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A Retired Black Police Officer and Author’s Perspective Regarding the Current Social Crisis and Black Lives Matter Movement

Cristen Iris

Sgt. Clayton Moore, retiredClayton Moore was the first African American hired onto the Fostoria, Ohio police force in 1986. In 2008, the City of Fostoria claimed sixteen conduct violations against Moore and fired him. He challenged the decision, and the arbiter of the case—in a scathing rebuke against the City—reinstated Sgt. Moore who went on to serve for another ten years, retiring in 2018. Moore remains actively involved in his community and is the author of the forthcoming book Good Cop, Black Cop: Guilty until Proven Innocent.

 

Like many Americans after Trump’s election to the office of President in 2016, I took to the streets to attend equal rights and refugees welcome protests. But over the subsequent four years, things have only gotten worse, especially for people of color and immigrants. Meanwhile, nothing has changed in the world of my uncritically pro-Trump* white family members and acquaintances. I was reminded of this when a female relative called to tell me a story about an interaction she'd had with her local police force.

Unbeknownst to her, she’d tripped her home alarm, and two police officers came to the house not knowing what they'd find. After a search of her home, they determined it was a false alarm. After sharing details of her experience, she said, “I know you don’t think highly of police officers, but this shows that they’re nice people who do the job they’ve been given,” or something to that effect. Two things struck me.

First, I respect the role law enforcement officers play in our society and am grateful to the men and women who protect and serve. We can respect the office but not give blanket approval of every officer’s behavior. To interpret a critique of a current system or a person within it as an all or nothing endorsement or rejection may be easy, but it isn't productive.

Second, I thought, Of course they were nice! It’s not white females living in high-end neighborhoods who are dying at the hands of police officers.

I’ll be honest, I was so surprised by her lack of perspective and weary of talking to people who hold one group of people to one standard and another group to a different standard that I let it go, a cop-out more akin to existential nihilism than my true beliefs.

When I was introduced to Clayton Moore, I jumped at the opportunity to work with him on his book project. Working with Clayton is an opportunity to use my time and talents in a way that has the potential to create lasting change. More importantly, it’s given me the opportunity to further examine myself and acknowledge that as “woke” as I’d like to think I am, I have unconscious biases and, like the relative mentioned above, my white privilege creates an automatic protective barrier and leg up.

While I still believe it’s important to stand shoulder to shoulder with those who are oppressed, I also think it’s important for all of us to consider how we can use our platform and skillset to amplify voices of victims and messages of equality and demand reforms that bring our collective actions in line with our stated values.

After the murder of George Floyd by then Officer Derek Chauvin, I asked Clayton for his comments. Before we could finalize the interview below, Rayshard Brooks was shot in the back by an Atlanta police officer and subsequently died. This underscores the fact that we the people regardless of the color of our skin must stand up, kneel down, and speak now. It’s well past time for those of us who live in white skin to do whatever we can to see the world through the eyes of others and for those who take a hard-line for or against approach to police officers in general to consider the nuances of the problem.

It is often said that books serve as windows, mirrors, and doors. Books allow us to see the experiences of others, experiences we will never have. Books reflect our experiences, making us feel heard and understood, and they can show us things about ourselves that we can’t see when looking outward at the world through our own eyes. They also serve as doors, doors into new ways of thinking, new ways of behaving. With that in mind, I invite you into Clayton’s world by way of this brief interview.

 

As a retired African American police officer, what is your reaction to the video of former Officer Derek Chauvin kneeling on George Floyd’s neck?

The video of former Officer Derek Chauvin kneeling on George Floyd’s neck is extremely troublesome and painfully sickening.

What’s more appalling is the arrogance he appeared to display—placing his hands on his thighs in what appears to be an extremely relaxed posture—while continuing to apply his knee to Mr. Floyd’s neck. If an officer, or any person, feels any type of threat, that person wants his or her hands free to help fight off the perceived threat. For him to have his hands—not one but both hands—in his pockets and his knee on the suspect’s neck and three other officers with him on scene with a non-combative suspect shows me that he didn’t feel any threat from Mr. Floyd. He displays no fear.

Additionally, as a law enforcement officer, once you stop the aggression of the suspect, your aggression must cease as well. Plain and simple.

Do you believe—based on your experience as a law enforcement officer—that there is a “war on cops”? 

Over the last fifteen years or so, the attitude toward police officers has drastically changed. When I first started, even people who didn’t like an officer respected the authority granted to that officer. Now, there is a lack of respect. The officer is even sometimes targeted.

However, that’s not by the average person because the average person realizes that the majority of law enforcement officers are good people and that many are active in their churches, schools, and communities.

Unfortunately, it’s those few bad apple officers that get the vast majority of attention, which scares good officers. So maybe there’s a war against bad cops but not a “war on cops” per se. And I don’t think it’s a personal us versus bad cops war but a war for city officials to change the way policing is done in certain areas, especially areas where people of color live.

I think people are angry with policing because people feel policing unfairly profiles and targets people of color. That we’re looked at like second class citizens and our lives are expendable. People want to see changes made to the training police officers get and the tactics they currently use.

What recommendations do you have for police officers, especially white officers, regarding outright and unconscious bias?

Recommendations for white police officers would be: Be mentally tougher on your white cohorts, and take a stand against them when you see warning signs instead of turning a blind eye.

However, it goes higher than that. The Mayor, Safety Service Director, and Chief all have to be held accountable. They all need to be proactive instead of reactive. There must be a better process and testing procedure that weed out these power-hungry wannabe cops who want the job for the wrong reasons. There must be more creative ways and incentives to recruit more people of color. We also need more creative opportunities for community involvement, ways for the police to actually empower the people to run things. The police would then be there only for support and structural guidance.

