Black on the Blue Line

Truth and reason are eternal. They have prevailed. And they will eternally prevail; however, in times and places they may be overborne for a while by violence; military, civil, or ecclesiastical.

Thomas Jefferson

During my career with the East Providence Police Department, I had the privilege of working with many outstanding local, state, and federal officers and agents. One of those federal agents is a man named Matthew “Matt” Horace, whose law enforcement career spanned twenty-six years.

I met Matt when he was a Special Agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms. We worked several cases together—wiretap, undercover narcotics, weapons—and I came to respect Matt as a dedicated and committed professional.

Matt has since moved on into the private sector, bringing his talents and experience to bear on security and other issues important to successful business operations. He has appeared on a variety of media shows–CNN, CBS–as an expert in use of force.

Recently, I wrote a piece on my blog that created a stir among the thousands of followers who regularly read my blog. This piece, First, Admit the Problem Exists (https://bit.ly/2XZ2JO3) acknowledges the existence of endemic implicit racism within law enforcement agencies.  The piece was shared hundreds of times across a wide spectrum of platforms.

The reactions were varied and, sometimes, troubling. Everything from “thank you for writing about this important subject” to “Blacks commit more crimes, that’s why they have more contact with cops.” Troubling to say the least.

It’s one thing for me, a white man who never faced rampant discrimination because of the color of my skin, to talk about the matter. Matt, a black man in a profession that, until just a short time ago, refused to allow people of color into its ranks, brings a much more personal and poignant perspective.

Matt has done this through a magnificently researched and incisively written book. He details both the overall experience of persons of color with law enforcement and some troubling personal experiences that underscore the extent of the problem.

The Black and the Blue: A Cop Reveals the Crimes, Racism, and Injustice in America’s Law Enforcement (https://amzn.to/3coAD48) lets everyone feel the tension and fear many black men and women experience when interacting with police officers.

But the book is more than just a detailing of this disturbing phenomenon in America. Matt’s unique perspective also puts one in the shoes of law enforcement and the often-chaotic moments leading to a decision to use deadly force.

Implicit Bias plays a big part in this issue facing law enforcement.  Matt details how implicit bias, more so than the absence of explicit or overt bias people often point to as a counterargument to these discussions, as the real issue we need face as a society.

Implicit Bias:  bias that results from the tendency to process information based on unconscious associations and feelings, even when these are contrary to one’s conscious or declared beliefs: implicit bias in cases of racial discrimination.

The ensuing violence over the past few days and, as Matt points out in the book, the long history of violent reactions to fatal encounters of blacks with law enforcement, often results in unintended consequences. The violence is a cry of frustration. Yet the violence and destruction often reinforces the implicit bias held by those who only see the violence and not the cause behind it. 

Dr. Martin Luther King, the celebrated Civil Rights activist and proponent of non-violent protests, had this to say about such incidents.

” It is as necessary for me to be as vigorous in condemning the conditions which cause persons to feel that they must engage in riotous activities as it is for me to condemn riots. I think America must see that riots do not develop out of thin air. Certain conditions continue to exist in our society which must be condemned as vigorously as we condemn riots. But in the final analysis, a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it that America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the plight of the Negro poor has worsened over the last few years. It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met.”

 It’s one thing for those of us who’ve stood on the thin blue line to talk about and acknowledge these matters. While necessary and key to bridging the chasm between the black community and the police, it is only part of the solution. It is infinitely more impactful when an experienced professional such as Matt Horace, who knows both sides of the line, puts it so bluntly before us.

Perhap this will trigger more than talk followed by inertia.

I would encourage those who wish to understand the problem to read this book. The time to insist on change—permanent, responsible, and effective—was never more critical.

“The wrongs inside police departments are not about a handful of bad police officers. Instead, they reflect bad policing procedures and policies that many of our departments have come to accept as gospel. To fix the problem requires a realignment of our thinking about the role police play and how closely they as a group and as individuals are knitted into the fabric of society. Do they stand apart from societal norms, or will they uphold their motto of “To Protect and Serve”? Are they to be looked at as the men and women who sweep up the refuse left by our refusal or inability to tackle societal problems, or are they partners in our efforts to provide a vibrant and supportive community for all? The decision is ours.” Horace, Matthew. The Black and the Blue (p. 219). Hachette Books. Kindle Edition. https://amzn.to/3coAD48

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