Racism is a history lesson, not current events

I've known cops who were racists and I've known cops who were pathologically brutal, using their authority as a way to vent their anger. There were times when I wondered how some cops ever made it through the screening process and ended up on the street with the authority of life and death in their hands.

When I became a cop in 1964, the job was very different; racism was not only tolerated, it was often nurtured by veteran and superior officers. At the tender young age of 21, I was thrust into a world that shattered my understanding of a police officer's role in society. Having been raised by a single mother with 7 children, in a dilapidated tenement on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, I lived in the same building with blacks, Hispanics, Jews and nearly every other conceivable race and ethnic mix. In addition, I went to school with them, partied with them, dated them and enjoyed dinner at their apartments whenever I was fortunate enough to be invited.    

Because of my upbringing, and the fact that my mother always taught us to treat everyone equally (and made us go to church every Sunday), I reached adulthood without any concept of racial prejudice. That's why I'm convinced that such behavior is not inherent, but must be learned in the same way that someone might learn a craft.

When I put on that uniform for the first time in a Brooklyn precinct, in the predominantly black area of Bedford/Stuyvesant, my training in bigotry began. One of my earliest memories is of riding in a patrol car with a crusty veteran of pre-civil rights days. As he backed the marked unit out of the station house driveway, he looked behind him and saw a car driven by a black man, who had the obvious right-of-way. Nevertheless, my racist "trainer" hit the gas pedal and blocked the path of the other car, causing the driver to hit his brakes. "First me n****r, then you," barked the man who was being paid to protect and serve.

I wish I could say that I had the courage to tell him what a despicable human being he was, but the truth is: I stayed silent.

However, he became the first of many cops that caused me to talk to the clerical office, requesting that I not be assigned with them again. I suppose the message got out that I was "different" because I was soon assigned to foot patrol.

Sometime later, the department began its own type of integration policy, asking for volunteers to work as black and white radio car teams. The sociological experiment met with initial resentment by cops who couldn't imagine such close proximity for 8 hours a day with one of "those people." For me, and for a few other cops like me, younger and not yet infected with the debilitating disease that seemed to be at epidemic proportions in this strange new world, it was a relief.

Leroy Spivey, 8 years older and with 6 more years on the job, became my partner and, in a way, we made history as the first "Salt and Pepper" team in our precinct, if not in the entire borough. It wasn't long before I began to feel the hard stares from some of my "brother officers." One day, as I was in the muster room looking at the roll call sheets, one of the cops walked over and said in a hushed tone, "Bob, how's it feel to be working with a n****r?"  

I put a hand on his shoulder and turned him around slightly as I pointed toward an adjoining room. "My partner's in there; why don't you ask him?" I said through clenched teeth. He brushed my hand away and stormed off. As I had suspected, he was, like most bigots, only capable of spreading his vicious doctrine under a cloak of secrecy.

Leroy and I worked together for about 3 years before I was transferred to a precinct in Queens. Today, like me, he's retired from the job and enjoying a second career. To this day, separated by two thousand miles, we still keep in touch by email and an occasional phone call.

In the wake of the imbroglio in Cambridge, Massachusetts, between Professor Gates, Sgt. Crowley and President Obama, I want to make the point that there has been a sea change in race relations in this country since the bad old days I've described. Many people, black and white, have struggled to make that change, often at the risk of their lives.

Sgt. Crowley has a stellar reputation as a fair and even-tempered cop. He has been assigned by a black superior officer to teach race relations to other cops.

Now let's look at Gates. He's a black professor at Harvard, the most prestigious university in the world. The mayor of Cambridge is black; the governor of Massachusetts is black and the President of the United States is black. Hence, by what stretch of the imagination can this man claim that he's a victim of racial bias when a white cop (accompanied by a black and Hispanic cop) asks him for his identification at the scene of a reported burglary?

Professor Gates should be ashamed to use that tired old canard. It stains the memory of all those before him who faced attacks by police dogs and club-swinging sheriff's deputies, segregated schools and relegation to the back of the bus. Those people who suffered and died during the struggle for civil rights deserve better than to have the fruits of their victory spoiled by the fraudulent remonstrations of an irascible opportunist.  

