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Dean Scoville

Dean Scoville

Associate Editor of Police Magazine and a retired patrol supervisor and investigator with the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department, Sgt. Dean Scoville has received multiple awards for government service.
Patrol

Let's Talk About Racism

Subjects an officer comes into contact with can color views and lead to generalizations on both sides.

July 28, 2010  |  by - Also by this author

You know that idealistic 15-year-old who admonishes his father at the dinner table every time the old man makes some racial epithet?

That was me.

And given his litany of profanity laced pejoratives, there were times when I sincerely believed that my old man could have learned a thing or two about racial tolerance from Archie Bunker. That someone whose intelligence I otherwise respected could be so cavalier in making broad-sweeping comments about people on the basis of their race dumbfounded me.

But then, I was a child whose formal education coincided with LBJ's Great Society experiment and millions like myself were weaned on precepts that warned against the wrongs of discrimination and encouraged us to treat everybody as an individual.

Determined to put some of the wrongs of the past behind us, my generation adopted a different cadre of heroes than that of our fathers. As high schoolers, we listed O.J. Simpson as our number one hero, and by adulthood I'd read books such as "The Autobiography of Malcolm X" and Eldridge Cleaver's "Soul on Ice." Along the way, I filed away anecdotal fodder, such as Shirley Chisum's revelation that she'd encountered more discrimination by virtue of her gender than her race. Not only did everyone have some cross to bear, but some had more crosses than others.

Having vicariously suffered the slights these men and women had endured, I understood their often militant streaks. But the primary force behind their outrage—the idea that the character deficiencies of any one individual should be extrapolated as an indictment upon some greater segment of society—repelled me.

Some might say I was terribly naïve; others said I came to embody the kind of values that every human ideally should. In any event, this aspect of my personal history is no less true than the fact that today I am to the right of the Attila the Hun. Mea culpa.

But if I am more jaded and less idealistic these days, I can only blame the intervening years. For those decades that forced me to judge things empirically, and not just co-sign someone else's ideological b.s.

And what was it that transpired during those lost years? Primarily the job and the things that came with it.

Things such as my first day working custody when I was greeted with cat calls of, "You white-cracker-racist-Casper-the-Friendly-Ghost-redneck-m*****-f*****" from beyond the bars.

The pro forma accusations of racism that I endured on patrol involved detainees who routinely accused me of stopping them because they were black/Hispanic/Asian/albino—despite the fact that their features had been completely obscured by the tinted windows for which I was pulling them over in the first place.

The many times I saw officer-related events controverted by the Al Sharptons of the world and further exploited by a reprehensible news media—allegations that were often discredited but rarely with commensurate attention.

The disparity in media coverage of events wherein race was the biggest indicator of whether or not it received coverage, and not where the crime itself ranked within any objective hierarchy of horror.

What I was witnessing is something I continue to see—the polarization of people along racial lines.

All of this worked slowly but inexorably to exact a personal and professional toll on me. As subject to Pavlovian conditioning as any man, if I am continually treated in a certain manner, I come to expect more of the same. And sure as hell, as a white male in a law enforcement uniform I encountered it.

If there was any ancillary epiphany, it was the realization that we are all ambassadors.

Even my dad—while an admittedly lousy fit for the U.N.—was an ambassador, serving as an emissary for his ideological ilk.

And it didn't matter whether or not we wanted to be ambassadors—we just were. And just as I was an unwilling representative of my maleness, my whiteness, or my uniform, the people I have come in contact with have been avatars of something beyond themselves. As such, they helped form the generalizations that I subscribe to today.

That temptation to generalize is a hard one to overcome. We all want shortcuts in life. It accounts for why many of our critics don't give a second thought about broadstroking us as "abusive Neanderthals" anymore than we don't hesitate to dismiss them as "f***ing idiots."

But I wonder if in routinely treating cops as racist these same critics don't run the risk of making us so or, at the very least, losing the sympathies of those who were initially with them.

At one point I wondered if I really was Casper, and my detractors could see right through me. Like me, others might well begin to reconsider that nascent liberalism that factored into their becoming cops. They may come to wonder if perhaps there isn't something to these accusations; if not - given the idiocy of their accusers - that there should be. Some may go on to adopt racist ways.

In even touching on these points I may be setting myself up to incur the kind of wrath that Shirley Sherrod has become all too familiar with in an incredibly short period of time.

