Transcribe your podcast

Have you ever have you ever looked at, like, the state police graduating classes? OK, do me a favor, go back and look at their classes, their graduating classes, see how many black people you see.


We need our police departments to to mirror the communities that we are serving. And we need those officers to come from within those communities. That'll make them that'll make the change that will when people start seeing we really and truly care from our hearts, people will see police in a different way. From The New York Times, I'm Michael Barbaro.


This is a daily so of course, it is disturbing the number of African-Americans that are killed by police. And this is raising a conversation, a number of questions about what are the issues that need to be tackled within police departments. And one of the things that comes up has to do with hiring practices and diversity.


There's a growing consensus that to change American policing, police departments must look more like the communities they serve.


I think to many looking in from the outside, it's hard to understand how the police force could be majority white and the community majority African-American.


Why can there how can there be such a disconnect or a discrepancy between the two today?


We're we have to get off that protest line and put our application in and we'll put you in your neighborhood and we will help you resolve some of the problems you protest in about. The dailies Lindsay Garrison spoke with one officer in Flint, Michigan, about his experience serving the community he grew up in. It's Monday, August 31st. OK, I press that button and then I tried talking to you.


So I called up Scott Watson, OK, I'm talking to the actual phone now.


He was on duty the night we talked. So he left his police scanner on just in case he got a call.


I'm I'm ready as I'll ever going to be. So my name is Scott Watson, I'm from born and raised in Flint, Michigan. Fifty three year old black male and I've been a city of Flint police officer for the past twenty three years.


And Scott's story begins in nineteen sixty six.


So, Mom, my mom had me when she was 16. So you can imagine, you know, having a child at 16 back then wasn't you know, it wasn't easy coming from a single parent household.


Honestly, I mean, we we struggled Scott and his mom, they move into the lower level of her brother's house. It's in this neighborhood called St. John's, which is just on the edge of the Buick car plant.


It was still segregated for the most part.


And Scott's mom had a job at Sears.


You know, I was a loaner child and. My mom never had to, like, give me up for school and give me dress from tot lot on, you know, I could give myself up and get myself together. I didn't require much. You know, my mom was very nice, you know, she did the best she could, but she was in love. She was in love with basically a bad boy. You know, high school, he was one of the star football players, but he liked the streets in.


So he ended up going to prison and he says as a child, he didn't think much about his dad, my first real memory of him was going to Jackson prison and visiting him. It was just we went somewhere to visit a man that I really didn't know. Who, you know, come to find out was was my dad. But he at some point within the next couple of years, you know, he got out of prison and that's where really my experience is.


Learning, I guess learning more about me began. When his dad comes home from prison, it totally changes God's life. You know, he sold drugs and I would I didn't have a bedroom, so I slept on the couch in the living room. You know, it was nothing for me to see strange people in the house all the time, people knocking on the door the wee hours of the morning to buy drugs. You know, I walked in the bathroom.


I would see people shooting up heroin. I that's what my dad was addicted to, heroin. I could open up a bathroom door. OK, I will see pieces of rubber that they used to tie it off. Needles, you know, needles with blood on them at a very young age. I knew the difference between boy was heroin and girl was cocaine. And, you know, we kept it in the basement, in the washing machine and dryer.


I mean, you know, there with guns in every corner of the house. I had opportunity to see it are things that, you know, kids should know.


But I was never one of those kids who would touch any of that stuff.


And Scott's dad, he barely acknowledges Scott, he kind of treats Scott like he's not even there.


I mean, it's kind of bad to say, but, you know, he would take me to the drug houses and he would leave me there and he would leave with his friends or they would talk about drug activity right in front of me. And his friends would kind of look like, you know, should we be doing this? And he would just tell them, I mean, you don't have to worry. He will say nothing. And he was right.


I would never you know, I would never say anything about his business. You know, you have to remember, back in those days, kids stayed in a kid's place. So, you know, that was that was all adult stuff. But I took it all in.


The only time his dad really does pay attention to Scott is when he brings him into the business.


So back then, a lot of people were on assistance. You had first of the month, people would get their checks and him and his friends, they would go and people mailbox and take their checks, male or female. And, you know, I can remember my dad dressing up like a lady and taking me to the bank to cash a check. And it looked good, you know, having to look a little kid with you. But it's like.


