we all will still suffer from the human propensity to be influenced by emotion.
When it comes conflict between individuals or groups of people, the most significant influence is centered on the emotions attached to a particular issue. Often the underlying emotions of an issue are the biggest barrier when it comes to conflict resolution. Equally, understanding these emotions can end up being the clearest and most stable bridge to overcoming these same differences.
When it comes to law enforcement, my opinion is that the term “police” ultimately is representative of an ideal that is far more significant than any one police officer that comprises the profession. To me, the ideal of the police is based on the concept that the profession should represent the epitome of what is a society’s moral compass and the purity of justice; blind to corruption or biased influence. Any shortcomings of reaching this ideal should come from the frailty of human beings to error and not by overt willingness to be unethical.
When it comes to achieving positive outcomes with community dissent on the topic of racism and policing, it is my opinion, that law enforcement must first seek to understand the emotions of those who express these concerns; before we can try to express our own emotional needs. Ultimately, the willingness to put others ahead of ourselves is the epitome of selflessness and therefore a tenet of being that righteous moral compass for society.
Essentially, if we wish to have society act in accordance with the actions of “good guys,” we must first be willing to demonstrate how “good guys” should act.
Taking this position, it poses the question, excluding the recent incidents in which law enforcement has been accused of acting less than impartial, are there indeed historical incidents that set a precedent on influencing the emotions of minorities in America towards their view of the police?
If you are willing to examine the question objectively... the unfortunate answer is yes.
I would gather that unless a person is completely oblivious to history, they are indeed at least vaguely familiar with the fact that American law enforcement has been used to support and enforce unethical laws aimed at subjugating people of color.
Now, even those who are more familiar with specific instances of law enforcement’s mistreatment of minorities, I imagine that most people consider organized instances of racism by the police to largely be archaic and to have occurred forty to fifty years ago. However, the sad truth is that indeed there are more modern instances that have an influence on the emotions of minorities and their view of policing now in 2017.
Unfortunately, no matter how good and righteous, a police officer is today we have to accept that individual's emotionally influenced views of us do not necessarily come from the sins of our fathers. Rather, they can also be a product of the sins of our brothers.
From 1980 to 1996, agents of the federal law enforcement agency, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) hosted an annual event in southern Tennessee called the “Good Ol’ Boys Roundup.”
The Roundup was an unsanctioned event by the ATF, however, senior management within several federal law enforcement agencies was aware of the annual private gathering that was open to only law enforcement personnel by invite. In fact, in the mid-to-late 1980’s a senior manager at the United States Attorney’s Office in Knoxville openly discouraged U.S. States Attorneys from attending because there was, “heavy drinking, strippers, and persons engaging in extramarital affairs at the Roundup. This manager, who was not named in the 1996 Department of Justice investigative report, stated they encouraged attorneys to “avoid the appearance of impropriety.”
Now, the heavy drinking, strippers, and affairs by a group of law enforcement officers might have been eyebrow-raising enough, however, when it came to “improprieties” at the Good Ol’ Boys Roundup, the States Attorney’s Office failed to mention the fact that the annual soiree was centered on “shocking racist, licentious, and puerile behavior” with a prevailing atmosphere that was “hostile to minorities – and women.” (The Department of Justice’s words in their 1996 investigative report, not mine).
In truth, the Good Ol Boys Roundup was nothing short of annual white supremacist rally, in which the attendants were exclusively members of federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies from around the nation. According to one report, there was even a Canadian contingent who regularly attended this weekend-long affair of extreme overt racism on the banks of the Ocoee River in Tennessee.
In light of the fact that for sixteen-years, hundreds of law enforcement officials, who had taken an oath to uphold the law and the constitution of the United States attended… what did the DOJ call it again? Oh yes… an event that pervaded with “shocking racist, licentious, and puerile behavior”- the Good Ol’ Boys Roundup was not brought down by a lawman who suddenly rediscovered their conscience, the 14th Amendment or the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Instead, the Good Ol’ Boys Roundup was eventually brought down by a group that admittedly wanted to bring the government down… or at least expose its unethical and unlawful actions.
The Good Ol’ Boys Roundup was exposed after some members of the Alabama militia group, The Gadsden Minute Men, infiltrated the annual gathering in May of 1995. Some of their members of the Alabama militia were current or former law enforcement officers, thereby allowing them to gain access to the annual Lollapalooza of racism.
