It is the latter point that especially sets him apart from many of his peers as we can learn a lot from his experience, outlook, and status, all of which make his point of view more balanced and calibrated. This is accentuated by the fact that he himself is an upright citizen and this is something that I personally gleaned and realized from our hour-long one-on-one conversation.
Currently, I am in the process of reviewing one of his earlier books – Walking the Blue Line – which deals with his personal experiences of being a colored police officer, and I was immediately impressed with his stance of neither defending nor demonizing the police.
I concur with this view. Although my context and life experiences are very different, I used to espouse the romantic Ivory Tower ideology of viewing all forms of authority as a threat, an unconscious rebellion against the paternal figure, but when I had the opportunity to work with police officers, my views about them changed in many ways and aspects.
Part of my rebellion stemmed from fear and a general lack of contact with the police (I have had, fortunately, no specific negative experiences or trauma to speak of) but a figure dressed in an imposing uniform tends to instill more fear than respect. Yet once I got to meet these officers of the law outside of their uniform, in plain civilian clothes, I saw and realized that police officers are no different from the rest of us. They have their troubles, worries, and concerns, they have a sense of humor – believe it or not - and they have their differences.
One of the more worrisome aspects of the current anti-police movement is its either/or and black/white perspective. The protesters tend to oppose all police officers and fail to distinguish those who are upright and decent from those who are jaded, corrupt, and downright racist.
This is one of the things that Dr. Carter learned and realized first-hand as he was serving in the police force. The problem in many cases was not the individuals but the police system itself. Policing does not start off with the mission or ideology of helping others or even serving communities; it is mainly based and intent on catching and apprehending “bad guys” or perpetrators.
It is hinged on a worldview that wants officers to punish those who commit crimes, and in fact, those members of the police who do good by avoiding conflict and violence find themselves at a significant disadvantage. This is because the system runs like a business, and you would basically receive commissions on making arrests be they drug busts or felonies; once you have various arrests under your belt, you would be promoted.
Put differently, if you fail to do so, if you do not fulfill your quota, you will not have a chance to advance in your career. If you wanted to help and serve your community – the noble intentions of many who engage in this profession in the first place - you would have to do this on your own time, meaning it would go unpaid and uncredited, although that is what the true aim and purpose of policing should and ought to be.
My question for Dr. Carter was why there is so little time placed on de-escalation techniques, and the answer became apparent during our conversation. The police are seen basically as alpha males whose intention would be to escalate situations so that they can make arrests. De-escalation would be considered effeminate or too feminine. But the accent should lie on avoiding conflicts not flaming or encouraging them, and we should see the police more as officers of peace than one of force and enforcement.
Another issue that compounds and complicates the whole process in the United States is access to guns. As a police officer, you would constantly live in survival mode and you will be dealing with bad guys on a daily basis. This means that not only is your view of humanity influenced and biased in a negative way, but you might also build and harbor negative stereotypes or prejudices against certain groups or segments of society. A police officer’s mind has been primed to see the negative, and they might project this into ambivalent situations or even their daily life and context.
Again, this is not meant to excuse or defend their actions nor the various cases of excessive and unnecessary force, but it is meant to encourage a better and more empathic understanding of these situations. As Dr. Carter put it, many people start off policing as upright and decent beings, but the job and the working climate make many of them jaded and corrupt. In fact, it is easier, let alone professionally more rewarding, for a good person to go astray and be swayed onto the wrong path, of becoming bad and corrupt than to stay the course.
Why did decent folks not stand up against those rotten apples, the corrupt and sadistic members of the force? Why did no one step into the fray and stop the evident violence and police brutality occurring in front of their eyes; why did no one denounce and expose wrongdoing? Is it because of comradeship and camaraderie?
Dr. Carter’s answer was yes. You had to trust your partner in dangerous and life-threatening situations. But when he himself denounced the practices of one of his colleagues, no one wanted to partner up with him as they deemed his action a transgression against the unspoken but implicit code of police conduct. By standing up for your principles and other people’s rights, you would become ostracized and would be called a snitch. As a result, Dr. Carter decided to quit the force.
This ties in with many issues that plague administrations and governments on all their levels. Although there is corruption, we are asked to turn a blind eye and accept and go along with it. The moment a person exposes wrongdoing, the whistleblowers tend to be attacked by the establishment when they ought to be celebrated and promoted for doing the right thing and for actively tackling corruption. Honesty, integrity, and truthfulness tend not to be encouraged by higher-ups or the government; worse, whistle-blowers tend to be reprimanded or punished for speaking out and standing up for truth and integrity.
