As a person of color in a position where I directly work with law enforcement, balancing my career, and my desire for social reform in all aspects of policing is a steep task these days. Never before have I ever experienced such a collision of my two identities: my ethnicity and my career as a civil servant. Of course, my identity as an African American will always take precedence in social matters. I’ve been a Black woman far longer than I’ve been a 911 dispatcher. And flash forward 20 years from now when I finally hang up my headset, turn in my uniform, and retire from emergency telecommunications, I still will have been a Black woman longer. My career is just one part of my life; one single chapter in my story. But my skin color is the very book cover that encloses the pages of that story.
I am not alone when I express that as an African American woman in police dispatch, I have had to refute others who’ve posed the idea that you cannot serve with or alongside police officers and stand in support of the Black Lives Matter Movement. This is a ludicrous notion that others in my shoes have encountered. It is possible to do both. It shouldn’t have to be a conflict of the heart to back the blue and still seek justice and want racial equality in our nation. Consequently, in a post-George Floyd America, it does feel like I’m rooting for the wrong team at times, or that I’m somehow betraying my own race. I own a Thin Blue Line sticker in the shape of the state of Georgia. I even have one of 25 #BackTheBlue T-shirts that were gifted to my 911 agency by a church a couple of years back. I honestly couldn’t do this job as effectively as I do if I didn’t have a healthy amount of respect and appreciation for my police officers on the frontlines of public safety. But that doesn’t stop me from calling out racism when I see it. It just isn’t easy to swallow that it’s our young Black and brown men and women who are continually on the unlucky side of the baton, the gun, or the kneecap, for that matter.
#BlackLivesMatter is more than a slogan for me. Atatiana Jefferson, Sandra Bland, and Breonna Taylor are names I recognize as belonging to a legacy that was cut short by discriminatory violence at the hands of men behind badges. They were my sisters from other mothers. Beautiful, buoyant, and brilliant women with goals, ambitions, and dreams just like me, who were blazing their own trails in this life. I wish my white coworkers in public safety understood how much it hurts my heart to read another headline about another officer-perpetrated homicide. To know that my life, and the lives of people who have my same skin tone, dark eyes, nose, and robust lips, don’t matter as much to some of the officers who are supposed to be serving and protecting our neighborhoods. Some days going into work and having to look in the faces of people who look nothing like me is hard enough. Knowing they cannot possibly understand how my heart is breaking makes it harder.
Earlier this year, I dealt with some vocal backlash for writing about combatting bias in law enforcement. I wrote on how I wished the police officers I work closely with would take the time to understand what Black Lives Matter means to my people. I was met with criticisms from peers and colleagues who couldn’t grasp why I was fighting on the “opposing side.” In their minds, I was taking the side of an antagonistic group of saboteurs united by an inherent hatred of the police and defiance toward the law. While in my mind, I was praising a movement that dared to resist all forms of bigotry and white supremacy. Some in my social circle challenged me, believing that this sudden “disloyalty” to those in blue was born out of me being “brainwashed” by the media. I found myself tearfully questioning the motives of my new politically sensitive stance. Ultimately, I realized that the only internal dilemma I was really facing was if I would sacrifice my individual ideals and values or stay true to myself as a Black woman in this industry. I chose the latter. Being in a role that has me serving alongside white police officers doesn’t require me to feign blind to the complexioned-based profiling that still very much occurs.
If only my white coworkers in public safety could grasp the sadness I feel every time I take a call from a Black woman requesting my officers assist her in a domestic dispute, and she asks me to relay to them to “please don’t shoot” her Black husband, boyfriend, or son when they arrive. If only they could hear how my voice breaks just a little as I assure her they only want to help when in my heart I know just how quickly a simple call for service can spiral out of control or be mishandled. I took this job over five years ago because I believe that emergency services and law enforcement are critical needs in every community. So I get a sickening feeling in the pit of my stomach to see a thug or a coward, behind a badge, treat anyone like they are a lower class citizen. I take it personally; as a minority, and as someone who believes wholeheartedly in the merit of the embroidered badge on my own chest. One day, hopefully, I will be a Black mother. My aim is to make this country a safer, fairer place for my kids as well as their future kids. That is the pledge to which I hold myself accountable through every 12-hour shift I work; taking 911 calls from my fellow citizens.
When I make a trip to my local supermarket wearing a Black Lives Matter button, I would hope that anyone who knows me personally would appreciate the fact that I have a voice too. It doesn’t take away from the pride I feel in this job or means I feel any less regard for the lives of those in uniform. I am making a statement though on something that needs to be addressed in the here and now; an unfortunate reality that prevails from year to year. From one presidential administration to the next. I do this job because I uphold that all lives should matter, and they especially shouldn’t matter any less because the person looks different, talks different, lives with less economic advantages, or happens to have a lower education level. So in fact, where my identities may feel like they collide, they don’t actually. They work together to set the tone of what I believe in.