“One feels his two-ness – an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder. … In this merging he wishes neither of the older selves to be lost. … He simply wishes to make it possible for a man to be both a Negro and an American without being cursed and spit upon by his fellows, without losing the opportunity of self-development.”
Though W.E.B. Du Bois penned those words more than 100 years ago when he explained the concept of double consciousness, they still ring true for many Black people today
One group that intimately identifies with Du Bois’ writings are Black police officers. While activists are still fighting to get the world to see that Black lives do indeed matter, the oath many Black officers have taken to “protect and serve” has been challenged by an alarmingly high number of rogue members of their ‘Blue Brotherhood’ who have yet to get the memo.
Trust in law enforcement
Confidence in police at its lowest in 22 years, tying the result in 1993 when four white Los Angeles police officers were being tried in federal court for violating Rodney King's civil rights. Nonetheless, police still rate among the most trusted institutions in America, according to a Gallup poll released in July.
Confidence in police by political affiliation:
Black confidence in police remains relatively unchanged at 30%. Democratic confidence in police is down 13%. Even at its currently reduced confidence level, the police trail only the military and small business as the highest-ranking institutions among the 15 tested in the poll in June 2020.
So how does one effectively police while Black? How does a Black police officer uphold what is supposed to be an honorable creed without betraying those who share their culture?
In exclusive interviews with The Miami Times, three retired Black police officers weighed in to give readers a better understanding of the dilemmas they face. Meet Ed Haynes, Veronica Dixon and Laurick Ingram, all of whom have trusted the Times to document their experiences and perspectives.
After serving six years in the Marines, Ed Haynes became the first Black police officer hired in Miami Shores in 1990. According to Haynes, 57, he was recruited by a lieutenant with the department after the former observed him in action during a drug sting in Opa-locka.
“What I didn’t know is they were trying to attract Blacks to Miami Shores because they had never hired a Black person before. Their credentialing process was very strict, only second at that time to Miami Dade,” said Haynes.
Haynes made history by breaking the department’s color barrier. He said he served on the force for three years and was an instructor at the police academy during his tenure.
Now an entrepreneur who owns his own private security firm, Haynes works extensively in the community with the Circle of Brotherhood and 5000 Role Models of Excellence. Over the course of his military, law enforcement and security careers, he’s seen some things.
“Listen, I’m Black, I’m a female and I’m an officer, in that order,” are the words Veronica Dixon, 53, said changed the course of her policing career.
Born in Pennsylvania, but raised in Miami’s Liberty City neighborhood, Dixon, nicknamed Bonnie, was inspired to become a police officer by Officer Friendly who worked at her school, Holmes Elementary.
“I really looked up to that officer. He was very neat, sharp, funny and … super smart. He had the answers to everything,” Dixon said.
After graduating from Miami Northwestern Senior High School, Dixon pursued her dream and became a police officer with the Miami-Dade Police Department at the age of 23. During her career, Dixon said she served as a training advisor at the bureau; toward its end she was acting supervisor of a tactical squad at Miami International Airport.
For the most part, Dixon said she’d enjoyed a prosperous and ideal career. But after filing a complaint against a supervisor, lots of things happened which caused her outlook on policing to change.
“It really soured me at that point, because for 22 years I loved what I was doing. It was my dream job since I was 7 years old.”
Dixon retired in May 2019 after spending 25 years on the force.
Born in Opa-locka and raised in Liberty City, Laurick Ingram, 61, has law enforcement in his bloodline. A graduate of Miami Central High School, Ingram followed in the footsteps of his older brother, late Opa-locka Police Chief Robert “Bobby” Ingram, and served as a police officer for Miami-Dade County for 27 years.
“When I grew up the successful people in the community were pastors, criminals and police officers,” Ingram said. “I actually remember the moment I wanted to become a police officer. I was 5 years old and … my brother Bobby was working for the City of Miami at that time and he came to visit Mom in his police car. … When he was getting ready to leave, I asked him to turn on his lights, and he did and it was nighttime, so it lit up the whole projects and I was mystified by it.”
Ingram began his career in law enforcement in 1985 as a result of affirmative action. He explained his path was not cut and dried or black and white, but he had an array of experiences that shaped how he views life.
“I have to speak to my true life,” Ingram said, sharing he had mentors who were both criminals and police officers. “I often say, I consider myself a child of two fathers because I did come up in an era when some harsh things were done by police to Black people, and I also came up in an era where harsh things were done by Black people to Black people. I’m not making an excuse for any of it, I’m just saying both things exist for me. I’m probably not the clean one-side of this story, but I am who I am.”
The recipient of over 100 commendations, including Officer of the Year, Ingram’s career has run the gamut. Now an author and nonprofit founder, Ingram is still serving his community – just in a different way.
Racism in the ranks
Haynes said though he wasn’t subjected to blatant racism while on the force, he did experience microaggressions.
“It was not overt. … I wasn’t treated poorly, however, I can tell you that there were certain situations that occurred that if I were not Black, I’m sure they would not have occurred,” Haynes said.
Dixon said she didn’t experience racism until near the end of her career, after she was ordered to file a complaint against a ranking officer for discriminating against her after she gave an answer he didn’t like on racially charged shootings.
