Let me just say right up front: I am a PK.
Oh, I’m not a Preacher’s Kid, but I am a Policeman’s Kid. Yes, the whole time I was growing up, my dad was a cop.
Like the preachers’ kids I knew, policemen’s kids also had a number of intrinsic responsibilities. We weren’t to bring dishonor to the family. We were to obey the law. We were to respect law enforcement, and should a patrol officer stop us, we were to follow the officer’s instructions. My siblings and I never would have dreamed of being mouthy, belligerent or threatening to an officer.
Sound familiar? I wrote these words in this space exactly five years ago. I had been pondering racial unrest erupting because of events in Ferguson, Mo., and Baltimore – and here we go again. “I can’t breathe” is the cry as crowds protest the death of George Floyd who died in police custody on May 26.
Instead of Missouri and Maryland, it’s Minneapolis this time … and Denver, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Washington, D.C., Atlanta, San Francisco and 70 other cities across America. I wonder, as I did in 2015, has some kind of cosmic one-off sent us back to the 1960s?
As a PK, I came to know Dad’s co-workers, and those relationships helped us see law enforcement as an occupation that really was there “to protect and to serve.” These individuals weren’t inherently “the enemy” simply because they wore a badge, carried a gun and had flashing lights on their cars.
It was hard to square up my experience with what I saw in the ’60s watching and reading about protests against police. On Aug. 11, 1965, a white California highway patrolman stopped a young, black driver on suspicion of drunk driving. There ensued a struggle that launched six days of chaos in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles.
Rioters caused $40 million in property damage and more than a thousand buildings were destroyed. Some 14,000 California National Guardsmen were mobilized. Thirty-four people died and another thousand were injured.
Today the name of George Floyd joins the ranks of Michael Brown, Rodney King, Freddie Gray, Marquette Frye, Eric Garner and a host of others who have suffered or died at the hands of law enforcement. Their injuries or deaths became the impetus for protests and rioting against police brutality and racial inequality.
“Those same class issues, that same sense of racial inequality, social inequality, economic inequality, those same frustrations and resentments that roiled and exploded in the Watts riots are still in effect,” said USC law professor Jody Armour, an expert in crime and race issues whom I quoted here in 2015. “…You can’t view something that happened in Florida as something that doesn’t affect Los Angeles,” Parks said. “You can no longer, because of social media and 24-hour news, view any of these cases in isolation.”
With all that media coverage of the last few days, one might conclude that the nearly 700,000 law enforcement officers in America today can’t be trusted. A post making the rounds on Facebook says it best: “Not all blacks are criminals; not all whites are racists; not all cops are bad. Ignorance comes in all colors.”
Dad would have totally agreed.