This piece originally appeared at Hispanic National Law Enforcement Association
Personal experience and empirical data tell us that structural and individual racism pervade every aspect of American life. Yet many police departments operate behind a “Blue Wall of Silence,” pretending that discrimination and harassment do not exist within the force, rather than acknowledging the uncomfortable and incontrovertible reality. As the leader of an organization made up of Officers of Color, I know this all too well. We confront the Blue Wall on an almost daily basis, and we know what happens when officers who look like us dare to speak out.
When two Black officers at the Pocomoke City Police Department broke that Blue Wall by calling their chief’s attention to serious racial harassment they faced from white officers, and Chief Kelvin Sewell stood up for them, all three quickly became targets of retaliation.
Despite his tremendous success as Pocomoke’s first Black police chief – doing the tough work of lowering the crime rate and improving relations with the community – Chief Sewell began experiencing intense harassment after he refused to reprimand the Black officers who filed complaints. This harassment involved threats using racial slurs, the spreading of false rumors, and lobbying town officials to fire Chief Sewell and the other two officers. Ultimately, this campaign succeeded, and all three Black officers were fired.
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