What if I call the police and they send Officer Piner? This is a question I have asked myself a hundred times since last June when several local and national media outlets reported that Officer Michael “Kevin” Piner, of the Wilmington, NC Police Department, was inadvertently caught on his own body camera stating that he could not wait for the civil war because he was going to buy an assault rifle and “we are just going to go out and start slaughtering them f’ing ni**ers. God, I can’t wait.” He was also recorded as saying “Wipe ’em off the f’ing map. That’ll put ’em back about four or five generations.”
Piner and the two other officers in the conversations with him, Cpl. Jesse E. Moore II and Officer James “Brian” Gilmore, were fired from the WPD.
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Prior to his dismissal, Piner spent 22 years on the police force. During those 22 years, he responded to countless thousands of calls from Black people who needed assistance because someone was breaking in or they locked their keys in the car with a baby in the back seat or they had a fender bender or someone was shoplifting in their store or any of the millions of reasons that people call 911 every day.
For 22 years, Black people in Wilmington who called their taxpayer funded emergency system and had one of their taxpayer funded police officers respond had no idea that the officer designated to assist them — to protect and serve them — wanted to wipe them off the f’ing map.
The transcripts of Piner’s and his colleagues’ words are beyond reprehensible. No one should be able to hold positions of public trust with stated views such as those. But beyond the offensiveness of the words is the chilling effect they have on Black people who have a legitimate need to call the police.
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What if a White man is breaking into my home and I call the police and they send Officer Piner? Does he arrive and see the White man standing over my dead body, revel in the fact that one of us has been wiped off the f’ing map, tell my killer to get out of there fast and then call it in as a homicide but never once say he came face to face with the perpetrator?
What if my car slips off an icy road into a pond and I call the police and they send Officer Piner? Does Officer Piner arrive and see me clinging to the last part of the car that is still above the surface, delight in the fact that in just a few moments, one of us will be wiped off the f’ing map, and stand on the bank rendering no aid?
Recently, the nation was shocked by reports of police officers pepper spraying a nine-year-old child whom nine officers inexplicably could find no other way to restrain. The family had called the police for help; instead their child was traumatized.
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Last year, the same police force was called by Daniel Prude’s family because he was having a mental health episode. The police responded to the home and killed him. That’s not my opinion; those were the words of the medical examiner — homicide by asphyxiation. The family had called the police for help; instead they were traumatized.
When police officers killed George Floyd last summer, much was made of the shocking video of Officer Derek Chauvin draining the life out of Floyd’s body. Very little was made of the fact that Chauvin and the other officers lied in their initial report of Floyd’s death, claiming that he suffered a “medical episode” while “struggling” with officers. But for a brave 17-year-old’s Facebook video, Floyd would have been written off as a soul-food eating, hypertension having, middle aged Black man whose heart gave out on him while he was resisting arrest for forgery. Chauvin et. al. would have continued on about their business, paying no price for wiping us off the f’ing map.
Throughout my life, my personal interactions with police have been limited, unremarkable, and generally favorable. I earned a speeding ticket or two in my early driving days, but more often than not I was gifted a warning and a gentle assurance that wherever I was going would still be there when I got there.
The few times I have sought out police (rather than them seeking me out for my Dale Jr. impression) they’ve been professional, polite, and patient. Some have been warm and friendly, some have been cool and brusque. None have ever been rude, hostile, aggressive, provoking or unreasonable. With one small exception, I’ve always left interactions with police feeling better about their role in the community.
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Still, over the past few months, as a brighter spotlight has been shone on police and policing, and as the January 6 riots uncover links between police professionals and White supremacist groups, I can’t help but think about the next time I need police assistance.
What if I call the police and they send Officer Piner?