For African-American police officers, a foot in two worlds

Police work, racial solidarity

The handful of black officers reached by the Tribune say angry exchanges with loved ones and strangers regarding their police work are rare, though they can occur, especially after high-profile brutality cases in the news.

Fletcher can still recall the heated exchange with a close friend involving the death of LaTanya Haggerty, an unarmed African-American woman who was shot and killed in summer 1999 by a Chicago police officer who mistook her cellphone for a weapon.

“One of my non-police friends,” Fletcher began, “he’s like, ‘Man how can you stand up behind that? Because they just killed that girl and she just had a cellphone. That could have been you or me, your sister, your little cousin.’

“The public doesn’t look at the other end. What if it wasn’t a cellphone?” he said. “What if it was a gun? And police officers have to make that split (second) decision, because you say I can wait to see if it’s a cellphone and be killed. … The average officer isn’t willing to take that chance with their life.”

Black cops know how volatile things can be at a crime scene. But while they may face the same dangers as white officers, some black residents — be they witnesses, victims or even the accused — may open up more freely to a black officer than their white counterparts, some black cops have observed.

“Sometimes the victim may look to a familiar face and hear a little bit more clearer from a familiar face,” said Spradley, who grew up in the Grand Crossing neighborhood and graduated from Morehouse College. “They’re more apt to hear what the familiar face is saying when the other (white) officer may have told them pretty much the same thing.”

Black officers interviewed by the Tribune say they’re as concerned as anyone about the abuse and callousness some of their white counterparts have toward African-Americans. They’ve faced it. Their family, friends and neighbors have complained about it.

But the officers say they don’t have the political muscle to make changes. And they’re preoccupied with a skyrocketing shooting and homicide rate.

Police shooting deaths of African-Americans locally and nationally are further putting black officers on defense — forced to answer for the actions of fellow law enforcement officers.

Officers say they feel blindsided with the release of every new viral video showing an attack on a black civilian.

“The negative is often every day because there’s something new popping up every day in the news,” said the Wentworth District officer who asked not to be identified.

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