Sheriff’s deputy candidates go through a three-step process. First there’s a written exam. It’s not overly challenging, just enough to make sure that those who apply are taking the process seriously. Second comes the physical exam, which, like the written exam, aims to make sure that you meet the minimum requirements. If you pass the written exam and the physical, then you go on to step three, which is the oral exam.
The oral exam room was a small conference room in the back of the sheriff’s department building. I’d waited for at least an hour, while other potential candidates were called in every half hour or so for their oral exams. When it was my turn, I was introduced to the five men in the room and directed to take a seat at the end of the table. The interview was brief, no more than 20 minutes. The interviewers thanked me for my interest and explained that they didn’t think I was a good fit. They did encourage me to try again in the future, though.
I found out a few months later that I was disqualified over one single question. It may seem obvious, but I was only 20-years-old and not so wise to the ways of the world. It wasn’t even a trick question, but it was a hard-and-fast disqualifier. “If you’re on patrol and you pull over a car for speeding or reckless driving and you discover it’s your captain, what should you do?” The question wasn’t what will you do, but what should you do?
Anyone living in the real world knows the answer: you let him go! I knew that if I answered, “I would ticket the captain,” they would fail me because, realistically, would I? But if I answered, “I would let him go,” wouldn’t that completely discredit the idea of law enforcement? So, I answered that I would contact the ranking officer on duty and report the incident.
What can I say, I was naïve. Obviously, the answer they were looking for was, just let the captain go immediately and hope that I still had my job the next day, but it just seemed wrong, and it still seems wrong.
I’ve never ever been afraid of policemen, but the fact that I’m not black probably factors in significantly. There’ve been a few times when I’ve been pulled over and harassed, deservedly so by the way, but in these instances, I was pretty sure I’d survive the encounter.
Now don’t get me wrong—I’m very grateful that we have law and order, and that the majority of police officers have the utmost integrity and professionalism, but clearly there’s a racism problem permeating wide swaths of law enforcement. If I were black and I got pulled over, I think I’d be stone-cold terrified no matter how innocent I was.
Another Black man has been murdered by a white cop, this time in Minnesota. We’ve all seen the video, and we’re all horrified. He wasn’t murdered for forging checks or disturbing the peace or any other crime; this man was murdered in plain view of witnesses because the police treat Black men differently. They treat them more aggressively than they treat white men. I’ve said it before—crime is a function of environment, not race, but if law enforcement can only see crime as fear, and they fear a microcosm of race, then unjust treatment will follow as surely as day follows night.
I wasn’t chosen to become a police officer, not because I said I would consult with superiors, but rather because I did not understand the tribe mentality. The tribe sticks together at any cost, right or wrong. For way too many years, law enforcement has regarded Black men as “guilty until proven innocent.” It’s time for us to really try to understand what Colin Kaepernick and others have been telling us on bended knee all this time and, at long last, start demanding real change.