For how are we to move beyond our racial enclaves unless we can have parity in dialogue? Sherrod's comments as reported by the news media, while admittedly harmful on their face value, were nonetheless taken very much out of context. Even the white farmer who was the subject of her inflammatory story has said that what's happening to her isn't right. And I agree.

But the topic of race continues to be a lightning rod, and in the short run Shirley Sherrod was but a sacrificial offering, something put forth to appease a growing discontentment among those whites that are pissed off that the n-word is something still bartered in the communities upset by it, and resentful of the perceived exorbitant prices paid by whites who have previously been held accountable—Jimmy the Greek, Al Campanis, Marge Schott, and the irrepressible John Rocker.

The sad thing is I believe Shirley had something to offer.

I don't have to tell you, the patrol officer, how race factors into your job. It is there in crime broadcasts, and in how we couch our sentiments depending upon who is present. It has figured prominently in legal precedence and proven to be the flashpoint in this country's most violent riots. It has been a catalyst for some of our country's darkest moments, and is something around which many continue to blanket themselves, believing in the safety of numbers.

I understand how some may have pride for their heritage, even as I wonder how many "pure breds" we have in this country (I know damn good and well that my Germanic blood has been too diluted to have survived any Aryan insurrection).

What concerns me most is how people who otherwise have little in common can unite solely on race, and how they can find common enemies in those of a different color—the men and women who wear the color blue.

I wonder what percentage of those who would doubtlessly brand me a racist have similarly expressed outrage at the killings of cops by militant blacks, and how many may have in fact celebrated such losses. I continue to question why the jury nullification verdict of O.J. has not received its due in the news media, and why certain segments of the population are deemed sacrosanct.

I'll take Attorney General Eric Holder up on his implicit challenge, when he said we were cowards when it came to discussing race.

And I'll challenge others. I want to know whether or not you think I'm full of shit on how prominently the role of race impacts our mission. I hope I am, for I love nothing more than when some negative assumption on my part is proven wrong.

Allow me to ask you these questions:

Has your career as a law enforcement professional affected your own take on race and race relations?

Are you more or less tolerant than when you came on?

Do you feel that we're racially more cohesive than at the dawn of LBJ's Great Society? Please weigh in with your thoughts in the comments section below.

Tags: Racial Profiling, Eric Holder


Comments (21)

Displaying 1 - 21 of 21

ROB ROY @ 7/29/2010 9:10 PM

When ever I hear crap like this, it's alway's "oh it's a black thing" I uselly say "No it's not a black thing ot's because your a scumbag".

GP Cobb @ 7/29/2010 10:08 PM

Spot on Bud, No you are NOT full of shit. Good post.

GordonDye @ 7/29/2010 10:20 PM

Very well said!!!!!

OldLt @ 7/29/2010 10:56 PM

A first rate commentary! In my case, the Job has changed the way I view race and race relations. I've been policing for 25 years. I've watched my small town change from a very white community to over 1/3 Hispanic in a few years.

In some ways I'm more tolerant having worked with true political refugees who were tortured in their home countries. In some ways I'm much less tolerant, especially when I hear "You're just doing this because I'm _______". We cannot win. Whites say "You're afraid of <fill in Hispanic nation of choice>". Hispanics say "You wouldn't do X if I were White". I have little tolerance for refusing to acculturate.

What I fear is a further polarization of races just as we have seen in politics. There seems to be little room for those in the middle and a further push for everyone to join those at the extremes.

l connelly @ 7/30/2010 2:24 AM

Has your career as a law enforcement professional affected your own take on race and race relations?

It most certainly has. Though I have read many books, watched many movies and taken classes to become more culturally aware, it has been through speaking with people on the job that I have learned the most. No book can ever give me the real in sight that speaking with someone who actually marched with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. can give me. I can have compassion and empathy for others but I will never know what it is to not be caucasian.

Are you more or less tolerant than when you came on? I am more tolerant. Perhaps quicker to judge everyone, but more tolerant.

Do you feel that we're racially more cohesive than at the dawn of LBJ's Great Society? Please weigh in with your thoughts in the comments section below.

This is a trick question. It would depend on where you were raised and by whom. I think I understand the gist and so to that I say yes. The catch here is that it still isn't safe to really talk about race.

It is also important not to confuse racial issues with legal issues such as immigration. You can be caucasian and be an illegal alien.