It would also help to bring in minority officers and supervisors from other states to speak about their personal experiences and give them an understanding that there is a difference between the white and minority officers’ experiences.

What can white Americans do to support the African American community in times like these? What's helpful and what isn’t in your mind?

White Americans can support the African American community in times like these in multiple ways:

  1. White Americans can support us by really, really listening. Listen without trying to impose what you feel should be a simple solution.
  2. Quit thinking and acting like problems don’t really exist or downplaying what people of color are trying to express.
  3. Understand that unless you walk in the shoes of a minority and experience inequality and injustice, you can’t possibly know or understand the depth of the pain of those experiences.
  4. Listening and respectful dialogue are extremely important, but not nearly enough. You must act. Ideals and plans must not fizzle at the discussion table. Better education opportunities, healthcare, and employment opportunities are just a few of the changes that need to happen right now.

What motivated you to write Good Cop, Black Cop?

My daughter-in-law, Amanda, motivated me to write Good Cop Black Cop. I had always said that when I was done in law enforcement I wanted to write a book, but it was always just chatter. I never thought I would write my story. For the most part, people in my town only see the positive side of me, my coaching, church involvement, Officer Friendly, that kind of thing. They have no idea what I went through. I guess I’m just tired of seeing things get swept under the rug. It felt like the right time to give people a view into my world as a black man and black police officer.

I also wanted to honor my parents and the town of Fostoria, which I love. The book covers a lot of ground, most of it positive and, hopefully, uplifting. Writing a book gave me an opportunity to express my thoughts about a lot of things in ways I wouldn’t have been able to otherwise.

One of the things I appreciate about you is that you see the complexity of situations and have a nuanced perspective regarding the Black Lives Matter movement. How can readers develop their own nuanced perspective?

I think readers can develop their own nuanced perspective regarding the Black Lives Matter movement by being open and not hypocritically shallow. Stop looking for reasons to deflect. Quit focusing on the what and look at the why.

For example, when Colin Kaepernick took a knee during the playing of the National Anthem, he tried to explain why he did what he did, but many people didn’t want to hear it. They wanted to change his narrative. Just like President Trump, they didn’t want to deal with the real issue: the Why?

The flag and the anthem had absolutely nothing to do with why Colin took a knee. I can’t help but wonder if Americans would have addressed the why behind Kaepernick’s exercising of his right of free speech back then would George Floyd be alive today? I just wonder…

How can our elected officials and law enforcement leaders (police chiefs, sheriffs, and prosecuting attorneys) better talk to frustrated and grieving citizens?

Elected officials and law enforcement leaders first need to show some sincere empathy. They are too quick to defend their own with comments like, “Well, we don’t know what happened before that,” and “We have to wait until all the information comes out.”

Isn’t it quite interesting that they didn’t talk that way about O.J. Simpson (and many other African Americans and people of color who’ve been accused of crimes). Our leaders must understand that white privilege is real. It exists whether we acknowledge it or not. They also need to understand that if they aren’t part of the solution, they are part of the problem.

What makes you hopeful during times like these?

What makes me hopeful during these trying times is that the United States, the world actually, is moving away from being just black and white. There are more interracial marriages and relationships. Thus, more “brown” babies are being born into what once was all white homes. With that in mind, the injustices and mistreatments will likely touch someone each of us love or are connected to. The more people they touch, the more pressure there will be to solve the problem. And say what you will about Millennials, but they do one thing really well: They ask “Why?” and that in itself gives me hope.

 

Thank you, Clayton, for sharing your time, energy, and wisdom with me and those who read this.

Thank you, reader, for spending your time and energy to develop a broader perspective.

Stay tuned for updates regarding Clayton’s forthcoming book.

 

Advanced Praise for Good Cop, Black Cop: Guilty until Proven Innocent

“Clayton Moore provides a highly engaging and personal account of his experiences as the first African-American police officer in a small town with big city problems. His own fight for justice reveals a great deal about race relations in the United States, making it an essential book in these turbulent times.” –Robert Alexander, PhD., Director, Institute for Civics and Public Policy at Ohio Northern University

“I have witnessed and experienced many things as a citizen of the world, but I have never understood the depth and range of human vision surrounded by sheer pain until reading Good Cop, Black Cop. Simply brilliant and relevant to this moment in history! A must-read.” –Lord Sam Orum, CEO & Founder of 1Voice Worldwide

“Clayton Moore’s Good Cop, Black Cop is a real-life story riddled with lies, conspiracy, bigotry, implicit biases, a fall from grace, evidence, case files, suggestions, solutions, strength, perseverance, faith, and fortitude. It’s all in there! No matter your race, background, or preference, at the end you’re left staring at the person in the mirror asking yourself some very important life questions.” –Angel A. D. Tucker, Officer, Oregon, Ohio Police Department; Certified Instructor in the Midwest for Tactical Communication; Certified Instructor: Blue Coverage, Below 100, and Bridges Out of Poverty

My Statement of Values

I am an inclusive business person. I do not discriminate based on race, ethnicity, country of origin, age, marital status, disability, religious or political affiliation, gender identity, or sexual orientation in any of my activities or operations and will not contract with any author or vendor who demonstrates a disregard for the dignity, safety, and overall well-being of any other person or group.

*These are the books I believe every white American should read regardless of their political or religious affiliation because as Harlan Ellison is credited with saying, "[We] are not entitled to [our] opinion[s]. [We] are entitled to [our] informed opinion. No one is entitled to be ignorant." (1)

 

Bulk Book Orders & Media Inquiries

For bulk & special purchase information, contact Authority Publishing.

For media appearances and other press inquiries, contact Wasabi Publicity.

 

Cristen Iris

CI Communication Strategies

2020

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