Dear Officer, How Can I Trust You When All You Seem To Do Is Kill?

A Bay Area teen and a long-time cop have a frank conversation about police brutality.

Illustration by Bianca Bagnarelli

Hi Carl,

Hope you’re doing good. My name is Jessica. I was born and raised in the Bernal Heights neighborhood of San Francisco, and was the first high school graduate from my family. My mom’s Mexican and my dad’s Cuban. They both moved to the United States in their early 20s and the Mission became their home. The neighborhood is like our extended family; when something terrible happens, the whole community grieves. As a kid, I would often see people gathering around smiling pictures of the dead, dozens of candles lighting up their faces. We were all too familiar with death.

Every morning, as my mom and I walked to school, she would tell me, “Don’t hesitate to call 9–1–1 if a man ever tries doing anything to you.” The police, she told me, were supposed to protect our community and serve our people; they would be there for me whenever I needed help. As I’ve grown older, though, I’ve begun to realize how cruel the police are to people, especially brown people like me. One too many times, I’ve watched them shove my friends and family to the ground like rag dolls.

One morning last year, in early March, I got a text from my cousin saying his brother, Alejandro, was killed by police officers in Bernal Hill park the previous night. Alejandro would often eat his dinner in the park before going to work. Apparently, that night, while he was eating his burrito on a bench, someone called in a disturbance of a man with a gun. Alejandro worked as a security guard at a nightclub and had to carry a Taser with him. He always had the paperwork to back it up, but the police officers didn’t even ask to see his registration. 14 bullets later, he was dead on the ground.

Our family was so confused about why he was killed. He was never the type of person who would just pull out his taser on a police officer. Alejandro was only 28 years old. He was studying to be a youth probation officer at City College and volunteered at organizations for at-risk youth in his spare time. As the days went by, the news started to frame Alejandro as mentally ill. But I know that he was taking his medicine. And why bring mental illness into this in the first place? His mental illness had nothing to do with his life being taken away.

We had so many unanswered questions, Carl. If a police officer feels threatened, shouldn’t they take out their own taser before bringing out a gun? Why do police officers shoot at someone so many times, if a man can be brought down with just one shot? Apparently 59 shots were fired between four police officers that came to the scene. Did they really need four officers?

After Alejandro was killed, about a hundred folks from our community, familiar and unfamiliar faces, marched up to Bernal Hill. People cried and reminisced; it was overwhelming. Police officers marched with us up to Bernal Hill, but it didn’t feel right to me. I know those cops didn’t kill my cousin, but I was still mad and disappointed in the SFPD in general.

What’s so sad that is that it isn’t just happening here in San Francisco; all over the United States, police are shooting black and brown people. I understand that there are times where a police officer may need to use extra force to bring a person down, but they don’t have the right to shoot someone. And it’s often the innocent kids and teenagers my age that get pushed and shoved around, thrown on the ground by police. I don’t even know what to think of the system… How can I trust the cops when all they seem to do is kill? Have we come this far for our lives to be taken away in an instance?

I’ve heard police officers in some cities and states are starting to wear body cameras. I personally believe police will show what they please and hide what they want. They are the ones with access to the cameras!

Carl, what was it like to work as a police officer? Did you ever meet people who were as unhappy with the police as I am? What made you decide to be a cop? What did you hate about the job the most? What did you love the most? And why did you leave San Francisco Police Department?

Yours,
Jessica

Keep scrolling to read Carl’s letter in the “Responses” section below.

Do you have a question for Carl or Jessica? Join the conversation by writing a response — and don’t forget to @ mention them! The pair will continue to exchange letters over the next two weeks and will try their best to incorporate your queries into their dialogue.