After more than a week of violence and racial tension sparked by the deaths of black men at the hands of police and the shooting deaths of five officers in Dallas, we’re getting more perspective from African-American law enforcement officials. We wanted to know how black officers, folks who find themselves right in the middle of heated conversations about race and policing, are processing everything that happened.
Gregory A. Thomas, who leads the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives, or NOBLE, talks with Gene Demby. He explains what he told President Obama at a White House meeting with law enforcement officials this week and why he thinks his organization has special insight into the current debate. “We are expert enough to say what should be done in policing,” Thomas said. “But the twist there is we are also black. So we’ve been policed, we live in neighborhoods that have been policed, we have neighbors that have been policed, we’ve been stopped and frisked. I’ve been stopped and frisked. We’ve all been through that experience.”
Later, Gene and Shereen Marisol Meraji talk with Michael Rallings, who serves as the interim director of police services in Memphis, Tenn. On Sunday, Rallings earned some praise — and some criticism — after marching arm in arm with protesters off the Interstate 40 bridge and through downtown Memphis.
At a news conference later in the week, Rallings said he is sick of death. “I don’t care where you’re from, I don’t care if you’re black or white, or if you’re a Vice Lord or Crip or Gangster Disciple,” Rallings said. “We just gotta bring about a change in this city. And as I’ve said from Day 1, everybody has a place and a part to play in this struggle. And it is indeed a struggle.” Rallings talked to us about his thought process over the past few days, what it was like marching and what his vision is going forward.
Shereen and Gene also spoke to Jelani Cobb, a journalist at The New Yorker and the director of the University of Connecticut’s Institute for African American Studies. Cobb spent about a year embedded with the Newark Police Department after a Department of Justice report in 2014 found that about 75 percent of pedestrian stops were unjustified, and that “black individuals in Newark bear the brunt of the NPD’s pattern of unconstitutional stops and arrests.”
Cobb’s year of investigation was chronicled in Policing the Police, a PBS Frontline documentary. Cobb explained what is was like working with the NPD, and how it has shaped his perception of what’s happening now between police and communities of color.
Code Switch is not done with this story. In the weeks to come, we’ll continue to explore these experiences, and we’ll include perspectives from folks who aren’t black or white.