As a kid growing up in New England, I heard the consensus that “Boston doesn’t know how to treat its Black players.” Whether that stems from the Bill Russell era Celtics or slow integration with the Red Sox, by the time I counted Jim Rice as my favorite player he wasn’t too eager for media interviews. To this day, school bussing riots in Southie included, and Boston is known as a racist town, with racist fans, who happen to idolize probably the greatest White basketball player in NBA history. And now we hear about a Sox fan in Leominster (“Loh-minstah”) calling Carl Crawford a coded racial slur. Are we the worst?
As it turns out, the fan was a police officer, and after an investigation his bosses determined he had used racial slurs before and that the town of Leominster doesn’t consider that the level of professionalism required for the job. Fired. The incident reminded me of White Plains, New York: Yankees territory. When a police officer, already under investigation for racist behavior on the job, used the N-word before busting down the door of Kenneth Chamberlain, an elderly veteran, shooting and killing him. No charges were filed in the incident. I don’t know if the White Plains policeman was a Yankees fan or not, nor can I be certain of loyalties regarding the 35,000-strong NYPD who managed to stop Black and Latino pedestrians 90% of the time. This is a hard number to reach in a city that has a White majority.
I’m not suggesting that all police officers are racists, although some have considered racial profiling to be good police practice because they mistakenly believe that the vast bulk of perpetrators are non-White. I do know that the people killed by police are overwhelmingly Black and Latino, despite the fact that there are White people who act suspicious, make furtive movements, carry guns, are mentally ill, drunk or high, or any of the other factors that lead to a citizen being shot by the police. And again, it is oddly coincidental that a nation that has four times as many White people manages to not shoot them. The solution is not for the police to shoot more White people, to even things out. The solution is to reduce the aggressive and violent behavior towards people of Color.
Paramilitary training can be useful in some scenarios, but certainly cops will attest that the bulk of their work is interpersonal relations. I’ve lived in highly-policed communities most all of my life, and I don’t know anyone who would do away with a well-trained police officer. That training, however, needs to focus on de-escalation, mental illness training, racial training (not just “sensitivity”), and substance abuse training, because if they really are going to be on the front lines- they need to be trained accordingly.
Being on the front lines for race relations makes an impact. Either a message can be sent that a city won’t hire people who spout racial slurs in public, or a message is sent that it is no big deal. In Red Sox country, in this one scenario, a message was sent. In Yankees territory, where I now live, a message was sent as well. It is important for citizens and leaders to make it known which one they prefer.