According to Dixon, in 2016 after the murder of Philando Castile, a separate shooting of another Black man by police officers and the murder of five Dallas police officers, her career took a turn for the worse. She said she’d sent her team a message telling them to be careful when her then-sergeant asked them their opinions on the latest officer-involved shootings.
“I didn’t respond, and nobody responded for a little bit. He started, for lack of better terms, bullying them to respond and he kept pushing the issue,” Dixon said. “I responded that I had no opinion because I knew that my response was not going to be in line with what their response was. … I was the only Black and the only female.”
Eventually Dixon said she told her sergeant she didn’t agree with Castile’s shooting, but she would have his back if necessary.
“He didn’t like that answer. After that he started treating me so bad that one of the guys on the team started sending me text messages saying ‘He is really pissed with you,’” Dixon said. “I vented to an officer who I thought was my friend and she ordered me to file a complaint and after that everything went really, really downhill … I was ostracized.”
Ingram said he prefers to follow the methodology of Colin Powell when trying to determine if something was racist or not.
“Colin Powell … had a great thing that he used to do. If something was unfair to him, unless he could conclusively say, ‘Yeah this had to do with me being Black,’ then he would just assume that it didn’t because it’s very easy to pull the race card,” Ingram said. “Because I approach things with the assumption that it’s not racist, by the time I conclude that it is that, there’s compelling evidence to support that position.”
Ingram said he’d be remiss to say he never experienced discrimination, however.
“When I was getting hired there was a challenge in my hiring process. They said, ‘We don’t think he’s a good hire because of this,’” Ingram recalled. “Fortunately, there was a sergeant who knew my brother and told me what to do to go correct it. What was ironic was when I was in the academy, one of my white counterparts told me literally, almost word for word, the exact issue came up with him, but his recruiter said ‘Oh, but you’re young, you’ll grow out of that.’ So that to me was a very clear difference, but to actually prove it is always on the margin.”
Respect in the community
Haynes said during the course of his career, he came across other Black people who sometimes felt he’d betrayed his race by becoming a police officer. It became his “mission” to change that point of view.
“Every now and then you would come in contact with people who basically would make you feel that you were a traitor or something because of being a police officer. It actually became kind of like a mission of mine to take that mindset away,” Haynes said. “It does happen and that’s one of the reasons I’m so active now in the Circle of Brotherhood, the 5000 Role Models [of Excellence] and things like that because it’s just ignorance. They don’t understand it’s just like any other job. A person has a job, that job just happens to be enforcing laws.”
Ingram said such instances were more likely today because things have changed since he was on the force.
“When I was growing up, to be a police officer, you had to live in the community you policed, which makes a difference. When you get off, you’re going to see those same people at the grocery stores or in church. You’re going to see them,” Ingram explained. “Later they changed it, so you may get an officer patrolling 62nd street that lived in Palm Beach and did his work in Liberty City, so there was a disconnect. Of course, I saw young people who didn’t like the police, who just kind of painted everybody with that same brush.”
Dixon said she was mostly well-respected in the community by other Black people.
“Actually, I grew up in the area [where] I worked. A lot of them knew me and they would call me by my nickname,” Dixon said. “And because I grew up in the area my way of community policing was comfortable for me. I would go to the hot areas and sit on a milk crate and talk to the people.”
Being a native in the community she policed shielded her from some of the disrespect Haynes and Ingram mentioned, according to Dixon.
“Most of the guys knew me, even the ones who were doing stuff they didn’t have no business [doing], and they were very respectful,” Dixon said. “They said I was fair and that’s what the people wanted, for you to be fair. So, I never had a real big problem. … It was easier to work in the community because I was that community. That’s where I came from.”
Reflecting on George Floyd’s murder
Ingram said a few things went through his mind when he saw George Floyd’s murder, including that the incident needed to be decided in court and wondering whether Floyd died of carbon monoxide poisoning. But he’s clear that Derek Chauvin, the Minneapolis police officer now charged in Floyd’s death, had no reason to restrain Floyd the way he did; and he said the officers should have gotten Floyd immediate medical attention.
“If you request medical attention, I’m not a doctor, if you say I can’t breathe, I have to believe it and I have to act immediately … I have to get a doctor and fast,” Ingram said. “The way he was restrained, I didn’t see the need to hold him down like that. The rule is while you’re uncuffed and fighting anything goes until we win. Once you’re cuffed and subdued, it’s over. There are many parts of it I don’t understand.”
Dixon got emotional while talking about Floyd’s murder.
“I was very angry for a very long time. I literally would not leave my house because I knew I was very, very angry and I knew that would spill over,” Dixon admitted. “I don’t understand where these defensive tactics are coming in with police officers. It really opened my eyes to the racism that is out there and how blatant it is right now.”
She balked at her own naiveté concerning the matter.
“When I was younger in my career, when people would tell me stories about things cops did to them or said to them, I didn’t believe it because I had never seen it,” Dixon said. “I had never seen cops be so unjust to someone … so to see that, it really brought back to my remembrance all of the times that people that committed crimes told me things that had happened to them. It really bothered me that maybe I could have done something to prevent this way back when, but I never believed it was actually happening.”
Watch for Part 2 of this story in next week’s edition.