By SUSAN K. SMITH
Crazy Faith Ministries
Even as the country – and the world – watches the trial for ex-Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, the ugly presence of White officers unduly accosting Black people cannot hide.
This time it was two officers harassing a Black/Latino man in uniform. Caron Nazario, a second lieutenant in the United States Army, was stopped and harassed by two Windsor, Virginia police officers. They stopped Nazario because they thought he was driving a stolen car. As soon as Nazario saw police lights behind him, he slowed down, put his flashers on, and led them to a nearby gas station so that their encounter would not happen on a dark road.
What happened next is as unconscionable as it is wrong. The officers drew their weapons, gave Nazario conflicting directions on what to do, pepper-sprayed him, struck him with their batons, and finally arrested him.
When Nazario said he was afraid to get out of his car – which was new, by the way, with a temporary license plate in the window – one of the officers said, “you should be,” according to The Washington Post.
Policing in this country is a national disgrace, a profession devoid of honor when it comes to Black and other people of color. In spite of the accolades “law enforcement” receives, the truth is that it functions as little less than a gang, deputized to do whatever it wants against people of color, knowing that in general, their powers that be have sanctioned their actions.
Policing today is not far removed from its conception as a body of White men deputized to hunt enslaved Black people and return them – or commit violence against them. White men were required to serve in this way, and they were paid to do it. After the Civil War, more formalized “police departments” were formed, but their mission was the same. So often, those who were deputized and authorized to exact law and order killed Black people and got away with it, and far too often, they were participants or passive observers in riots against Black people carried out by angry Whites.
They have seldom been called to accountability. They are protected by Fraternal Orders of Police, which seem to operate like mob families. FOPs protect police officers and condone their illegal and immoral behavior, and there seems to be nothing that governments can – or are willing to do – to stop it.
The argument can be made – and it is true – that there are many “good” White officers, but it is the not-so-good officers that have created the legacy of policing in this country.
The fact that Lt. Nazario was in uniform and that it made no difference to the officers who accosted him is no surprise. In this country there is a history of White people – including officers – attacking Black men in uniform, as noted in the Equal Justice Initiative film. White civilians could feel perfectly safe in attacking these soldiers; they were supported and sometimes helped along by police officers and politicians. These returning men were lynched, shot and beaten upon returning home, and most often, their assailants were not held accountable; if they went to trial, they were tried before all-White juries and acquitted.
Knowing the history of law enforcement in this country, coupled with the ongoing reports of police using excessive force on Black people and getting away with it, I find it difficult to listen to them being hailed as “heroes” when they do something good. There are heroic actions on the part of some, but lawless, immoral and unethical actions of so many taints my capacity to acknowledge the heroism that is touted.
Law enforcement in this country historically has not been an honorable profession.
It still isn’t.
Rev. Dr. Susan K. Smith is the founder and director of Crazy Faith Ministries. She is available for speaking. Her latest book, With Liberty and Justice for Some: The Bible, the Constitution, and Racism in America is available at all booksellers. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.