This brings the point forward that it isn't what category a person fits in like black/white but actions that bring about consequences for those who decide not to follow a law whether it seems fair or not.

LM Connelly

mpietrucci @ 7/30/2010 4:54 AM

Keep doing your job stay safe and go home each day. Let the talking heads analyze whatever. It is not nor never been our problem. Whenever there is no one to blame, blame the police

Starrman69 @ 7/30/2010 6:14 AM

Like Dean Scoville, I started out working in detention/corrections. The connections I made, helped me later in patrol. Interestingly as well, we are also a minority group that are often referred to in general terms; "lazy, profiling, racist, donut eating morons". I have watched as LEOs evolved from white males to a diverse group to include not only males, but females and alternative life style persons. Not only "white" but African-American, Asian, Hispanic, Muslim, Middle Eastern people. We do not all subscribe to the same religious/racial/political viewpoints. As for education, when I started out in LE in the early 70's, my Associates was a rarity. Now we have LEO's with AA's, BA's, BS's, MA's, MS's and PhD's. We have evolved with society. I can imagine the old timers rolling over in their graves if they viewed how we contact and interact with citizens/complainants/victims and suspects today. I have been accused of racial profiling when stopping vehicles that I "clocked" a quarter mile away, not being able to make out the driver/occupants and as Scoville, stopping a vehicle with dark tinted windows (all sorts/races of people have tinted windows). Just do the job as professionally and safely as possible, that's all your Chief, Sheriff or Troop Commander can ask.

csvjma @ 7/30/2010 7:40 AM

Great article! As a Sgt in a small department. I grew up in a time were respected, but also feared. When racial profiling was a fact and police brutality the norm. As a officer, that just happens to be black. A few years ago, while off duty, I was out at an eating establishment. I was armed with my gun concealed. While reaching for something part of my holster became exposed. While leave, I was stopped by officers, cuffed and treated unprofessionally. After about 15 minutes and having the officer call my department to check my credentials I was released. After the incident I spoke with the officer's patrol supervisor. He did apologized, but added "We normally don't see black officers." My reaction? Life goes on.

WRCop23 @ 7/30/2010 8:21 AM

Very well written article Brother. Through education and living in the real world, I have always been proud of my openess to different races, ethnicities, cultures and ways of life. After seven years on the job, I do agree that my outlook has been swayed. Perfect example, during a day tour in 2008, while doing random plate inquiries on a State Highway, I come across a vehicle with expired tags. After following the vehicle, I also observed that the vehicle also had an inoperable brake light. After initiating the stop, I approached the vehicle in a tactful yet friendly manner asking the operator, who was upon approach identified as an African-American female in her mid-thirties, for her credentials. She first refused to provide the credentials until I advised her as to why she was being stopped. This is where the friendly professional has to remain stern, despite the situation. After again requesting and subsequently receiving her documents, I advised the driver why she was being stopped, at which time she laughed and stated, "oh, I thought you were just profiling me." I wanted to comment to her that it was rather ignorant of her to assume I am a racist because I am a white L.E.O., but following my better judgement, I resisted the temptation. She subsequently received one summons for her expired tag violation, a warning for the brake light and she departed the traffic stop with a smile because I showed nothing but professionalism and kindness, However, this stop, along with several others, has tainted my outlook on any progress that I would hope any race would make towards eliminating stereotypes. Bottom line is this, the law applies to EVERYONE, and I will not be intimidated by threats of a tort claim or I.A. invests just because of your race/gender/ethinicity, h

drjeffreyp @ 7/30/2010 10:14 AM

In the words of Rush, "Right on, right on, right on!" You are one hundred percent correct.

I don't think cops are jaded I think we see what we see and know what we know. We're able to differentiate the good guy from the bad guys regardless of race or ethnicity.

We're also able to see the "truth" about crime and criminals, and who the bad guys are. Those that are center left and beyond believe we're the problem, we're just oppressing the ____. We don't cause the b/m to rape, pillage and rob. We don't cause the Asian to join a gang. We don't cause the Mexican to enter illegally, drink to much and drive drunk.

We DO cause them, each of them to be jailed and hopefully convicted for the crime(s) they chose to engage in. If they made that choice because they believed that because they were ____ they had no other option, that's on them, not us. We're there to pick up the pieces and put the bad guys in the hoosegow.

