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Breaking The ‘Blue Wall of Silence’ In Police Departments

By Susan K. Smith
George Curry Media Columnist

In Columbus, Ohio, two African-American police officers filed formal complaints against a White police officer, charging that this White officer made racial slurs and threatened to kill them. It took the Columbus Police Department a year to investigate the charges, but when the investigation was completed, the White officer was not made to answer for the racist slurs he apparently put on email, nor was he made to answer for making the death threats. Nor did the police department provide protection for the Black officers who made the charges against the White officer, save for a police cruiser that was dispatched to sit outside their homes for all of two weeks.

Because of this case, the Ohio Civil Rights Commission recently charged the Columbus Police Department for failing to act on the charges of racism and discrimination. The scenario points to a major issue in police departments, nationwide: racism within police departments is often ignored. Many instances of racial hatred go unreported because officers worry about keeping their jobs; the “blue wall of silence” proves to be stronger than the desire for officers to come forward and report the racism.

One of the African-American officers moved out of the state after the charges were made, and the other resigned from the police force and now works as a security guard. The accused White officer was suspended about nine months ago and had his gun and badge taken away, but still continues to draw his full salary, possibly because he is “out” on “sick leave.”
The major problem confronting the efforts to draw attention to state-sanctioned violence against Black people is the practice of police officers, and the police unions, protecting the officers no matter their actions.

The laws that police departments follow protect racist police officers, and unless and until those laws are changed, the violence against Black people will continue and police officers and vigilantes (e.g. George Zimmerman) who need only say “I was in fear for my life” will get off. One of the Black officers who made the complaint in Columbus expressed one of their sources of frustration: “When something like this happens, there is nobody to report it to.”

There are probably a good number of “good” police officers, White and Black, who know the depth of corruption and protection offered to bad cops, but who know the repercussions of coming forward would be too much to handle. They worry about losing their jobs …and losing their lives. The fact that this corruption is a reality keeps complaints by police officers against other officers minimized, but given the state of police/community relations, causing communities to blow up all over this nation, this is a time to push for more accountability of and by police departments of the racism within the departments. Silence in the face of evil is complicity in the evil.

The Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference and a number of Black professional organizations, including attorneys, psychologists, psychiatrists, teachers, have signed onto a petition to ask the federal government to form an interagency task force to monitor, investigate and hold accountable police departments all over this nation. The work, not surprisingly, needs to begin within the police departments. If not, the sick racism practiced and protected by police departments will continue onto the streets, causing the deaths of far too many people.

Rev. Susan K. Smith is an ordained minister who lives in Columbus, Ohio. She is the author of several books, including “Crazy Faith: Ordinary People; Extraordinary Lives” and “The Book of Jeremiah: The Life and Ministry of Jeremiah A. Wright, Jr. She can be reached by emailing her at

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