It's like, wow. And it seemed like I'm talking more about my dad because most of the negativity, kind of the negativity and positivity actually kind of comes from him because I wanted to be everything he wasn't. That drive, Scott says it motivates him in his quiet way, he keeps on with school and his homework, he makes himself something to eat, sometimes just ketchup sandwiches for lunch or dinner. And every free moment he has, he pours himself into his escape basketball while the light on black rock was the escape for me.


I mean, day and night. If there was something basketball related on TV, I watched it.


You saw. Three Harlem Globetrotters used to have a variety show back then, so I'll start learning how to do no tricks and end drills and stuff and just got good at playing his mind before he takes his basketball literally everywhere with him.


He even sleeps with it like some kids had teddy bears and stuff. I didn't have any of that. I had a basketball. Basketball was my best friend. It was as I got older, it was my girlfriend. It was my woman. This is like nothing else, you know, really nothing else mattered to me other than to be the be the best. So it took me away from all the negative things that were happening around me.


And while Scott is outside spending these hours on the street and, you know, just in his everyday life going to school, he sees police officers everywhere. They're doing community policing in his neighborhood. Then they're doing foot patrol while he's growing up.


Actually, a friend of mine, his sister, who's on the police department, knows several of his friends whose family are police officers.


So they were pretty much positive role models when I was coming up, even the times when police officers were called in to his house for various domestic disputes between his father and his mother, even then, he didn't have a negative perception of the police. He didn't really fault the police in those moments.


I mean, they weren't nasty or abusive. Speaking out to police at the time, he just tried to get the problem solved. So I didn't think anything bad about them, like say it was more reflection on my mom and dad.


So those were mostly good experiences. But then Scott turns 13. And then this would be a negative experience friend of mine, Stan, was Billy, he was like 15. He was not a bad kid. He was just kind of mischievous, you know, just. It's just kind of a mischievous kid, but him and some more guys broke into a house and the police showed up and Billy took off running out the back door and went to jump a fence.


And a white police officer shot him in the back of the head with his shotgun, killed him. And that touched off some real tensions, you know, people were starting to riot and in, you know, so that that was kind of my first bout with kind of like some perceived racism. White police officer, black kid. You know, you shot a young black boy in the head who was running away from a property crime, you know, and you killed him.


And now I'm angry. But at the same time, you know, it's I Billy was wrong. You know, he broke in somebody's house or whatever. So, you know, he he definitely didn't deserve that. But, you know, he was wrong. Over the next couple of years, Scott kind of starts to drift off, his grandmother dies, which hit him really hard, and he stops playing basketball, he starts skipping school. Even if he attends class, he doesn't really engage.


He just sits there quietly and his GPA ends up falling to a zero point six. And then two things happen.


So a guy that I was hanging out with, we were skipping school one day and he had a car and we were going down the highway and we were doing over 100 miles an hour and. A semi truck was in the lane next to us and got over in front of us and this humongous semi moved suddenly right in front of their car and Scott's friend in the driver's seat has to just quickly slam on the brakes, the car skids.


And we almost I mean, we were right right up his bumper, about to hit it right at right in the back. And I just see my life flashed before my eyes. And I'm like, who? I mean, it scared me to death.


So that happened. So after that, about a week later, defriended, I was where he was killed and he was killed by some of my other friends. They got into it over a gold chain or something, and they did a drive by and it killed him, you know, so he's dead. And some of my friends, they ended up going to prison. And then, Scott, he just has this realization, like, if I don't make some changes here, the same kind of future is waiting for me.


And it's like after that happened, I was like, all right, this is God's way of telling me you got to get your life together because there's nothing good that's going to come out of that. So and so he does. I just start going to school every day and start doing my work.


He starts playing basketball again and going to school. And eventually he gets spotted by this basketball coach at a junior college in Flint who's looking for undiscovered players.


He took me in like I was his son. And I brought a couple of other guys along. That was kind. And while he's playing there, he's noticed again by Northern Colorado University and they offer him a scholarship. I got a full ride scholarship.


So Scott moves from Flint, Michigan, to Greeley, Colorado, and he has to pick a major I know from the other side first by order of criminal activity and stuff I seen as a little kid.


And I mean, I knew if I knew that I knew about the drug game in time, you could get for committing certain crimes and, you know, unknowingly being a part of crimes, some, you know, as a little kid. It just it just in criminal justice was it just came easy for me. It was natural for me.