FireCop08 @ 7/30/2010 11:15 AM

I'll never forget writing a guy a ticket years ago and he tried to back his car over me. I requested back up and a brother in blue showed up. By this time the violator was loudly claiming that I (white) was giving him a ticket because he was black. My brother in blue, who was also black, explained to him that I always treated everyone the same regardless of who they were and no matter what our skin color we all put our pants on one leg at a time. He calmed down, but behavior like this for no personal reason, repeated over the years, has to change you. In the prairies we didn't have this kind of issue but it sure is strong here in the south. Very disheartening.

rshaffer @ 7/30/2010 11:43 AM

I understand the saying "...you're only stopping me because I'm black." Yeah, well, I worked South Los Angeles, Watts, Willowbrook, Compton and some areas are 99% black so it goes to reason that WITHOUT racial profiling I would stop black people. I was what the black gangster would describe as a typical Aryan deputy, no it was white MF pig, not Aryan, 6'7", very blonde hair and 245 lbs. Read more at www.whenlawmenlie.com.

But, good article.

lillyofsisk @ 8/1/2010 12:04 PM

Very well written and truthful article. Being a white female that worked in a predominantly black area was interesting. I don't know if I was taunted less than the white male officers because of my attitude or because I was female. My funniest experience with a "racial profiling" complaint was when I stopped a white van for speeding. It wasn't until I approached the drivers door that I realized a middle age white male was driving. He claimed I stopped him because he was white and driving in a predominantly black neighborhood. The fact I was white didn't matter to him. Had to shake my head and have a good laugh at him after the stop was over. With some people you just can't win. Apparently he paid the ticket because it never went to court. I'd have loved to have had him try and tell the judge I was racial profiling him for being white.

SAM551974D @ 8/2/2010 9:57 PM

I understand what the author was trying to say and agree with many hot topic issues and I am not talking protective custody but politically correct let not offend anyone (PC) world today...Let's be totally up-front and honest like this article...Racism will always be around and present within each race all groups when they look down upon each other (rich, poor, material things, education etc)...At 13 in 1968 I learned a very valuable lesson what being treated differently means first hand - As a Caucasian I moved from one area to another that was predominantly Spanish-native in northern New Mexico. I can tell you the hard and challenging times for the first 3-4 months in school being called choice names/words, fights got my butt kicked and a few wins, treated badly – as now I was a minority...or like the old movie the outsiders - I overcame this with allot of effort and communication and would never change this valuable lesson in life called empathy, of being on the other side of the fence so to speak...How did it get resolved? When they realized that I was no better or no worse than they and only asked to be treated with dignity, respect, as they, and stood up for what I believed in - the golden rule (even so this does not always work)...I could of quit school or given up (Not in my nature too stubborn or driven). I made it and carried this forth in life it has helped but this not the golden egg, as I cannot change people, places, or things only they can from within. And I continue to face these challenges today. Think of it like babies of all colors they get along just great because they have not been taught prejudice or hate (learned) nor have they experienced it first hand like this article alluded to and the impacts it has. The only real solutions have to come from within each person in dealings with each other is about all that anyone can ask or do!! Some great memories of those young

TerryC @ 8/3/2010 3:17 PM

Dean I enjoyed your commentary! As a “Black” LEO I found it very enlightening. Yes I said “Black” Politically correct terms such as African American Mexican American etc. seems to have further polarized our nation as much if not more than other terms with negative connotations did back in the 1960’s & 70’s.. When will it stop and we can all just be Americans?

I started my career in criminal justice working custody units in the mid 80’s in a large county jail system. Like you I was addressed with similar cat calls only in the reverse. However unlike some I was taught by my single parent mother to be tolerant of all and not to be influenced by race in my interactions with people

My career has not affected my take on race and race relations. I believe the biggest problem with race and race relations on both sides (black & white) is the unwillingness to have an open, objective and honest dialogue on the issue. Neither side being willing to concede valid points on both sides. The media is dominated by extremist from both sides pertaining to race, to the point that most of “White America” believes that Sharpton and Jackson speak for the whole of the “Black Community” & Rush Limbaugh for the “White Conservatives” in “Black America” with both sides believing the other to be racist. Everything in America is agenda driven and there are people on both ends of the spectrum that benefit from the racial polarization that appears to be increasing today. If government can successfully pit one group against another and everyone is fighting for their place, who’s watching government?

