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Straight No Chaser: Is Respect for Law Enforcement a Thing of The Past?

Op/Ed By Gloria Winston –

 

gloria newThis is not the first time I have written about law enforcement, and the respect I was taught to have for those who are sworn to protect and serve.

However, unfortunately, those teachings seem very far removed from today’s reality.

I have often mentioned that, as a kid, my upbringing in Camelot, formally know as the Third Ward, a.k.a. Corn Hill, taught me, with the help of my parents, family, and neighbors, this thing called RESPECT.

We were especially raised to respect teachers, preachers and the policemen and women who patrolled our streets looking for bad guys, but who also had real relationships with us, our families, and our neighbors.

We had a real community, where boundaries were respected, and the lives of those living in our community mattered.

There were only a few instances of police brutality that I was aware of at the time, but we seemed to have more respect for those who carried a badge and a gun.

And, that respect was not just a one way street.

As kids, we did not fear the police; we understood that they had a job to do, and even wannabe thugs did not push the envelope to the point of wanting to take anyone’s life.

And, if my friends and I got caught out of pocket, we were taken home, not to jail.

Yes, we used to fight.

We belonged to clubs that would be called gangs in today’s society, but I can’t recall anyone wanting to kill someone who kicked their butt in a fair fight.

Once, I recall my brother pulling a fire alarm, and he came home, and hid under the bed.

But the police did not have to look far for him, and they arrived at our house with a light that revealed his fingers had touched the outdoor fire alarm.

However, he did not go to jail.

I also remember my friends and I stealing comic books, and that the humiliation of having to return them to the store owner was worse than going to jail.

We also vandalized a freshly painted house with white chalk renderings, and later had to wash off our graffiti, but no one went to jail.

As a community, we were more than fortunate to have been able to organize, and push for having police officers in our community who not only looked like us, but who lived among us.

Every policeman and woman I knew, knew where I lived, and also knew my parents.

We were blessed in our community to have police officers who shared our pigmentation, and that emulated the love and concern the first black policeman, Charles Price, brought to the table.

We are still blessed to have Charles Price with us, a man whose demeanor and kindness has never changed.

He was our first black police officer, followed by Spencer Walker (who lived on Adams St. and was the first cop on a motorcycle I remember); Jimmy Byrd; Patricia Thompson (who lived on Clarissa St.); Katherine Hawkins (who lived on Atkinson St.); Bobby Dinkle; Leonard “Butch” Johnson; Kenneth Paterson (who I grew up with); Sheriffs Willie McCummings and Joe Bradford; and State Trooper Jimmy Jackson.

My mom, Eliza Wilma Winston, was also a policewoman.

At the time, crossing guards wore police uniforms, and had badge numbers as well.

During the school year, my mother was assigned to Bronson and Clarissa streets, and, in the summers, she was assigned to Charlotte Beach.

I remember her supervisor was Captain Ed Blodgett.

He was white, but we all knew him, and we respected his position.

When all this changed in our community has been mind boggling to me.

The young men in our community belonged to PAL (the Police Athletic League), and I remember my brother and his friends playing softball for the KPAA (the Kodak Park Athletic Association).

What has happened to these organizations which previously helped to build young people’s character and respect?

I can’t imagine anyone I grew up with thinking it was OK to argue with, resist orders from, or disregard any direction given by an officer, let alone pull a gun on the officer and attempt to kill the officer.

I thank God that kind of hatred, anger, and disrespect for life missed my DNA.

But, we must ask ourselves, what has happened?

And, what bothers me most is that folks in our community often become annoyed at the negative way the media portrays African Americans and say we, as a people, must challenge the stereotypical beliefs some people hold about us.

Certainly the stereotype that all black people eat chicken and love watermelon falls within the same category as those who believe all police officers are the same.

In every culture, and in all professions, we will find bad people who want to play by their own rules.

However, it is only ignorance which would allow us to believe that the bad behavior of a few means all are guilty of the same.

All police officers are not bad people.

The system is simply in need of an overhaul.

More feet need to be out of patrol cars and on the ground, building personal and community relationships with the people they have been sworn to protect and serve.

It is my belief that some individuals’ fear and attitudes may be causing the loss of respect that creates many of the problems we constantly witness.

But this current reality might be changed, if we revisit what worked in the past.

Our respect for law enforcement does not have to be a thing of the past.

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