Black Police Officers Open Up About Their Struggles To Choose Between Duty And Identity

Black Police Officers Open Up About Their Struggles To Choose Between Duty And Identity

Protests over the killing of George Floyd surface ongoing challenges for African Americans in law enforcement.

Published June 9th

Written by Nigel Roberts

Many Black police officers are walking a tightrope these days, trying to find a balance between their duty and outrage over the killing of George Floyd by former police officer Derek Chauvin.

"It's complex," said Lieutenant Greacia Herdsman in an interview with CBS News National Correspondent Errol Barnett.

The 28-year veteran of the NYPD said a White officer told her she was “anti-cop” when she voiced her opinion that the Minneapolis police officers who stood by and did nothing while Chauvin killed Floyd should be held accountable.

RELATED: Black Business Owner Says He Was Evicted By His White Landlord For Participating In BLM Protests

Barnett spoke with a cross-section of Black law enforcement officlas from across the nation and ascertained one major connection: a struggle in finding a comfortable footing in a dual existence.   

"I was excited to be able to say, 'I want to be a part of the protest.' I want to walk with the community," said Fayetteville, North Carolina Police Chief Gina V. Hawkins. "And then we had the violence come up ... I had to do my job, which is to protect the community."

Hawkins now fears for her son's life as the Floyd protests spread even more around New York City. She told Barnett, “He’s 30-years old and tall at 6’3, so I find myself calling him more and more these days.”

Retired NYPD Police Commander Corey Pegues states that Black officers have a two fold burden they must carry each day their on the job. 

"On one hand they want to protect and serve the citizens and on the hand they want minorities to feel safe when they have police encounters," said Pegues to "It can become stressful at times. Then you throw in the fact that the overwhelming majority of police departments are run by white males who are staunch protectors of the 'police culture.' Black cops can't get a break."

Another reality is that Black officers are also vulnerable to police violence.

In an interview with Decatur Alabama Police Sergeant Jami Jones, Barnet learned that some Black officers believe they will be looked at differently for speaking out about race. Jones wouldn't dare bring up the subject or ever share stories of presumed bias with his white colleagues. 

"You know, there have been times when I've been out of uniform where I have been treated differently,” said Jones. “I keep those stories at home, or, you know, away from work." 

Jones notes that when you are on the force, each officer has to have the other’s back in life-and-death situations, so he avoids anything that might make for an uncomfortable situation.

In order to gain trust with African-Americans, Hawkins is pushing for it to be mandatory for police departments in Fayetteville to report use of force, disciplinary action and other crime stats. She believes if you’re a good cop, then you should have nothing to hide.

Check out a preview of the segment below:

*additional reporting by Wendy L. Wilson


BET has been covering every angle of George Floyd’s death in police custody, other social justice cases and the subsequent aftermath and protests. For our continuing coverage, click here.

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