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Black police officers decry union's legal fund donation [Commentary]

African American Officers of the Anne Arundel County Police Department were shocked and taken back by the donation to the defense fund for Officer Darren Wilson of Ferguson, Mo., by the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 70 Board of Directors. While we appreciate the support that the union offers to officers in need, there comes a time where leaders must take a step back and look at the totality of their decisions.

This decision appeared to lack any regard for the many men and women of color, and even others with regard to the topic of Ferguson, Mo. The fact is that no criminal charges have been filed, and the facts of the case have not been fully released.

Is this the precedent that has been set by the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 70 Board of Directors that donations are made to all high profile police involved shootings? And if so, did FOP Lodge 70 donate legal defense funds to New Jersey Police Detective Joseph Walker? This was a high profile case that occurred in our county.

Based on the comments of Cpl. O'Brien Atkinson, president of Lodge 70, the national FOP suggested that the union contribute to the defense fund of Officer Wilson; this is concerning to African-American officers represented by Lodge 70. That suggestion by the national FOP should have been brought to the attention of the FOP Lodge 70 membership considering the inflammatory nature of such a donation. A conversation with a few African American officers would have provided a different perspective with regard to this sensitive and racially charged matter.

We are thankful that Anne Arundel County Police Chief Kevin Davis publicly "disagreed" with this decision as a number of us have faced questions from our concerned friends, family and citizens alike about the Anne Arundel County Police Department's donation to an officer who hasn't been accused of anything, other than using deadly force, and the message it sends.

Chief Davis appeared at an NAACP meeting on Aug. 21, after he was invited to be there. This meeting was actually in reference to the acquittal of Matthew Pinkerton, a white Glen Burnie man who killed Kendall Green, a black man who was involved with Mr. Pinkerton's wife, according to prosecutors. The jury was never allowed to hear crucial evidence in this case including the use of a racial slur. The chief appeared before the group in order to support his detectives and this agency that filed these charges against Mr. Pinkerton. Chief Davis was part of a dialogue with the community, and the reality is if the Ferguson Police Department had a leader who made the tough and sometimes unpopular decisions to have interaction with different communities, we likely wouldn't be discussing Ferguson, Mo.

We understand the chief's statement and do not take it as a slight to law enforcement. We actually appreciate someone who sees the larger picture and who is not afraid to make the unpopular decision for the greater good. That's what true leaders do. We also appreciate the progressive thinking in what is becoming a more inclusive country. "We show up to school events, ball games, barbecues and community meetings," Chief Davis has said, according to the Capital Gazette newspaper's Aug. 24th editorial. "We want you to know us before you need us."

Lt. Dean Jones, President of FOP Lodge 89 in Prince George's County, said it best in a Washington Post article on Aug. 23: "We think this is a matter best handled by the local FOP in Missouri," Lieutenant Jones said, adding that he sees no need to jeopardize relations with the community. "I don't think we should get involved." We thank Lieutenant Jones for looking at the bigger picture.

We need to remain cognizant of everyone's feelings during this heightened time of sensitivity. For the sake of our profession, we hope that Officer Wilson used necessary force, and if that is true, we hope that he receives proper due process, but until then, we should continue to gather facts.

We ask that Lodge 70 reconsider the donation and publicly clarify its position. We believe the union's intentions were noble and the national FOP's recommendation perhaps needed more thought from the board of directors and the entire union representation. This situation has the chance to get worse if it's discovered that Officer Wilson acted improperly. The bottom line is, we don't know all the facts and this is too sensitive of a community issue to make an early judgment.

Cpl. Kam Cooke is acting president of the Black Police Officers Association for Anne Arundel County Police Department.

To respond to this commentary, send an email to talkback@baltimoresun.com. Please include your name and contact information.

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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