Wearing the badge has made me less tolerant for stupidity, incompetence, lack of personal responsibility and most of all CROOKS! Believe it or not black officers get it from both sides!

Less cohesive! Everything is simply masked in political correctness. We can maintain our ethnic diversity, pride in who we are and where we come from without the divisive and

TerryC @ 8/3/2010 3:20 PM

destructive behavior.

zzebra @ 8/4/2010 8:48 AM

The race issues that come up on the street, are usually by those who have done wrong and want to see if by crying racism, their law breaking will be dismissed out of fear of a racial profiling complaint by the officer. I stopped playing their game a long time ago, and will acknowledge race or color whenever I can. I find that the issue goes away quick when confronted head on. Many times when I've stopped someone for an expired registration, I was sometimes told that I stopped him/her because s/he was black, or brown, or whatever. I immediately admitted to the driver that color was a factor on the stop. When the look of shock left their face, I then told them that I was looking for a RED sticker on the plate and they had a YELLOW one, which was last year's. The race issue went away right there and then.

I also don't ignore crime bulletins and the race of suspects as a descriptor. If I stop a black or brown or white suspect for investigation related to a crime, I acknowledge to them that the their color was relevant to the stop. I ask them that if I was looking for a black robber, should I also stop white or brown people just to be "equal"? Even people who would cry racism would see the nonsense in that. Don't allow race or claims of racism to interfere with your job. Take it head on and the subject will wilt away.

Good article, Dean.

oldhag @ 8/10/2010 5:15 PM

Rush? "In the words of Rush?" He is a criminal!

Nathan E. Fritz @ 8/11/2010 11:46 AM

Good story with good points. I could get on the "soapbox" for quite awhile on this topic, but I'll leave you with this thought.

How are we ever going to be able to get beyond the race issue within law enforcement when we tolerate race (and gender) specific groups within our own ranks??!!. Two that come to mind are N.O.B.L.E. and whatever the female police executives group calls themselves. There are others as well. They are, by their name and description devisive/separative groups within the law enforcement community.

EBE93 @ 8/25/2010 11:14 PM

The cry of racial profiling and discrimination is something that goes with the job. Officers across the country should know this by now and should be ready when it comes. Because it will come when you least expect it. After you have been accused for the umpteenth time of profiling you will learn to just let it bounce off you and accept it for what it is which is meaningless hogwash. Being an American of Puerto Rican descent and growing up in the Bronx in the 60's and 70's I grew up among strictly Blacks and other Hispanics and before becoming a Police Officer was a NYS Corrections Officer for several years and as such I am a very streetwise individual and currently work for a 200 strong Police Dept. in NYS. But even this has not shielded me from accusations of Racial Profiling. I too have stopped cars late at night in pitch black darkness and did not know if the person I was stopping was a martian or a human let alone Black, Hispanic, White or Asian until I walked up to the driver. In this case the driver was Black and when I advised him that I had stopped him for doing 75 in a 40mph work zone he said "man, you stopped me cause I'm Black". Another time I responded to a park where a disturbance had occurred and stopped a Black male that fit the discription of one of the suspects that was being sought and you guessed it he said "man you stopped me cause I'm Black". I then advised him that there was not one single White person in this park and that everyone there was either Black, Puerto Rican or Dominican and that I too was Puerto Rican and so why was he making such scurrilous and phony accusations? He quickly shut the hell up and had absolutely nothing to say. Once I stopped a Puerto Rican male who also accused me of racial profiling. I quickly shut his piehole up and told him to get the hell out of here with that B.S. as I too was Puerto Rican and I then said to him lets see how much of a Puerto Rican you are. Lets have a conversation in Spanish and see who speaks

EBE93 @ 8/25/2010 11:27 PM

cont./better Spanish. Now I ONLY speak Spanish when it is absolutely and positively neccessary but I wanted to speak Spanish to him to prove a point. He then rather cheapishly replied that he didn't speak Spanish because he "was born and raised here". I then advised him that I too was born and raised here and to knock it the hell off with his stupid and scurrilous accusations. Here he was claiming that I profiled him because he was Puerto Rican and yet he couldn't speak a single word of Spanish. The looks on these people's faces are priceless when I call their bluff. They're absolutely speechless and get this embarrassed look on their faces. Remember folks it goes with the territory so the better you realize that the better you'll be able to deal with it when it comes and when it does come you'll be able to just laugh it off. Good luck to my fellow LEO's and stay safe.

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