To say that I love and respect The Washington Post and my former colleagues there is an understatement. I am proud to have been a part of that great journalism family. I left the Post to launch a career that took me deep inside the law enforcement system. I became a prison spokesman. Working closely with city officials, including the mayor—the controversial and legendary Mayor Marion Barry, I grew as a professional communicator. I was trusted by local and national reporters to always tell them the truth, no matter how ugly the circumstances may have been. I was fulfilled. My ultimate goal was to gain insight into the way law enforcers conducted themselves away from the spotlight and to get a close up look at the black men they had imprisoned, many of whom were my age and some of whom were old friends, including Roosevelt Whitaker, who was serving life for murdering a white man. I had written a front page story about him when I was a Post reporter. Getting into the heads of men like Roosevelt allowed me to get a measure of black manhood that would not be possible without daily contact.
The knowledge that I gained deepened within me sense of mission. Some men no doubt about should have been locked up. I saw a few who literally looked like monsters. But far more often I met men like me. The difference was that they had made terrible decisions and/or had been very unlucky. Most had the intelligence, but perhaps not the character to be upstanding pillars in the community. When I wrote press releases or talking points for the mayor and the corrections department chief, I always made a point of exposing the strength of the system and the potential of the broken and forgotten men inside the system.
Ironically. No, tragically, my working as a law enforcement professional did not shield me from becoming a target in The War in America and getting tossed behind bars myself. My fate ricocheted me off the walls of excessive law enforcement several times and made me a casualty of the war. My encounters with racist and abusive police officers, some white, some black, caused me to endure pain, public embarrassment and incarceration. There was silver lining in each storm, however. I survived. Thousands of other unarmed and innocent black men attacked by wrongdoing law enforcers did not.
Ben Bradlee joined me in a couple of my battles both before and after I left the Post. Coming to my defense as a protective father would his son, he appeared in court on my behalf, as a character witness. I will always be grateful for that. (In The War in America Volume 1: One Black Man’s Battles against Racist and Abusive Law Enforcement, I wrote about Ben’s involvement in m law enforcement travails.)
My reporting experiences, law enforcement experiences and my black man-in-America experiences raised my consciousness and gave me the unique perspective that set me on my solo flight above the chaos and madness engulfing the American justice system.
I have peeped the decision-making processes of both law enforcers and the men they encounter. I am well aware of the fissures in the black community that allow police to justify their existence. I have vowed to find a way to make a difference.
In addition to the before-its-time story idea I discussed with Ben years ago, I developed other before-their-time, outside-the-box ideas that are no longer considered so outside the box. Thanks to the intense coverage the Post and other media—large, small and social—have given to the conflicts between the police and black people. For instance, I envisioned back in 2010 that the widespread ad hoc use of cell phone cameras would be key weapons to use against police abuse. An early version of my manuscript includes a recommendation solution entitled: “Candid Camera Cop.” I wrote: Making use of cell phone cameras, we can have cameras everywhere, ready to expose dirty cops. This warfighting activity can create a broad awareness of racialized law enforcement and how commonplace it is … Shining a light on a problem is sometimes all you can do. Expose everything dirty cops do. Expose the lies they tell, the false arrests they make, the propaganda about black men that they produce … In police cars, in holding cells, everywhere police abuse is known to have occurred should be monitored by cameras.”
As the years passed by, I would retain a successful New York-based literary agent to sell my manuscripts to a publisher. However, she was unable to find any takers. She made a strong effort pitching my book, but finally, exasperated, she whispered her confession to me over the phone as if she was sharing a dirty little secret: “Your writing is good, but I tried my best … I just can’t sell a book to a white publisher that talks about a war between the police and black men.” The subtitle of the book at that time was: “Black Men Standing Their Ground Against Racialized Law Enforcement.”
She could not sell the book to any black publishers, either.
I kept writing.
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