Young, Black, male, from Los Angeles, the son of two police officers. These aspects of my identity have shaped my beliefs about the police.
Both of my parents became police officers in the early 1980s and rose through the ranks before retiring a few years ago. They started their law enforcement careers right before the crack cocaine epidemic in cities around Los Angeles, so many of their early experiences were during this time of rampant crime in American urban centers. Both of my parents have intriguing stories about this period, ranging from the time my mother was assigned to sit next to Nancy Reagan onstage during a “Just Say No” rally to the times my father sold crack cocaine as an undercover drug dealer. However, the major narrative about that time period was how rough and openly racist the police were. My parents have told stories about officers slamming suspects onto the hoods of police cars and pressing them onto the scorching hot surface of the hood. Apparently, it was also an unwritten rule that if you ran from the police you would be beaten excessively, and both the community and the police understood this rule. Regarding the open racism of the police, it was not uncommon for my mother to hear her colleagues make inappropriate comments about Blacks and Latinos. As someone who is very fair-skinned and easily mistaken as white, many of my mother’s colleagues would make despicably racist comments around her not knowing she was Black. Additionally, one of my father’s fellow police officers visited my parents’ house and was bold enough to tell my father he was shocked that Blacks could have such a nice house and such a clean living space inside the house.
My parents’ experiences are important because they have shaped my understanding of community-police relations in the context of the modern day. My parents tell me that there are still major problems in policing today, but they always note how much community-police relations have improved since the rogue policing of the 1980s. One of the differences they highlight is the rise of technology and social media. When my parents were officers, there were more people who were killed and brutally assaulted by the police than there are today. However, these injustices received virtually no attention outside of minority communities because they were not caught on tape. Rodney King, who grew up in the same Altadena/Pasadena area of Los Angeles that I am from, received widespread attention in the early 1990s only because there was a video of his beating. However, these types of events happened quite frequently according to my parents. Today it is much more likely that an event of this kind will be caught on tape, shared on a social media platform, and spark national outrage. The progress that my parents have accentuated has led to my outlook on the police. I still acknowledge and demand that reforms and improvements be made because the police mistreat people far too often, but I am significantly less radical than many of my young Black peers because I understand how bad the situation used to be.