And when he graduates, his career choice seems like a natural one, too.


In my mind, everything my dad was I wanted to be the total, the total opposite.


So once I was honest with myself and evaluated who I am in my head, you know, knowing what I'm capable of, it was easy. It was easy. And so he returns home to Flint and enrolls in the police academy there. You know, I just kind of went from there. And we'll be right back.


Support for the Daily comes from Facebook, three months from now, 45 percent of the small businesses we love may not survive places like Windy City boxing, Chicago, where people learn what it means to grind, where the coaches become mentors and the punching bags are therapy. Every dollar we spend at businesses like Windy City really makes the difference, because when we buy small, we're buying into something much bigger. If you need help or can offer it, visit Facebook dot com slash support small business.


This message is brought to you by Facebook.


This is Mark Lacy, national editor at The New York Times. We know you have a lot on your minds right now. If you're wondering about case counts online learning, whether it makes sense to fly your following protests, presidential politics and economic tumult, when will you go back to your workplace or when will you go back to work? We're also thinking about these questions and so many more. And we try each day to interview the experts, do the deep research and hit the road so we can help find you the answers.


The Times is also seeking meaning in the movies we watch, in the books we read and in the music we listen to. None of this work would be possible without New York Times subscribers. So thank you. And if you'd like to subscribe to the Times, go to NY Times dot com slash subscribe. So Scott moves back home to Flint and he enrolls in the Flint Police Academy, and he says that when he enrolls at this time in the mid 90s, there's this huge push for police officers of color.


The current police chief at the time is black, and he's really trying to increase the number of black police officers in that department. And Scott really wants to be a part of that.


Now, my mom my mom was just like a police officer. You don't look like a police officer. So I'm explain to her. I'm like, so what what does a police officer look like? And she really didn't have it, she just knew it didn't look like me. So, you know, I'm like, wow, OK, but I know me and who better to protect my community than did me.


So my first day on the road, we hit the ground running from, I think my first night on the road. We ran like 50 radio calls.


So Scott says they're responding to these calls him and these two supervisors he's with. And it's like every call they respond to, Scott knows everyone. And these white officers are like, well, every call we go, you know, I think I impress my training officers because every quarter we win. All the people know me, you know, and I'm just I hate you know, I grew up here. I play sports here. So, yeah, I know I know a lot of people I covered before.


And for Scott, it was like this call to duty is being validated on his very first day of the job. I don't think there's anybody better to do that job than myself. But then in his first year, I was out of training and I was working by myself and officer got in a chase trying to stop a vehicle, Scott is called in to help pursue a black suspect who fled during a traffic stop.


So the suspect got out of his vehicle and he took off running to the yard. Now, this is it's wintertime. When I say winter, I mean, it is it is freezing outside, freezing cold. And it had been snowing a lot. So, you know, here in Michigan, we don't share buyback hours or whatever. So the snow is high. So anyway, this guy, he jumps out his vehicle and he takes off running and he runs through these people yard and he tries to jump a wooden fence and a fence breaks.


He doesn't have a coat on or anything. And he lands.


He lands in all this heavy snow and Scott gets out of his car and he's walking up to this scene.


And all these white officers showed up and they all kick snow on cakes, snow on his face, on his head and. It made my heart drop. So I just I will step right in between all of. Pick them up, brush the snow off of him, handcuff him, put them in the backseat of my car and cut the I cut the heat on and I transport him to the station.


And it's funny because he wasn't the suspect was Matt. You just kind of got the feeling from him that, you know, this just business like this is how we're supposed to be, and I never experienced that until then. And I'm like, this is not how we're supposed to be. I think I was more hurt than he was. I mean, he was glad I was there to to pick him up and, you know, he was so appreciative of, you know, I hate to say it like this, but that seeing that black face that day is like, you know, OK, I'm safe.


You know, I'm safe, you know, he he took care of me, not gonna let anything else happen to me. But Scott can't really get over what he saw at that moment. It made me question what's really going on here. It made me like, is this some is this something I really want to be a part of? He keeps thinking about that in that moment, it made me rethink it, but actually I had to make my resolve greater because it show me is like we need more like me and less like that.


