By Nick Middleton
For the past two summers I’ve interned at the NYPD HQ, first in the Juvenile Justice Division and currently in the Candidate Assessment Division. Most of the police officers in my division are people of color, and as a black man, it’s pretty exciting that I get to work under the first black female chief.
The fact that I work in the department, the fact that I can name 10 officers and the address I work at — an address most officers recognize — off the top of my dome, works in my favor to protect me. This is something other black people don’t have the privilege of. A privilege that people like Alton Sterling, Freddy Gray, Sandra Bland and many others didn’t have.
The most recent death that set social media ablaze was that of 23 year old Korryn Gaines. According to The Guardian’s “The Counted” database, Gaines’ death marked the 160th police killing of a black person in 2016. The growing tension between police and people of color continues to grow and have led to numerous protests and debates, and sadly, even more attacks from both sides.
As an intern, and as a black man, I’ve got to see what it is like behind the blue wall, and it’s not as clear cut as it comes off to be.
For example, being a part of the Candidate Assessment Division, I’ve been shown how potential officers are evaluated before being considered for a position. Some point after taking the test* someone from the division is sent to meet a candidate’s neighbors and ask about what type of person the soon-to-be officer is. The problem is that a lot of people don’t know their neighbor well enough, especially in New York City. So there are a lot of evaluation forms where neighbors will not know anything about the officer in training but still recommend them to be a police officer. But how can you make that call without any information on them? Questions like does this person have problem with drugs, does this person have a problem with alcohol, does this person have any prejudice towards any race… these questions aren’t being answered on evaluations, and yet the evaluations are still seen as a positive recommendation within the process of becoming a police officer. This is just one of many issues.
The police department is very old school. When given a chance to look at ex-police commissioner William Bratton’s recruitment plan, it is clear that his aim is to recruit more millennials. I find this admirable seeing as a primary issue with the current system is that you still have a lot of officers from older generations — generations that aren’t as socially aware as millennials. As the saying goes, you can’t teach an old dog new tricks; it’s almost impossible to tell someone to just change with the times.
I remember how I was in a meeting and Philando Castile’s death was brought up. Castile was shot and killed by a police officer in July while in the passenger seat of his girlfriend’s car. The family, which included Philando, his girlfriend Lavish Reynolds, and Reynold’s daughter, were pulled over for a busted tail light. In this meeting I was attending, a co-worker poked at the fact that Reynolds live-streamed the moments after Castile was shot: “Well the first thing the driver did was go on Facebook live,” he said, hinting that what Reynolds did was wrong or showed the guilt of any wrong actions. Right, I told him, because if the police show up to your door and shoot you, you don’t call more of them and expect them to aide you. We currently live in a society where unless you have video evidence, no one will believe you, and Reynolds understood that. Incidents like Castile’s death aren’t new, they’ve happened plenty of times in the past, but the only difference is that we are now recording when it happens and sharing it for the rest if the world to see.
Don’t get me wrong, I fully support police officers who do their job and do it well. I worked with the police in numerous occasions, I have strong relationships with them — I’ve even been to their kids’ birthday parties — but the thing is, the bad ones are ruining the rep for them, putting their lives in danger, and that is something I can’t abide by. On the flip side, the same thing is happening within the black community: There are black people who are bad and make bad choices and put everyone else on edge. Is that fair? Absolutely not. But when it happens with black people, we can’t just have quick trigger fingers.
I have spoken with officers and detectives and kids of uniformed members of service, and they seem to have a more narrow view. That view usually lies along the line of “the police are the real victims, the media is attacking them, etc…” And that’s the problem. A lot of people just want to ignore that there is even a problem and that is a problem in of itself.
I’ve witnessed firsthand the impact police brutality has. Being an intern or having a close relationship with polices officers doesn’t exclude me from seeing what’s happening around me. I’ve personally witnessed people of color being abused and manipulated for simply being that person in the wrong place, at the wrong time, who happened to say the wrong thing that pissed off the wrong cop.
I’m not going to say police don’t matter. They definitely do. But that’s not the issue right now. Police choose to put their lives in danger for the better of the people. We did not choose to be black and have our lives be put on the line.
Black lives have been devalued their entire presence in America.
Call it what you want, but that has to change. We have to fix the system. We had so long to fix the fucking system and yet have done nearly nothing. The system was built on corruption, and we had so much time to correct it — that is the most frustrating thing. My ancestors were slaves and yet, today, centuries later, even after the Civil Rights movement and all of these other historic movements, my people are still being murdered in the streets for nothing more than a suspicion at times.
We need to do something different, because what’s currently happening has not worked for way too long. Have officers consistently patrol the same communities, to build a repertoire with the neighborhood. Call out corrupt police and monitor the officers more efficiently. When someone blows the whistle on criminal activity they shouldn’t be ostracized from the department for it, action should be taken. That should be the standard.
There’s a lot of work that needs to be done, and it can’t happen in a day or a month. It has to continuously be changing, but we have to be willing to bring the change.