The members of the militia group would take pictures and share the details of their weekend getaway to hate-town with The Washington Times. Times reporter Jerry Seper would take the militia group's info, travel down to Ocoee, Tennessee, himself to investigate the claims, and after confirming all the information as being valid, on July 11, 1995, The Washington Times broke the story of the Good Ol’ Boys Roundup to the world. Multiple other media outlets would end up following suit and covering the story.
In response, the Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, would launch a wide-ranging investigation into the allegations made about the Roundup.
In the Inspector General’s investigative report, released in March of 1996, the OIG was quick to suggest that their investigation revealed that federal DOJ employees only played a “minor role” in the events. They suggested that roughly 95% to 97% of the attendees were state or local law enforcement officers.
According to the OIG’s report, they “found no evidence that any DOJ employee—or federal employee from other agencies – participated in any blatantly racist conduct." Which is truly remarkable considering during their investigation of the sixteen-year gathering they did substantiate that the following things had occurred at the Roundup:
Signs were posted at the entrance to the campground leading to the event that said, “N***** checkpoint.” – “Any n*****s in that car?” - “.17 a pound for field dressed and boned n***** meat.”
On occasion, individuals were posted at the campground entrance checking vehicles as they came in. The phrase used by the persons engaged in this activity was “checking cars for n******s.”
Additionally, during the weekend gathering various racist skits were performed including one that was described, “as part of the Redneck of the Year contest in which a dog was traded for a man in blackface who then pretended to perform oral sex on a person in a Ku Klux Klan robe.”
“a Fort Lauderdale, Florida police officer competing in the Redneck of the Year contest performed a skit where he claimed to have found a watermelon which had fallen off the back of a passing truck, struck it until it broke open, and then pulled out a doll he painted black. He described the doll as a seed and told the audience that one must ‘kill the seed when it is young,’ and proceeded to beat the doll."
Additionally, racist literature was passed out during various gatherings including “David Duke for President campaign literature and souvenirs, and materials publicizing the National Association for the Advancement of White People.”
There were other racist souvenirs sold at the Roundup including novelty hunting licenses that said, “N***** Hunting License,” or T-shirts with Martin Luther King Jr.’s face in sniper crosshairs. This is just to name only a few of the assortment of extremely racist keepsakes that were available for purchase by attendees.
Eventually, thanks to a Department of Justice investigation and Congressional probe the Good Ol’ Boys Roundup officially ended in 1996.
Curiously, in light of a fairly detailed investigation by the DOJ, not one law enforcement officer was ever punished or lost their job as a result of their behavior or attendance at racist hate mongers weekend retreat known as the Good Ol’ Boys Roundup. One can only speculate and hope that any of the law enforcement officers that attended this gathering have since left the police profession, for the betterment of all mankind.
At the end of the day, the knowledge of the Roundup forces modern police officers to accept that indeed, there is legitimate evidence, not merely anecdotal accounts, of true overt and extreme racism by alleged “professionals” in law enforcement.
This evidence of extreme prejudice is not confined to the annuals of history many decades in the past. Rather, these are events that occurred only twenty-one years ago. In fact, I entered the law enforcement profession only seven years after the last Roundup was held.
Now, my purpose of dragging up the Roundup up from the dumpster of police history isn’t to suggest the potential for the same overt racism to exist today. Rather, it is to try to provide insight into why minorities in America may have the emotions towards law enforcement and provide an understanding of how those emotions are born.
There are many responsibilities that come with putting on a badge today. Unfortunately, whether it is an aspect that you initially signed up for or not is irrelevant. We cannot simply wave our hand and make the sins of our profession’s not too distant past go away by the mere assurance that these moral corruptions of our past are gone.
In fact, no police officer today should feel like they are burdened by the inequities of our past. Instead, the modern police officer should consider that few generations are given the opportunity to make a real positive difference in this world. Currently, policing has a chance to be a guiding light for equality by demonstrating humility in understanding the hardships of other’s past. This comes at a time when society needs it the most.
We are not burdened to be responsible for the sins of our brothers. Rather, our brother’s sins have given us a chance to demonstrate the human potential to overcome adversity and become a genuine example of that ideal of righteousness and society’s moral compass directing people to what is right.
Ultimately, we can choose to ignore history. However, we cannot ignore the consequences of history. Instead, we can only learn from the past and then decide we will be better for the future.
Let the sins of our brothers past, pave a way that allows us to create the virtue of our children's futures.