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What It Means to be Black with a Badge

Kristen Goode  | 25 February 2022  |  4 minute read


Arlington, TX, Deputy Police Chief Tarrick McGuire remembers graduating from the Police Academy in 2003 and wanting a photo with then Chief Dr. Theron Bowman. While most rookie officers would appreciate the opportunity to take a photo with their commander, Deputy Chief McGuire knew there was another factor driving his desire. Like Deputy Chief McGuire, Bowman was Black. 

“I saw myself in him,” according to Deputy Chief McGuire.

Dr. Tracie Keesee applied to the Denver Police Department (DPD) more than 15 years after the Hogue Decree paved the way for Black women officers. Despite a department study proving women officers were as effective as men, Dr. Keesee faced a stigma based on her gender and race, often having to defend her work.

“There’s a price to pay when you want to change things on the inside,” said Dr. Keesee, who went on to be Denver’s first women Police Captain and New York City Police Department’s First Deputy Commissioner for Equity and Inclusion before co-founding the Center for Policing Equity.

While working out at the gym, former Seattle Police Department (SPD) Detective James Manning met a man who spoke ill of several minority groups. Manning, curious about the stranger, asked what his occupation was. The stranger was a police officer, which surprised Manning and inspired him to take the police academy admissions test.

“My mother always told me you could hate something or understand something. But it’s better to understand people and where they’re at,” said Detective Manning, who retired from Seattle Police after 29 years and now works as a Global Security & Resilience Project Manager at Starbucks.

Deputy Chief McGuire, Dr. Keesee, and Detective Manning all have unique experiences as Black members of law enforcement, serving majority and minority members of the community as members of minority groups historically underrepresented in and underserved by law enforcement. Earlier this week, they spoke to our employees about their experience during the Mark43 Speaker Series session, The Challenges Facing Today’s Black Police Officers: What It Means To Be Black With A Badge.

The Dichotomy of Race and Law Enforcement

Race and law enforcement are individually and together divisive political topics and have been for decades. A small but vocal group of people believe that the groups are mutually exclusive — if you support law enforcement, you must be anti-Black, and vice versa. But that mindset can’t be further from the truth.

Detective Manning experienced the “us” versus “them” mindset when he visited an NAACP board meeting in uniform. He said he was naive about what to expect at the meeting, where he let person after person speak about their fears and worries, despite the difficulty of the sometimes hostile interactions. After everyone had a chance to speak to the Black man in a SPD uniform, Detective Manning stood up and shared that he had many of the same concerns that the other Black individuals in attendance shared.

“I came of my own accord. No one from my department knows I’m here,” Detective Manning shared. “I came because I want to work with you. The same concerns you have for your children, I have for my children. I worry about my three sons when they leave the house just like you worry for your three sons when they leave the house.”

That NAACP meeting was the start of a better relationship between the Black community and SPD. 

Despite societal pressure to choose one or the other, being a minority and being a member of law enforcement aren’t exclusive experiences. On the contrary, Black members of law enforcement bring a unique group of life experiences to the table that makes law enforcement more equitable and efficient for all community members.

“I’ve been black all of my life. No one has to tell me what the experience of being Black is like because I live it. I also know what it’s like to wear the uniform,” according to Deputy Chief McGuire.

While members of law enforcement and members of the Black community can empathize with each other about their experiences, Black members of law enforcement fully understand what each group of people experience.

Dr. Keese’s experiences as a Black woman police officer give her more unique perspectives to bring to the table. Because she is Black, she has different experiences than White women law enforcement officials. As a woman, she has a different experience than her Black men colleagues.

While some things have improved for women of color in law enforcement, there is still an incredible amount of work to be done. Dr. Keese put it this way, “They are still being harassed. They are still being overlooked. They are still being tokenized.” 

Seeking Different Outcomes

Despite sensationalized catchphrases, only a minimal number of individuals do not want law enforcement in their community. Most members of the community want law enforcement; however, they want the outcomes and interactions to change.

“The ask is for public safety [to operate] in [such] a way that you give to other folks [without] thinking about who you are giving it to and who you value,” according to Dr. Keese. 

Speaking about her 11-year-old grandson, whose parents were also members of law enforcement, “It’s a very difficult conversation to have. I want him to be able to go out and stop anybody on the street and ask for help. I don’t want him to have to think, ‘If I do this, how am I going to end up?’.”

Trying to Change Things from the Inside

Detective Manning speaks to young people regularly, and he asks a series of questions each time. The conversation usually goes like this:

Raise your hand, how many people in the room want their police department to change? Everyone’s hands go up.

Raise your hand, how many of you want to see diversity in your police department? Everyone’s hands go up.

How many of you will take the test to be a police officer? Hardly any hands come up. 

At that point, Detective Manning asks, “How are we going to change this? How is it going to be different? How are we going to police differently in our communities because we understand our communities?”

Deputy Chief McGuire often meets individuals growing up in the same neighborhoods where he grew up. Most of these individuals are incredibly supportive of Deputy Chief McGuire and appreciate the work he does ensuring the Arlington Police Department meets the needs of all community members. 

Deputy Chief McGuire encourages everyone he meets to go beyond talking about the problem and be part of the solution.

“You don’t have to be a police officer. Maybe you’re a politician. Maybe you help make the laws. Maybe you’re a school teacher. Regardless of whatever you do, be a part of the solution,” Deputy Chief McGuire explained. “Let’s be a part of change.”

The Mark43 Speaker Series aims to help Mark43 employees better understand the public safety professionals they serve and the complex issues facing communities today. Organized by the Community Affairs and Public Policy team and moderated by Ganesha Martin, VP of Community Affairs and Public Policy, the series features internal and external experts discussing their unique experience in public safety.

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