Although police officers have and will be charged with crimes, they often receive protection from the law. In many cases, we have seen that the victim would be blamed for their actions, whether it is running away or pulling out a wallet. It is hard to fathom what kind of cruel and inhumane pretext will be given for the slaying of George Floyd, but the legal system must ensure and enforce that justice will prevail and that there is no favoritism involved; that justice is indeed blind to differences by equally applying the rules to all and everyone without exception.
What ought to be done in these important, historical yet volatile times where protests abound and where the streets are in turmoil and the citizens enraged? There is a documented history of wrongdoing and police brutality. There is a long list of victims who have been mistreated and killed by the police.
But the mistreatment goes back further in history with the abominable and inexcusable practice of slavery, the atrocious fictitious narrative that it is allowed and permitted to treat fellow human beings as property. It shocks me to hear that even today there are people in government who espouse the view that slavery was a “necessary evil.” It was certainly evil, but in no way and under no pretexts was it or could it be necessary.
Slavery can not be conceived of or brushed off as a mere case of educating and civilizing the colored people - terms that are inherently troublesome on their own - but it was the forceful and violent repression of human rights and of human dignity. It is sad and heartbreaking that there are traces and vestiges of this view still operating in modern American society. The acceptance of ethnic mistreatment and the fact that it is allowed and permitted to occur and re-occur is an example of the blind spot of race and democracy in the American system.
What we need most is a restructuring and reformatting of society. Protests, according to Dr. Carter, are a way of inconveniencing the other. It is forcing people to face what is a reality in American society and politics. It is nudging them to feel awkward about what is currently happening and to have an open, uncomfortable but necessary and liberating conversation about race and ethnicity in the United States. It is not about erasing the past but facing it and bringing it into the open and to have an honest and open dialogue from and with both sides of the fences.
The trauma is there, and it has been festering for centuries. But here is the chance to overcome it and to build bridges. The goal is not and should not be a further entrenchment or deeper division but rather a bridge that connects us to each other. It is not about seeing the others as enemies but trying to see them holistically, as human beings deserving of dignity, respect, and most importantly, empathy. At the same time, it is important to tear down fences and defenses, to expose the lies and manipulation, and, in the words of Eddie Glaude, to tell the truth with courage, commitment, and love.
Hence, protests need to be done mindfully. We must keep in mind that this movement is occurring under the ominous threat of a virus that is endangering many lives. We also need to be aware that during protests, there will be a lack of access to education; all those who are on their way to schools and universities will have their roads blocked. Finally, it will also cut off access for those that need medical attention, whether it is due to Covid-19 or other conditions.
There is more than one way to achieve awareness and change, and sometimes one needs to resort to forceful means to get the point across. In my view, there should be a balanced force of yin and yang, where Malcolm X represents an aggressive stance of forcefully and vocally demanding and obtaining what one is rightly due but also not to forget or undermine the more “feminine” side, symbolized by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., where compassion, peace, and love are meant to guide us towards the ultimate goal of harmony.
This is not straying too far from the Christian analogy since the end goal of Jesus was to reach harmony and peace, but he was fully aware that sometimes one would need to pull out the sword to that effect. I am an intrinsic pacifist, but I think that conflict is necessary to reach true and lasting peace. But I do not think that we need a violent revolution, and I oppose any forms of anarchy.
As a writer, I think that the best way to change minds and to reach understanding, empathy, and harmony is through writing. The pen is mightier than the sword. Although protests will leave an impact on people, writing can touch and affect them in more lasting, intimate, and profound ways. For instance, we should let ourselves be guided by the warmth and wisdom of James Baldwin; he may have looked physically frail, but his words were potent and ripe with themes that equally transcend and harmonize potential racial differences.
Diplomacy can be enforced through strong, forceful, and purposeful words and actions, but we need to make sure that the path ahead and forward is clear and that we get to the place we are aiming for. It is not sufficient to have had a colored president in office. Yet with our zeal and desire for change, we do not want to reach a point of disarray nor let the promising movement be swayed or hijacked by and for political means and ends.
The final goal or destination goes back to the still unresolved but possible and feasible dream that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had, that one day everyone will live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. That day could indeed be another step closer, while in the hopeful words of James Baldwin: Hope is invented every day.