The Dallas Examiner
“Police Brutality Matters,” according to former police officer Joseph Ested, who has chosen to make it the moniker for his multiplatform brand that was founded with the mission of “identifying bad cops and holding them accountable while supporting good police officers by bringing in-depth awareness to police brutality.”
Ested’s platform – established in equal parts because he believed law enforcement entities shouldn’t police themselves and that he wasn’t seeing the right dialogue on the issue of police brutality – consists of a website and multiple social media accounts, including two Instagram accounts and a YouTube channel that altogether boast some 19,000 plus followers and over 100,000 views. He provides personal and video analysis on prominent police brutality cases and incidents, like Eric Garner and Trayvon Martin, in addition to hosting live call-in sessions to facilitate discussion about current events in police brutality.
Ested’s book, Police Brutality Matters, released in late January, is currently ranked among Amazon’s Top 100 bestseller list for the Law Enforcement Politics genre.
When it comes to fighting police brutality in America, his work is backed up by a lengthy career as an African American in law enforcement, during which he has held positions such as corrections officer, police officer, police investigator and sheriff’s deputy. Furthermore, he served as vice president of the police union, as well as in Afghanistan as a police advisor and police instructor for the Afghanistan Police Training Program. Currently, he is a Department of Criminal Justice instructor.
The Black and Blue experience
Ested said much of his experience has been valuable because he’s able to relate to members of the law enforcement community who feel most at odds due to being under the microscope. But he said he’s also able to relate to marginalized communities.
Ested said he spent much of his youth in foster care in Brooklyn and later worked law enforcement in Richmond, Virginia, where much like his childhood, he witnessed bad policing from his start as a patrol officer. From the get-go in law enforcement and with Richmond PD, Ested began fighting police brutality and corruption within law enforcement.
Police Brutality Matters is more than just a media brand to him; he felt it was a calling he found along the way. He said the story started far before he ever reached the academy.
“I guess where it came from is me coming from a low-income area. I was born in Brooklyn, in the projects, and the police were very aggressive in our neighborhood. You know, people coming out of the building and being thrown on the floor and getting shook down. And I used to always wonder, like, ‘It can’t be that. That can’t be right,’” said Ested. “I got to understand how these guys are so aggressive. … I used to always say, ‘There’s gotta be a different avenue when it comes down to policing. It just can’t be this way.’”
He had long pondered the reasons for the negative relationship between police officers and underprivileged communities ever since growing up in places like that himself, and he had long contemplated how to make such relationships different. With a heart, mind and consideration for eradicating the law enforcement injustices and inequalities faced by low-income communities, Ested chose to be a law enforcement officer.
“I guess that was one of my reactions … trying to understand the job of policing at a young age when growing up in low-income areas. So, when I had the opportunity, as I got older, to enter law enforcement, I started to understand more what the problem was … just the mere image of how low-income areas are looked at, particularly the Black community. As far as you can go back, the Black community has never had a positive appearance to the rest of society when you’re talking about poverty,” said Ested, adding his thoughts as to how such poor police-community relations are created in the first place. “When I started talking with friends as I became a cop, I started understanding what the problem was … and coming from that area, then now becoming a police officer and listening to other officers on how to interpret that particular area, the narrative was just so off. It was just so wrong.”
Ested spoke about how the disconnect between police departments and what are regarded as high-risk communities is largely due to poor outreach and patrolling efforts, coupled by poor knowledge of the community at hand and racial bias within departments. By not working to understand and be present in the community, in addition to expecting the worst when responding to calls in such areas, law enforcement departments facilitate an ongoing negative relationship.
“Coming from that area, when I start talking about police brutality to that community [the projects], they don’t even believe that there’s good cops out because all they experience is aggressive, bad policing. And yet, that’s 4% of police officers. You have almost a million officers in the United States, and when you start talking about bad policing, it represents a very small number of police officers. But that community, if all they saw was negative policing, that’s all they believed that’s how the whole department is.”
Ested explained that something he came across often throughout his career was a certain ignorance from many officers who had rarely interacted with the Black community, let alone with low-income Black communities. Such a point speaks to the importance of recruitment efforts that can be found in Dallas and its surrounding suburbs that are working to bring in more candidates from specific communities.
