I recently read a Facebook post by Cleveland Police Sgt. Johnny Hamm, a very fine officer I had the pleasure of meeting last summer. His post described how honored and privileged he was to participate in the “Sea of Blue Support Rally” held on Public Square in downtown Cleveland on Dec. 27. “It was wonderful to see the 2, 500 plus (some estimates are near 5, 000) people supporting Law Enforcement. There were a few protestors, but they had no effect on the unity-based rally. The message was ‘All Lives Matter’ even the Blue lives that have no race, religion, or ethnicity.”
I first met Sgt. Hamm when I spotted someone wearing a police uniform walking through my vineyard looking at the plants; my initial fleeting thought was, “Gee, I hope he doesn’t think we’re growing pot!” Quickly perishing the thought, I parked my truck and walked up to him and asked, “Can I help you?”
A bit of context is needed. We planted the vineyard at E.66th Street and Hough Avenue back in 2010, and, unlike most folks who might spend an hour or two outside working on their lawns, I’d been putting in hellacious hours building the trellising and tending the vines, with help from residents of a nearby halfway house and volunteers from the neighborhood and indeed, all over the county.
So, being outdoors quite a bit, of course I often saw police cruisers driving past. When the occupants were black they usually waved, and sometimes stopped to briefly chat. The white cops never did, so I eventually began waving at them when they drove past (after all, I’d like for them to protect the hard work we were doing) but they never responded, and a few of them quickly turned their heads as if I had spit at them. They obviously wanted no part of the community they were patrolling … satisfied to serve only as an army of occupation. This is a huge part of the overall problem.
But Sgt. Hamm (who, by the way, is white) was different, and I was pleasantly surprised. We spent the next half hour talking away, and when he left I felt I’d made a new friend. Indeed I had … we’ve had lunch together a couple of times since our initial encounter.
So, of course, it was with great interest that I read his posting on Facebook.
I have to admit I was a bit disappointed with the game of semantics he began playing: “ … I got to thinking about why the Sea of Blue Support Rally was so obviously successful and why recent protests have accomplished little more than disrupting traffic. A rally is a movement in support of something. A protest is a movement in opposition of or against something. A rally starts from a positive and supporting place while a protest starts from a negative place. Besides, how many rallies have resulted in looting, arson, assaults, or vandalism? Most protests can actually be a rally if those participating promote the positive side as opposed to promoting the negative.”
Whew! Simply because the demonstrations are called “protests” instead of “rallies” they are inherently bad? And because thugs use the cover of legitimate acts of civil disobedience to loot and vandalize, does that mean the cause they are espousing is therefore not worthy, or of consequence? I think otherwise.
Sgt. Hamm continues, “The failure of the protests is primarily because they have no identified purpose.” My answer to that is, stopping white cops from killing often unarmed young black males is certainly an “identified purpose” and the one that’s been consistent throughout the protests around the country: Black Lives Matter. I don’t think the issue can be stated with any more clarity.
The sergeant repeatedly criticizes the “troublemakers” among the protestors, which is a very convenient way to dismiss the cause they are protesting over. Sgt. Hamm says their message gets lost in the looting and violence, which to a degree is true since TV cameras are attracted to a burning vehicle as a moth is to a flame … easily allowing those who want to be dismissive of the real issue at hand a way out of engaging in honest dialogue. But the issue isn’t going to go away because soon there will be another dead body of an unarmed young black male lying in the street in some city in America. You can make book on that.
I sincerely believe that Johnny Hamm is of good heart, and wants to assist in bringing about reasoned and fair resolutions to a serious problem. He even says as much when he wrote, “In the end, I believe, the protestors want fair, impartial, consistent, and equal justice. I want that too. The problem is that everyone’s opinion is different about it.”
The one critical flaw in his posting is that he never, in any way, acknowledges or even mentions the wrongdoings perpetrated by rouge cops. Never. What he has to learn is that it’s impossible to defend the indefensible … that is if he wants to be considered an honest broker in the ongoing debate. Some things are not merely a matter of opinion; dead bodies of young black males are a fact.
Many commentators from my side of the debate swiftly criticize wrongdoing, be it looting, torching of police cars, or the cowardly killing of cops. But for the problem to ultimately be solved, good officers like Sgt. Johnny Hamm, NYC Police Commissioner William Bratton, and other good cops have to look inward, inside police departments, and speak out against the small minority of bad cops who engage in rouge behavior. Only then will we begin to see light at the end of the tunnel.
The “Sea of Blue Support Rally” was admirable, but it can’t be allowed to be interpreted as continuing support for the “Blue Wall of Silence,” which, at its core, is the reason America finds itself in this seemingly intractable position. It bears repeating: Eventually good cops are going to have to find the courage to speak out against bad cops, and until then nothing is going to change.
[Photo: CPD during the St. Patrick’s Parade – Erik Drost (Flickr)]
From Cool Cleveland correspondent Mansfield B. Frazier mansfieldfATgmail.com. Frazier’s From Behind The Wall: Commentary on Crime, Punishment, Race and the Underclass by a Prison Inmate is available again in hardback. Snag your copy and have it signed by the author by visiting http://NeighborhoodSolutionsInc.com.