I am an African American clergywoman who supports the Blue, and the daughter of a retired Charlotte policeman who supports Black Lives Matter. My social media posts bear both hashtags. I endorse both without betraying the other because they are not mutually exclusive. Also both are organically in my DNA.
I was steeped in a fusion of blue pride and black pride. Growing up. my friends knew my dad, William Covington, was a cop and that gave me a feeling of status and protection. They dubbed me “Police Daughter” and I liked it. A duality was created in this black girl growing up in the 60’s, hearing chants of “Black Power” and experiencing a love for her daddy’s police community.
His circle was other strong, proud black men who protected and served. People smiled when my dad walked into a room and they knew his name. I also grew up proud of my blackness. Whatever term was in at the time; Negro, Afro American, or Black, it was a good thing. Brown skin, curly hair and wide noses were to be cherished.
Black Lives Matter and the police are often at odds across America. I stand between the two, divergent organizations. Often it is like holding the reins of two strapping horses who want to charge off in opposite directions. I cannot let go of either set of reins. Holding on threatens to rip me in half. I feel the anger, frustration and fear of both.
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While I support the police, I cannot explain away the rampant killing of unarmed African American men, their use of military weapons, excessive force in arrests and racial profiling. While I embrace Black Lives Matter, I would like for them to spend equal time confronting Black on Black crime and reducing the gun violence that plagues too many American cities.
Father a trailblazer
My duality qualifies me to glimpse the future and see a time when the police and the African American communities cooperatively work together to solve some of the real issues in society. I can glance ahead because I looked back and know it is possible for police to protect and serve without killing. Gazing back I see my dad, a trail blazing, role modeling, and community hero of a cop. He was one of the first African Americans to integrate the Charlotte police force. Back then black cops couldn't arrest white people, drive police cars, or use the same locker room with white officers.
His door-opening ways inspired me to resist racial prejudice and consider limitations mere hurdles to overcome. I learned from him that it is imperative not be dismissed or dismayed by racial strife.
Growing up I heard my dad’s accounts of the residents who lived on his McDowell Street beat in the 1950s. It was an infamous avenue in the heart of a downtown swath of Charlotte. Most residents were poor and uneducated. Some of them were violent brawlers. My dad routinely broke up knife fights and street scuffles.
What he talked about most was the community support and love that he experienced on McDowell Street. The residents unified around the fact that police were the pride and joy of the neighborhood. Just seeing a Negro man in uniform lifted their spirits and gave them hope. On cold days they invited my dad and other officers inside to warm up. That was love in action. These tangible, positive acts instilled the value of personal outreach and compassion in me.
Why support the Blue when some police humiliate my people? Law and order must be upheld and respected. Police make our world a better place, and should be respected and revered for the public servants that they are. Yet in my love for the Blue, I hold police across America accountable for the harm caused in African American communities, and I advocate reforming policies such as de-escalation training and racial sensitivity training.
How can a police daughter support Black Lives Matter? It is a natural extension of my racial pride. I see the organization as a continuation of the civil rights movement for the 21st century. They are brash, brazen and bold, complicated and misunderstood. Their relentless nature forces America to grapple with the race question. The race conversations are painful, but must be done if our nation can ever heal.
I am a study of contrasts. A police daughter who visited Ferguson, weeks after 18-year old Mike Brown was killed. I stood by the sprayed-painted outline of his body that laid in the street for hours. And I am an African American clergywoman who prayed for the police at the Dallas Memorial for the slain five officers.
Recently, my dad died. I ensured that members of the Charlotte Police Department, including Chief (Kerr) Putney, were on hand for his home going celebration. In his remarks, Chief Putney told us that he talked with my dad once, my dad reminded him that it was a privilege to serve.
That type of thinking give me the historical audacity to keep looking down the road and see hope. There are many others like me. We envision a time when the two groups can maneuver through the bad blood, misunderstanding and bickering. They can come together to work for changes in policing and in communities. Yes I am nostalgic – I want policing to resemble the way it was for my dad on McDowell Street. Connecting cops to their communities makes such a difference. There is no need to be feared or at odds with your communities. We are all in this together.
Both are where I was born and where I will stay.
Dr. Sheron C . Patterson, 57, is a native Charlottean living in Dallas, Texas. She is a Methodist cleric and author. Her newest book, "Lead Yourself Now," is dedicated to her father, William C. Covington. Her website is www.drsheron.com