Editor’s Note: Sam Riddle is an honorably discharged Vietnam era veteran and a graduate of the University of Michigan Law School. Riddle has over 45 years of experience in management, political and media consulting with emphasis on crisis management. He is currently a senior fellow at The PuLSE Institute, focusing on veterans’ poverty and Detroit’s economic recovery. He’s also the host of Riddle @Random broadcast 9-11am weekdays on 910 AM Super Station. For submission inquiries contact Bankole Thompson, the editor-in-chief of the Institute at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Sam Riddle, J.D.
In my capacity as political director of the Michigan National Action Network (NAN), we recently met with Bill Dwyer, the Police Commissioner of Warren, Michigan, which is the third largest city in the state. The focus of our meeting in Macomb County’s largest city were the historical policing practices of Warren police after a black Amazon pandemic frontline delivery man was body slammed by a Warren policeman after a confrontation for allegedly parking on the wrong side of the street.
NAN has received numerous complaints about perceived racist behavior on the part of Warren police that only number six Black police officers on a force of over two hundred despite rapidly changing Warren demographics that reflect a population growth trending black. The site World Population Review reveals Between 2000 and 2010, the African American population of Warren saw a more than 300% increase, from around 3,700 people to over 18,000. Today blacks account for about 18.5 % according to the Census. The number of Blacks on the Warren police force is less than three percent (3%) or six black police officers. The poverty level of Warren is right around 20%.
As the president of Michigan NAN, Reverend Charles E. Williams II, and I walked into the Warren Police headquarters under the glare of TV cameras, I was reflecting on another time in another state.
Nearly forty years ago in a small Northern Virginia town, a state trooper and I wrestled on the ground in broad daylight. I struggled to prevent him getting to his weapon. The incident was triggered by us just looking at one another. Words were exchanged. The trooper had been a town cop while I had been fighting to empower black citizens to seek representation on the town council which was elected through a racist at-large system. He didn’t like me because I represented uppity blacks that didn’t know their place. I didn’t like him because he represented raw racist power – white supremacy. Now he was a Virginia State Trooper. We were separated. I was arrested. I went before a country judge that knew both of us. The judge saw two guys that didn’t like one another and the case was dismissed. It could easily have been my funeral. Today, I would be Rayshard Brooks DOA from Wendy’s.
Policing, as we know it today, is as archaic as those doctors in Abraham Lincoln’s day that used to bleed patients to heal them. That medicine did not heal. That medicine killed. So, it is with policing in America today. Policing kills.
Don’t call the police. Calls to the police for minor infractions that should be decriminalized in the first instance often result in black people being murdered by cops who are ill-equipped to respond with anything but force of badge, a deadly firearm and that other pandemic virus that kills -racism.
The criminalization of poverty that manifest itself in homelessness, inability to get treatment for addiction and mental challenges including autism confounds street police quick to the trigger.
After the Warren meeting, I was interviewed by a mainstream reporter that covers Warren police. The reporter had no conceptual frame of reference for NAN’s positions on the need for a completely new approach to public safety including demilitarization, de-escalation, no excessive force and just treating black citizens as human beings. The reporter’s focus on cop-speak body cams (that don’t work), sensitivity training and increasing hiring of “minorities” are band-aid tactics that don’t address the systemic issues of policing in America.
In San Francisco they get it. Mayor London Breed just announced that if the call is not about violent criminal conduct police will not respond but appropriate social agencies/professionals will be sent on the call. Mayor Breed is clearly cognizant of existing issues such as systemic racism and the debilitating impact of wealth inequality that drives poverty.
When we hear a Washtenaw County Sheriff use “systemic racism” and “white supremacy” in the same sentence during a CNN interview concerning redefining law enforcement, that is protest working after demonstrations against that black Sheriff’s white deputy beating a black woman unmercifully. Without the wave of protest in the aftermath of George Floyd being murdered by a white cop in Minnesota, we might not be engaged in this need to redo public safety in America.
Keep protesting. Pursue the analytics saving lives on the journey to justice.