Ested told a story about a young recruit in Richmond who had never interacted with African Americans until college and possessed negative beliefs about crime in the low-income Black community, yet was working the projects on an assignment with Ested. He recalled how the young cop was shocked to hear that Ested came from a project like the ones they patrolled, and that the mainstream talking point about African American poverty was wrong, and that the majority of people in low-income communities were lawful, hardworking citizens.
“A lot of these guys [police officers], when they look at the poor Black community, they look at the bad end because that’s what we deal with as cops. … Just because you live in a poor neighborhood doesn’t mean everybody in that neighborhood is a bad element,” said Ested. “Poor neighborhoods have bad elements within them just because of poverty. Every time there’s poverty, it brings a certain criminal element. So, when you start talking about the police, you’re only called into that area when there’s a problem … a bad problem. The narrative and the viewpoints on both sides and trying to understand it, that’s where the whole Police Brutality Matters came from.”
He went on to say that people from his community do not want to listen to anyone who they feel does not know anything about them, but he said when he has mentioned where he grew up, they made statements like, “Wow, so you do understand.”
Working on a resolution
Among Ested’s many stories of his willingness to challenge the status quo is of his first patrol call after graduating from the police academy. He recalled orders given by his lieutenant during his first roll call.
“My car, pretty much my sector, consisted of three projects. Now, she [the lieutenant] said, ‘This is how we do it: When you get a call to go on the projects, you wait for your assisting units before you enter into the projects. Y’all go in, handle what you’ve gotta handle, and then you get out. You don’t stay there any longer than you have to.’ Now, I’m listening to my lieutenant and I’m thinking to myself, I’m from these areas and here’s one major problem right out of the gate. The first call I get was a large fight … so I just go in. I just ignore the ‘stay there and wait for your backup’ order. It was a large crowd, but it was only two people that had the fight, and with that particular community, the kind of community I grew up in, something like that would draw a bunch of attention. …
“So as I pull up and get out of my car and I start walking toward the crowd, and one person was walking away from the crowd. He approached me, and he was like, ‘One of the guys in the neighborhood beat me up. He beat me up bad.’ And I was like, ‘Who is he?’ He told me who he was, gave me a description, and he pointed to him and said the guy’s name is Misdemeanor.”
Upon the victim stating that he and the assailant had history, and that he wanted to press charges, Ested had to approach the assailant. But instead of complying, Ested remembers how the assailant refused to discuss his assault and claimed that they didn’t “mess with cops,” before the altercation ultimately resulted in Ested having to chase the suspect on foot.
“Now, I’m still the only cop there. The other cops hadn’t arrived yet, and we ran for about three blocks. I called in the foot pursuit. I gave description. I gave my location and direction of travel. About the third block, he kind of got winded out, gave up, so I come put my handcuffs on him. And as soon as I put my handcuffs on him, I turn around and an officer pulls up as I was walking him off the alley, and he says, ‘Throw him in the car, throw him in the car. Hurry up,’” said Ested. “Now, I’m alarmed because I’m trying to figure out why he’s telling me to hurry up, and he says, ‘They’re all over the place. They’re all over the place.’ And I was like, ‘Who?’ He was like, ‘The people here. They’re all over the …’ I said, ‘Man, I’m not doing that,’ and he just drove off.
“So, I proceeded to walk back to my car with my suspect in handcuffs after chasing him for three blocks, and then by the time I got to my car, my whole platoon was at my car and my lieutenant was there. I’m walking, the crowd is still present on scene – you’ve got about 100 people out there – and the lieutenant points at me and gives me the finger to come here. I walked over, she told another officer, ‘Take his prisoner and secure him in a vehicle,’ and then she said, ‘What part of you wait for your other officers before you come in here, what part of that did you not understand, officer? Another officer told me that he saw you after you made the apprehension and you refused to get the subject in the car and get out of there like I told you when you first did that roll call.’ Then she said, ‘You see this crowd? I tell you these things for a reason.’”
