Sheriff’s Deputy Turned Civil Rights Activist Sees Rights, Wrongs On Both Sides

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Photo: Police Shootings Sheriff Deputy Henry Allen
Former El Paso County Sheriff's Deputy Henry Allen now heads the Pikes Peak chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

A spate of controversial shootings by police and the murders of five Dallas officers have brought intense attention to police-community relations.

Former El Paso County Sheriff's Deputy Henry Allen has a unique perspective on those issues. Allen's first career was in the military. Then he spent 13 years as an El Paso sheriff's deputy, patrolling areas around the city of Colorado Springs, before moving on to head the Pikes Peak chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, an organization founded, nationally, by Martin Luther King.

Allen, 60, grew up in Arkansas, where his parents warned him to be careful not to antagonize police officers he came in contact with. "At that time my parents felt, being in the south, that if law enforcement was upset, or became upset, that I might lose my life. I may be hung or I may be drowned in the Mississippi River," he said.

"It's very concerning to me that in 2016 in the most powerful country in the world that we are still as African American parents and grandparents cautioning not to be comfortable with law enforcement because it's a possibility that you may lose your life."

On why African Americans are concerned about the outcomes of the recent shootings:

“I understand the frustration of many black citizens across the country, because what has appeared to them is that the criminal justice system has not worked for them. And what they are believing in their mindset, and what I take from that is, they have yet seen another killing of two African American mens at the hands of law enforcement.

"Will this be a call to justice to hold those law enforcement officers accountable? Or will the system, as they see it, will the system again hide and justify the killing of these two African American men?”

On why some law enforcement officers can be fearful of those they serve and protect:

“If you never lived around people of different race, or you never had to really intermingle with people of different race, there’s a sense of fear when the news media continue to push the violence that African American inflicted on each other...

"And the violence in African American community, or the drugs in the African American community and the poverty in African American community. You continue to see that played out on social media and media; that tends to put a little bit of fear in a person that’s sworn to protect and serve when he go into it. He automatically think that this is a... he going into a violent situation. This is not all of my law enforcement friends at the office, but it’s a number of them.”