Bob Weir is a former detective sergeant in the New York City Police Department. He is the executive editor of The News Connection in Highland Village, Texas.  Email Bob.
I've known cops who were racists and I've known cops who were pathologically brutal, using their authority as a way to vent their anger. There were times when I wondered how some cops ever made it through the screening process and ended up on the street with the authority of life and death in their hands.

When I became a cop in 1964, the job was very different; racism was not only tolerated, it was often nurtured by veteran and superior officers. At the tender young age of 21, I was thrust into a world that shattered my understanding of a police officer's role in society. Having been raised by a single mother with 7 children, in a dilapidated tenement on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, I lived in the same building with blacks, Hispanics, Jews and nearly every other conceivable race and ethnic mix. In addition, I went to school with them, partied with them, dated them and enjoyed dinner at their apartments whenever I was fortunate enough to be invited.    

Because of my upbringing, and the fact that my mother always taught us to treat everyone equally (and made us go to church every Sunday), I reached adulthood without any concept of racial prejudice. That's why I'm convinced that such behavior is not inherent, but must be learned in the same way that someone might learn a craft.

When I put on that uniform for the first time in a Brooklyn precinct, in the predominantly black area of Bedford/Stuyvesant, my training in bigotry began. One of my earliest memories is of riding in a patrol car with a crusty veteran of pre-civil rights days. As he backed the marked unit out of the station house driveway, he looked behind him and saw a car driven by a black man, who had the obvious right-of-way. Nevertheless, my racist "trainer" hit the gas pedal and blocked the path of the other car, causing the driver to hit his brakes. "First me n****r, then you," barked the man who was being paid to protect and serve.

I wish I could say that I had the courage to tell him what a despicable human being he was, but the truth is: I stayed silent.

However, he became the first of many cops that caused me to talk to the clerical office, requesting that I not be assigned with them again. I suppose the message got out that I was "different" because I was soon assigned to foot patrol.

Sometime later, the department began its own type of integration policy, asking for volunteers to work as black and white radio car teams. The sociological experiment met with initial resentment by cops who couldn't imagine such close proximity for 8 hours a day with one of "those people." For me, and for a few other cops like me, younger and not yet infected with the debilitating disease that seemed to be at epidemic proportions in this strange new world, it was a relief.

Leroy Spivey, 8 years older and with 6 more years on the job, became my partner and, in a way, we made history as the first "Salt and Pepper" team in our precinct, if not in the entire borough. It wasn't long before I began to feel the hard stares from some of my "brother officers." One day, as I was in the muster room looking at the roll call sheets, one of the cops walked over and said in a hushed tone, "Bob, how's it feel to be working with a n****r?"  

I put a hand on his shoulder and turned him around slightly as I pointed toward an adjoining room. "My partner's in there; why don't you ask him?" I said through clenched teeth. He brushed my hand away and stormed off. As I had suspected, he was, like most bigots, only capable of spreading his vicious doctrine under a cloak of secrecy.

Leroy and I worked together for about 3 years before I was transferred to a precinct in Queens. Today, like me, he's retired from the job and enjoying a second career. To this day, separated by two thousand miles, we still keep in touch by email and an occasional phone call.

In the wake of the imbroglio in Cambridge, Massachusetts, between Professor Gates, Sgt. Crowley and President Obama, I want to make the point that there has been a sea change in race relations in this country since the bad old days I've described. Many people, black and white, have struggled to make that change, often at the risk of their lives.

Sgt. Crowley has a stellar reputation as a fair and even-tempered cop. He has been assigned by a black superior officer to teach race relations to other cops.

Now let's look at Gates. He's a black professor at Harvard, the most prestigious university in the world. The mayor of Cambridge is black; the governor of Massachusetts is black and the President of the United States is black. Hence, by what stretch of the imagination can this man claim that he's a victim of racial bias when a white cop (accompanied by a black and Hispanic cop) asks him for his identification at the scene of a reported burglary?

Professor Gates should be ashamed to use that tired old canard. It stains the memory of all those before him who faced attacks by police dogs and club-swinging sheriff's deputies, segregated schools and relegation to the back of the bus. Those people who suffered and died during the struggle for civil rights deserve better than to have the fruits of their victory spoiled by the fraudulent remonstrations of an irascible opportunist.  

Bob Weir is a former detective sergeant in the New York City Police Department. He is the executive editor of The News Connection in Highland Village, Texas.  Email Bob.