It was then that Ested asked to explain himself, to which his lieutenant obliged. He explained that the current ways by which Richmond PD operated in low-income communities, the projects specifically, were wrong and inefficient, and that the police department’s attitude toward such communities needed to change.
“I said, ‘Ma’am, I’m from areas like this. If this is my assigned project, if this is my assigned area, running in and running out is not going to improve the relationship. I have to become a part of this community. If I’m not a part of this community, the problems that we have in policing will continue and will get worse.’
“So, I’m trying to explain this to her and one person out of the crowd starts walking over, yelling, ‘Yo, that’s my cousin. That’s my cousin,’ and she looks at me with this look like this is exactly what I’m telling you, and I said, ‘Excuse me, lieutenant, I’ll be right back.’ So, I walked over to the individual, and I said, ‘Yo, my man, check this out. Your cousin is right there in the police car. He’s not getting beat down; he didn’t get beat up by the police. He’s got to answer to the courts over something he did that’s none of your business, but if you want to check on him, there he is.’”
He explained that he took a bit more time to talk to the cousin afterward.
“I said, ‘Look, this is how it’s going to work. You looked at your cousin – he’s fine. Anything else, I’m not even trying to hear it; I’m going to lock you up for interfering. I don’t want to do that, but I know the need to want to check on your people because we have had some incidents. This isn’t one of those situations. I don’t get down like that.’
“He walked back to the crowd, and I walked back over to lieutenant, and I said, ‘Lieutenant, you’re the boss. If you want me to just run in and run out, I will do that. I will listen to you. But I was just trying to come in different than the police have been coming to this community because it’s not working. … I have to be a part of this community. I was raised in communities like this, and I see what the problem is.’ And then she looked at me and said, ‘You know what? We’ll try it your way.’”
Upon returning to his post in the projects, Ested quickly realized just how deep the negative culture and prejudice ran in the community and his precinct. The police-community relationship is a two-way street after all, and relationships take effort.
“I went right back to that neighborhood. I parked the vehicle, and I just walked around in this community. Now, just to tell you the mindset of the police and the communication when I went back to that area. I said I’m still in service, I’ll just be out on foot so that I could get another call. They said, ‘Do you want me to send another unit? Are you okay?’ And I was like, ‘Yeah, I’m fine. Thanks for checking.’ And police cars start driving back into the area and they say, ‘What’ve you got?’ I said nothing, I’m just walking around. The other officers were like, what the hell are you doing walking around in this area? So just the mindset, just the detachment from the community to the police department, was crazy. … So after a while of doing this, because I used to do it every day, of course my initial response from the community was like, ‘What are you doing here? Cops don’t come in this area.’ It was tense because this is something that they weren’t used to.
“After doing it for quite some time, I developed a great relationship. I knew everybody’s names. I knew kids. I knew who went to what school, and I started getting more information about who was doing what as far as drugs, guns. People felt comfortable because I was able to build that rapport with that community. And so, the police department couldn’t understand how I was doing a search warrant and coming up with really good search warrants … because the people of the community know everything about that community. They know who’s doing what, so when you develop the relationship that I had, they were feeding me really good information. … I started making a lot of gun arrests … and they took me right out of patrol and put me in a specialized unit.”
That’s the kind of consistent effort it takes, Ested concluded, discussing how the patrolling officer who took over his post failed to keep up the job, which resulted in the project quickly returning to its prior condition. These are the woes of the police-community relationship – they are so dependent upon having great candidates in place who are willing to challenge their departments to change their ways of thinking and expend the large amount of effort it takes to know their community.
For every story Ested had of his successes and triumphs, there were a dozen more that displayed how deep the issues and causes related to poor police-community relations run, such as backlash received from law enforcement co-workers in the form of the classic, “I thought you were on our side” complaint or, more seriously, refusal from his fellow officers to provide him with backup.
But Ested expressed that it was OK, because he knew that he was fighting for a better tomorrow for both citizens and law enforcement personnel. And despite the drawbacks, he said his journey, be it during his law enforcement career or since, has had more than his fair share of happy stories in which he has helped incite change by spreading his message and expertise. Furthermore, with his Police Brutality Matters brand blooming, along with a new book, it is possible that such happy stories and triumphs are just getting started.