“The Black Cop In Baltimore”

“Hamm’s suspicions were confirmed at 16, when, he said, an officer arrested him and two friends for “obstructing the path” of a sidewalk while he picked up a pair of pants from the dry cleaners. Hamm said he spent the night in jail and had to appear before a judge, whom his father successfully convinced to drop the charges. The experience only hardened his misgivings about law enforcement.
“I never really got over it,” said Hamm, then a team captain and star of City College High School’s city champion basketball team.
Hamm might have held on to that grudge for much longer if he hadn’t eventually needed a job. After graduating from college in Philadelphia and working in New York as a fabric designer, Hamm returned home in 1973 looking for a job. He knew the police department had some openings.
“I knew I would be a good hire: a black boy with a college degree who had never been in trouble,” Hamm said. “I went in looking for work, a paycheck. But I found out in the police academy that law enforcement had grabbed my heart.”
Thirty years later, after steadily rising through the ranks, including a high-profile appointment as the first black commander of the Central District, Hamm was named the police commissioner of his hometown. At 6 foot 2, broad-shouldered, plain-spoken, clean-shaven, and nattily dressed, Hamm, 66, still possesses the self-confidence of the Big Man on Campus he once was and the salesmanship of someone who’s been in leadership roles for two decades now…
“When I first joined the police force, I realized right away that I’d have to have two souls,” said Edward C. Jackson, a black Baltimore police colonel who retired in 2004 after 22 years on the force and now teaches at Baltimore City Community College. “I had to go out and be the beacon of hope that African-Americans expect you to be and not offend the white power structure. I struggled with that my whole career, to walk that line.”…
“It never changed the culture,” Murphy said. “If black officers are forced to conform to corrupt practices of their white colleagues, that’s not reform. That’s the antidote to reform.” He paused. Baltimore police, he said, “have never been a legitimate presence in the black community.”…
Coppin State’s campus is about a mile from Pennsylvania and North avenues, the infamous intersection where most of the confrontations between police and protesters took place following Gray’s death in April. An anchor of West Baltimore for more than a century, Coppin State has earned a reputation for training black teachers and nurses — among the few careers open to blacks in the early part of the 20th century.
And now city leaders and police officials are looking into a proposal to make Coppin State the home for the Baltimore Police Department’s academy and training center. It was an idea birthed by city council member and mayoral candidate Nick Mosby, husband of the prosecutor who filed charges against the officers involved in Gray’s death.”

Thinking about the family of Alton Sterling today, and the black people in Baton Rouge who are threatened by the radicalized violence of their police force.

It’s so not about the individuals who commit this violence against black people, it’s about this strangely constructed culture in police stations, it’s about the position of police officers in our society, it’s about places where unconscious biases are given leave to control behaviors.

And it’s not even about the perpetrators, it’s really really about the people who are feeling like their continued existence is based on the whims of inaccessible and prejudiced institutions. It’s about addressing that power, and it’s about trying to be full people even in this stifling context.

To make it about me, it's the way that I haven’t at all engaged with the fact that no one was found guilty in Freddy Gray’s death. Murder. I mean, I just… where do I put those feelings so that I can come back to being the human I want to be?

Related (just some…): “What Racism Has Done to Baltimore”; “For police accountability, look beyond individual racial bias”; “Can the NYPD Spot the Abusive Cop?”; On the private criminal justice system that exists in stores: “Shopping While Black: America’s Retailers Know They Have A Racial Profiling Problem. Now What?

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