Cook: A letter to city police

Cook: A letter to city police

December 17th, 2013 by David Cook in Opinion Columns

David Cook

Photo by Ashlee Culverhouse/Times Free Press.

Someone, apologize.

Talk about how the handcuffs don't work, how the blue lights and corner stores and graffiti are like little Baghdads, little war zones that smell like adrenaline and fear and despair. Places that are the American nightmare, not the dream.

Lament the addicts. The dead bodies. How you can't sleep some nights. How angry you get at the unendingness of it all.

Tell them how if you were in their shoes, you'd probably make the same choices. If you're a white man, stand up and mourn young black men. Talk about how precious and valuable their lives are, or were.

Acknowledge -- no, no -- own up to the violent racism that has emerged through the badge of Chattanooga police over the years. There's a long list of names of black folks who have been brutalized: read it, out loud, and slowly.

Then weep.

Because nothing's going to change until you do so.

"The vast majority has never been talked about," Jim Fealy, former police chief in High Point, N.C., told the Times Free Press.

That quote comes at the end of the stunning eight-page report "Speak No Evil." Published in Sunday's paper, the story is about Shonda Mason, mother of Eric, who was shot and killed in the Chattanooga streets like so many black teens before him.

It's about a code of silence that keeps witnesses from talking to cops about crimes. Like who killed Eric.

But really, "Speak No Evil" is about trust and the rebuilding of it. You talk to people when you trust them and the systems they represent. If you don't, you stay silent.

Right now, there is a chasm between police and some members of the black community. It comes from reality, perception and story-telling. It comes from Emmer and Cooley, the prison pipeline, Wadie Suttles. It comes from nihilism, internalized rage and sadness.

This Thursday at 6 p.m., there is a "Speak No Evil" forum -- "Race, Reconciliation and Truth-telling" -- at the Bethlehem Center. It could be angry, messy. It could be nothing.

It could also be everything.

In 2004, Fealy publicly apologized to the black community in High Point.

"We wanted to do things right. We wanted the violence to stop, but we didn't go about stopping it in the best way. Saturations were callous. Stop-and-frisks were done thoughtlessly. Arrests were an overused tool," the report reads.

Usually, when we talk to one another about crime and race, we resemble two boxers. Our fists are up. We're combative. Defensive.

Something's got to break this ice, this stalemate.

Chattanooga police, please go first.

Yes, you put your life on the line. Yes, that badge means something. Yes, you are trying to make a difference. And no, you didn't start any of this.

But in your heart of hearts, you know something's going wrong. A drug war that won't end. Neighborhoods without fathers. The death of faith in police. I've heard what folks say to you when you pull up and get out of the squad car. No one wants that. Not you. Not them.

The burden's on you because you have the power. Behind you is the whole weight of the American justice system: its prisons (we lock up more citizens than any country on earth), all its weapons (some of you look like storm troopers walking through the streets) and the courts, lawyers and judges behind them.

It's a system connected to the businesses, golf courses, council rooms and board rooms where all the decisions are made, mostly by white faces living in a white world.

You symbolize that world.

Make yourself vulnerable. Be as honest as you are courageous. Take the moral high ground.

When you do, something will shift and soften, not unlike a spring thaw. Your call will find a response. Folks may talk about how they despise crime far more than you do. How they'd walk 1,000 miles to find a system that would repair the world they duck through.

How sad, like a funeral that won't stop, it makes them. How most of them would drop it all for an honest job. How sorry they are for things known and unknown. How they've been crippled by so much. How they need and want your help.

How they silence doesn't have to last.

Contact David Cook at dcook@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6329. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter at DavidCookTFP.