The apartment complex was vast and sprawling. It was actually two different complexes that bordered each other and, due to the landscaping that shared a playground, they were often thought to be one complex. Together they were comprised of roughly fifty apartment buildings, each with sixteen apartments for a total of 800 apartments. Each apartment housed anywhere from two to six people although there were a few where single people lived and a few where the family had eight members (or more). The estimated total population of the combined complex fluctuated from year to year but averaged about three thousand people. During the most recent census, the population was shown to be 97% African American, 2.5% Hispanic and 0.5% Caucasian.
It was located next to a large shopping mall, the mall itself located at the intersection of a major interstate highway and the Washington DC beltway. It wasn’t far from what used to be, just ten years earlier, dairy and corn farms. It was in a quickly growing area that included a major sports arena and what would originally be one end of the DC subway system.
I was assigned to work there, hired to the police department whose jurisdiction the apartments were in, as part of a drug enforcement task force. I was the only white officer on the task force. I worked there for three months and made a significant number of arrests. I was young and aggressive and believed in delivering on my oath to enforce the law; but I took the part of the oath that said, “uphold and defend the Constitution,” equally serious. I never had a complaint filed against me for unprofessional conduct or excessive force.
Three months into the assignment I got called into the Chief of Police’s office. I reported and stood at attention until he told me to relax; and then I did so, standing at Parade Rest. “Officer Borelli,” the Chief said, “we’ve been looking at the Task Force statistics and it’s come to light that you’ve arrested more people in the past three months than the whole rest of the Task Force combined.”
I thought that was a compliment. It was an obvious comment on how hard I was working. “Thank you, sir,” I replied. He was quick to correct me.
“That wasn’t a positive statement, Borelli,” he said. “People have been complaining to the Mayor and Council that you arrest too many black people; that as a white officer you target black people.”
“Sir?” I answered / asked. I was confused.
“Are you having a hard time understanding this, Borelli?” the Chief asked me. “I’ll say it in more simple terms. Stop arresting so many blacks. As the only white officer on the Task Force, you should be looking for white people to arrest.”
While he was talking my mind was racing and I could feel the anger rising. I did my absolute best to remain professional and respectful, but I’m not sure – in hindsight – that I quite made it. “Chief,” I said, “the neighborhood hardly has any white people living in it. If I see white people driving through, I know whether or not they live there – because there are so few of them, and if they don’t it’s ALMOST probable cause to stop them. But the neighborhood is comprised of mostly black people. Are you telling me I shouldn’t arrest black people I find breaking the law just because I’m white?”
“That’s exactly what I’m telling you,” the Chief replied. “I won’t tolerate even the accusation of having a racially prejudiced and motivated officer on this task force. Either focus your efforts on white criminals or I’ll have to have you removed from the Task Force.”
“Would you be kind enough to put that in writing, Chief?” I asked. The sneer was obvious in my voice.
“We both know I can’t do that,” he replied. “Don’t be a smart ass.”
“Yes, sir,” I replied coldly. “Anything else, sir?” He shook his head no. I left his office. I had a shift to work.
I arrested two drug dealers that night; both African American. There were no white or Hispanic drug dealers in that neighborhood; only drug buyers. I arrested them if I found them in possession, but given that there were so few, there was no way that the statistics for my arrests weren’t going to be skewed.
The next day I was reassigned; removed from the Task Force. The Chief had gotten a call from the Mayor. Apparently, the two GOOD drug arrests I’d made after the Chief talked to me were two too many and unacceptable.
I’d like to say that was recent history. I’d like to lie to you and tell you that it was during the most recent presidential regime and occurred, as one might expect, after the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement. I’d be lying.
That was the summer of 1989; nearly thirty years ago; more than A GENERATION ago – and politicians, even the small town ones that existed in that municipality, were using racial preference as a means of increasing their notoriety; a means of increasing their position and perceived power.
What we’re seeing in our nation today isn’t new. There have been people who look for an excuse for their behavior; some acceptable reason for why they’re above the law… well… forever. There have always been those people who don’t want to be held responsible for their own choices; their own decisions; their own lack of motivation; their own ignorance, laziness, etc. In tandem there have always been those who have a message for the willfully lazy and ignorant. I think a lot of people missed it when Dr. Martin Luther King spoke of it.
