I have taken a position that is not the most popular amongst my friends, but I believe it is a better alternative. We need a viable, honest, and most importantly a justice-based police department. Calls for defunding police departments have been reprised all over America since the murder of George Floyd. There seems to be some confusion with reallocating, reform, and defunding.  I must admit, my personal track record of liberalism and having grown up black in America, had me wrestling with my thoughts. I could go into a long list of my past radicalized stances, I will not; because that comes off like white people saying, “ some of my best friends are black.” What I think now makes a difference, and what I do now makes the future.  I had my share of run-ins with the police like a lot of young and older black men in the sixties, seventies, eighties, nineties…(sigh).

Let me tell you a story about community policing…

I grew up in Washington, D.C., and recall the warnings from my uncle of not being caught in Prince George’s County, Maryland., then a white suburb of D.C., after dark. I also remember seeing grown men humiliated; being called “boy” and worst the N-word, by white cops when they patrolled neighborhoods like mine on foot. I knew a white cop who was assigned to my elementary school to do community relations; we called him ‘Officer Friendly.’ He was a stockily built white man with a shock of jet black hair that peered from beneath his uniform cap as if it were looking for an escape.  I was 10 years old and for the first time a white police officer addressed me as a “young man.”  

The South East D.C. neighborhood my family moved into in 1966 had some things I had never seen. It had been an all-white community and we moved there in the midst of “white flight” to the suburbs. There was a  structured maze of pipes and greenery that hovered over my driveway, it was a  grapevine and the big green leaves shaded me and my friends from the hot summer sun. I had excitedly told my new friend Officer Friendly about it.  He said to me, “ come August you will have lots of grapes.

That August, the escaping hair beneath the policeman’s cap came to my front door. My great-grandmother warily answered the knock, the smile on the officer’s face put her at ease. “Hi, officer friendly,” I shouted. “Hi William,” he said, flashing his big toothy grin. He and my granny talked about the grapevine and he asked if he could pick some grape leaves for a recipe his mother cooked for him. His mother was born in the old country [Greece] he explained and fresh grape leaves would be a great surprise. From that point on until I left home, Officer Friendly came every year for grape leaves. My granny after a few years of this routine finally asked what she makes with them. He told her, ‘just an old family recipe.’

One week later, Officer Ariti brought a plate wrapped tightly in tinfoil of Dolmadakia. She invited him in. He removed his cap and brushed his hair back with his fingers (my granny made him wash his hands). They ate, drank iced tea, and smiled. I want to keep funding the police force that respected my granny, and restructure the department that would put its knee on my granny’s neck.

Vote in 2020 for Change.          

  • June 8, 2020