Sure, police can be racists

THE BALTIMORE SUN

IF THE BLACK COPS think the white cops are racist, what should the rest of us black folk think? My suspicion of white policemen comes legitimately. I grew up in Birmingham, Alabama, in the '60s. But in other cities without Birmingham's history of police brutality against civil-rights demonstrators, I have found blacks who fear white officers, won't cooperate with white officers and view white officers as racists.

They see recent stories out of Baltimore as confirmation of their low opinion of white cops. The highest-ranking African-American on the Baltimore force, Col. Ronald L. Daniel, was suspended by the white police commissioner, Thomas C. Frazier, for complaining about racism within the department and suggesting the chief should be fired for inadequate attention to the matter.

The suspension lasted only a day, because Baltimore's black mayor, Kurt L. Schmoke, ordered the commissioner to rescind it. Since then, Mr. Frazier and Mr. Daniel have made up while sharing sugar cookies at the farmhouse of a sports-agent friend of the mayor. But their agreement includes acknowledgment that black officers too often don't receive the same treatment as whites in disciplinary cases.

That was also the finding of the Baltimore Community Relations Commission, whose three-month investigation concluded that black cops are more likely to be fired or disciplined than white cops. From January 1994 to July 1996, 50 black officers and trainees were fired and 24 resigned following disciplinary procedures. Only 13 white officers and trainees were fired and 12 resigned.

Commissioner Frazier agreed in November when the report was issued that there is a problem. He said he would tighten the discretion field supervisors have in disciplining officers to make sure blacks and whites are treated equally. But five months later, black cops, including Colonel Daniel, are still complaining that not enough has been done.

Forceful action

That's sad. Had Mr. Frazier acted more forcefully, by actually weeding out supervisors whose past actions show a pattern of discrimination, he would not have seen his command structure collapse in the wake of his accusing his top deputy of being insubordinate. Real progress this year in lowering Baltimore's crime rate is now threatened by the commissioner's having to place more of his attention on rebuilding confidence in his command.

That won't be easy. Mr. Frazier must battle politicians and police-union leaders who would just as soon see him leave town.

Meanwhile, smiles are on the faces of all the hustlers and dope dealers who want black inner-city residents who see them arrested to be reminded of '60s civil-rights demonstrators arrested by racist police. These new "victims of the system" know that when black cops don't trust white cops, other blacks don't feel compelled to trust and work with police.

Gaining trust in communities beset by crime is crucial. It's important for people to see white and black officers working together, to see black cops giving orders as well as taking them, to see people they know wearing police blue.

I'll never forget a kid I grew up with in the projects, Frank Horn, coming home from the Army in 1966 and becoming one of Birmingham's first black police officers. Frank was challenged by thugs who recognized his presence threatened the advantage they gained from having black folk think of all cops as evil.

I remember Frank putting his gun aside and duking it out with a few to prove he wouldn't be intimidated. Thirty years later, black cops shouldn't have the same worries as Frank; that bias in the police department poses more danger than criminals on the street.

Harold Jackson writes editorials for The Sun.

Pub Date: 5/03/97

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