Yes, he had a dream. His dream DID include a world where everyone was treated equally. But his dream also included a world where people aspired to be more; to work hard; to build themselves up and to do so by the sweat of their own efforts. In his dream world, people earned the rewards of their efforts. Somehow, that part of his dream gets ignored – usually by the same people who want something for nothing; who feel targeted based on the color of their skin; who feel someone owes them something for events that occurred well over 150 years ago and NOT just to members of their race. They feel something is owed them just because members of their race are dying in much larger numbers than members of other races, while they ignore the fact that – more often than not – their race is committing genocide against itself.
I received a message from a man in Italy just yesterday (as I write this). His statement, paraphrased, was that nations around the world are reporting that America is on the brink of civil war. Shock reverberates because we have, for so long, been viewed as this strong, undefeatable, bastion of hope. Of course, the media sources all around the world mine OUR “news” sources for information and then compile their own reports – and they sell what makes them money too: sensationalism.
I believe it’s absolutely true that our nation is now more divided than it has been since the late 1960s and early 1970s. We saw an era – roughly five decades or half a century – of relative peace. We saw that peace GROWING. Then politicians realized that they could manipulate the masses to maintain power – and make no mistake, the large majority of politicians are GREEDY for more power; it will never be enough. At the same time, we saw the mainstream media sources slough off the moral and ethical restraints of their profession, openly modifying the TRUTH so that it became something more sensational; something more sellable; something that would garner more attention and allow them to charge higher advertising rate. What it became was no longer the TRUTH, but too many people either didn’t realize it or didn’t care. Lots of people like to believe the worst about their fellow man, and if it lets those same people feel like they’re a victim and someone owes them something, then all the better, right?
Those other nations and their news services may be right. I do believe we’re at a tipping point, but it’s not one of a racially motivated civil war; it’s one of TRUTH versus DISHONESTY. The American people have been sold one huge lie… and then more lies upon more lies; the information fed through “news” services and carefully edited to garner a specific response: hatred, distrust, greed, a feeling of victimization and a demand for the federal government to take more control. Ironic given that our actual Civil War was fought over whether or not the federal government was trying to take more control than it was Constitutionally authorized to.
I wish I had an easy answer to resolve the problem, but I don’t. Resolution would require – in my humble opinion – nearly starting from scratch. It would require things like term limits for ALL elected representatives; STIFF criminal penalties for any falsely reported “news” IF it incited civil disorder; criminal liability for anyone who leveraged social media to falsely accuse anyone else of a human rights violation. While I revere the First Amendment, I don’t believe it was put in place to protect people from prosecution for obvious LIES, most especially if they were making money from the lies or causing civil disorder with their lies. To me, that amounts to fraud, and fraud for personal or corporate gain is a crime.
In the meantime, since we have no reasonable hope of such occurring, it behooves us all to NOT buy into the false media narrative and NOT jump on the hate wagon. It will require us to take risks and reach out a welcoming hand. I’m thinking that we’ll find a welcoming hand reaching back and such experiences will grow if we let them.
Is it a quick solution? No. It will take millions of such experiences all across our nation before the message can even start to beat back the government and mainstream media false narrative of wide spread hatred. It will take at least two or three generations of teaching and learning – but we have to start NOW.
Teach your children to be courteous to ALL and to respect those who earn it. Remind your children that not everyone will be courteous to them and that they have to earn respect as well. Teach your children that the world and our nation don’t owe them a damned thing; that life is quite often not fair and that they have to work… work HARD to earn their way and make their positive mark. It doesn’t matter what race, religion, gender, sexual orientation they are. Remind them that while they have a right to self-expression, the whole world has a right to respond as it sees fit. If you go out and modify your appearance until you look like what was referred to as a “carnival freak,” you shouldn’t be surprised when people react as if you’re a freak. Teach your kids that they can’t go out and act or appear in such a way as to demand special attention and then be upset about that same special attention. Such expectations are stupid and, if repeated across time, might border on insanity.
WE THE PEOPLE need to start coming together on our own because it’s pretty damned obvious that the current crop of elected representatives – most of them at all levels of government – aren’t doing anything but leveraging our most negative human aspects to their own personal gain. Stay strong. Stay American. Identify as AMERICAN first and be a good neighbor. Teach your children to do the same. We CAN make a difference but the change WILL NOT start “at the top.”
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