A conversation about Black Lives Matter with a black cop in San Diego

I spoke with a San Diego cop recently.  He is of color.  For purposes of this article, I will call him Ben the cop.  I was interested in getting his take on black Lives Matter.  In doing so, I learned a truth that has, not surprisingly, not been reported by our local San Diego news stations.  It's the simple answer to the question, why have cities like Portland and Seattle boiled over to unmanageable levels but not a city like San Diego?

Sure, San Diego, or at least technically one of its suburbs, La Mesa (54% White, 22% Hispanic, 8% African, 6% Asian), was caught off guard initially and had a night of rioting that resulted in some buildings, including a bank, being burned to the ground (sparked within days of George Floyd, by a viral video of a young, smart but foul mouthed black man being, from my point of view, unfairly profiled and arrested by a white cop, and this cop is no longer working for the city in any capacity).  But since then, despite largely attended downtown marches and protests, the crowds have not escalated the rioting to a great extent.

He said it's because they have not been allowed to.

As one telling of the broken window theory goes, if you don't put up with small infractions, the perpetrators will be less likely to graduate to more harmful or destructive crimes.  Ben the cop says the San Diego police have not allowed the protests to escalate.

Ben the cop grew up in the rough section of a California town.  When he was young, he remembered many times seeing shootings up close, including drive-by shootings.

At first he would duck and cower, but along with their frequency, he soon became numb to them to the point that he would just stand and watch and marvel at the spectacle.  Violence was just an accepted aspect of his surroundings growing up.  One of his relatives, a law-abiding young man, was unjustly killed during a retaliation of sorts by gang types.  His relative was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Ben the cop joined the San Diego police later than many, after a successful career with a private-sector company.  Ben has much customer-facing experience in his prior career.  He actually says the primary reason to become a cop was because he likes people — that and the prospect of getting to do a lot of the cool and challenging things he associated with being a cop.

Ben the cop, of color, says that what happened to George Floyd was wrong, and he does not personally know any cop that thinks that what happened to him was not wrong.

Ben the cop has been working the front lines, coming face to face with the post–George Floyd protesters.  Most of the time, the protesters would shout at and name-call him and his fellow police officers.  But unlike some of his fellow officers, Ben would offer to verbally engage protesters in discussions.  He would generally pick out only one protester at a time to dialogue with.  But with his offer to talk came  a couple of rules.  First, when it was his turn to talk, the protester could not interrupt him.  Second, the discussion had to be only between the two of them.  He did not want a discussion to devolve into a fruitless one-against-many shouting match.  If these rules were not adhered to, he would cut the conversation off cold and retreat to the front line with the other officers.  More often than not, he would have a reasonable conversation with the protester, civil to the point that the protester himself would often wave off fellow protesters who tried to interject into the conversation.

Ben said that, unlike the direction of other big cities, San Diego has actually recently increased police spending, much of it allocated for increased police training.  I told him that I felt that training was no substitute for good instincts, and he agreed but nevertheless said training does help them do their jobs, and the more training they get to handle and de-escalate touchy situations, the better they will do exactly that.

Ben the cop says, of course, yes, all black lives matter.  He also agrees that all lives matter.  But when I asked about a couple of the underlying beliefs of the Black Lives Matter movement, he was not in agreement.  He acknowledges that the number of unjust killings of citizens by cops in a year is a very small number, especially when matched against the number of encounters (millions) annually that cops have while doing the often dangerous job they are paid to do.  And he denies that people of color are being unfairly singled out and targeted.  He also said some things that if said publicly by a white cop in today's bubble of wokeness, would get that cop fired.  Ben, a cop of color, said that, based upon his experience when dealing with suspects, the group that he knows he will most likely see incorrigible and/or violent behavior from are blacks.  The group that he is next most likely to have such issues with are Hispanics.  And in third place, Whites.

But we all know that the protesters are of all colors.  Ben the cop witnessed some very aggressive protesters early on in downtown San Diego, emboldened by the "successful" level of destruction achieved during the nearby La Mesa protests. Heck, some of the San Diego protesters were likely veterans of the La Mesa protests.  Ben does not know why exactly, he speculated perhaps because we have a Republican mayor in San Diego, but the San Diego cops were allowed to bring their A game.  When the protesters tried throwing bricks and bottles they were responded to immediately with rubber bullets.  Body shots.  He said you do not want to aim at legs as you are more likely to miss as they are narrower than bodies and often in scampering motion.  Word must have gotten around among the protesters because the violence levels had noticeably dropped from the first night to the second night and were next to nothing by the third night.  Cops being allowed to do their jobs protecting property, people, and themselves.

Image credit: Public domain image via Wikimedia Commons.

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