In the big picture, I need to stay. Scott continues to work in patrol for a number of years, and then he moves on to the special squad where he's investigating drugs and gangs on the streets of Flint. And as he gets further and further into his career on the force, he kind of grows to believe that he can be a force for good in all of these smaller ways.


They have block clubs and stuff on the north end of Flint. I would go to the block. I wasn't getting paid. I went on a police dog, take kids to the proms for free so they'll have a nice prom experience. You know, I see somebody who hungry. You know, I go in my pocket and give them money so they can get something to eat people. They can always reach me by my cell phone or go get the food phone because I don't buy cigarettes, alcohol for them.


You know, they have my number. They can pick up the phone and call me and I can take care of the problems. I'm always trying to help people out with their issues.


In 2006, after Scott is in the department for nearly a decade, something happens in Flint.


The black pastors complain that there wasn't enough minorities in the upper administrative positions in the police department. It didn't reflect our community. So the black pastors wanted to it was a white mayor. They wanted him to do something about it.


And, you know, it's an interesting time in the police department because it's almost equal parts, white officers and equal parts black officers.


Scott said that basically the black officers that were recruited by the black police chief in the 90s, back when Scott joined, a lot of those officers were still around. But what the pastors were complaining about was that hardly any of those black officers were in positions of command, the captains, the lieutenants, the sergeants, all the way up to the chief. Those positions were overwhelmingly white.


So the black pastors wanted to it was a white mayor. They wanted him to do something about it. So he came up with the idea of having a group of officers outside of the regular ranks, the above everybody in the regular ranks. And they were called a citizen service bureau.


And then he promotes for black officers into that group. But there was no rhyme or reason how he chose these people. There was no testing. There was no there was no nothing. Just this just who he wanted.


So almost immediately, the police unions respond.


The white officers in the department got together with the union and filed a lawsuit, and it was a reverse discrimination lawsuit.


More than 40 officers filed a reverse discrimination lawsuit complaining that the mayor had no basis for those promotions. He didn't follow any procedure and he overlooked qualified white officers in those promotions.


Well, the black officers like, well, hold up here. You know, this is unfair to us. If there is no testing procedure, you know, it affects us also. And it's like, wow. So long story short, all the white officers, the lowest amount of money I got was like twenty five thousand.


The white officers actually win the case. The city loses millions of dollars and Scott is feeling totally blindsided.


If it felt like, honestly, us against them at that point. You know, when you see all the Ottoway officers band together and basically we were you know, the black officers were kept out, it's like we're not one. I mean, so, yeah, there's you guys over here and us over here.


And that's pretty much how Scott comes to think about the department as two departments.


So, you know, for us blacks, it's like, wow, you know, y'all walk around here preaching, you know, thin blue line and we we're all brothers. But I think people they had a thin blue line kind of kind of wrong within that thin blue line is of is a racial divide also. And that's the part that I don't think people see. We smile on each other's faces, but, you know, in the back of your mind, when the chips are down, there is a division and, you know, you can tell when they're in their circles, when it's just them.


It's a lot different than when they're around us.


This all comes into greater focus for Scott with the killing of Jorge Floyd, so initially someone was telling me about it, but I hadn't seen the video. So maybe a day or two after it happened, I seen a video. I was it hurt me to my core. To my core. Suddenly, his identity as a black officer, rather than feeling like a source of pride, it turns into a source of self consciousness right after this.


After I seen a video, I came to work. Oh, my gosh, I was embarrassed to put a uniform on. I was embarrassed to get out of my cruiser. I stopped at one of the guys who barbecue on the street and I stopped to get something to eat. And I just felt I really felt like I didn't belong. I was the embarrassment that I felt and like people looking at me like, you know, Dego one of them right there, you know, that's.


That's what I felt in. I just want to stay out the way I want to make no traffic stops, I want to get night after all the stuff happened. It's about 2:00 in the morning and I'm in a semi in my car and I'm riding down the main street, but is is pretty much empty. And this car fly, they fly by me. And so I pull them over. I got lights and sirens and stuff, and I walk up to the car and I'm just as polite.


And it was a male and a female and the male was driving a black couple.


I'm like, you know, your license, registration, proof, insurance or whatever. And I asked him if he knew why I stopped the.


Oh, I mean, he was so disrespectful to me and. Just talking about how we keep we don't do no kill people, and I mean, he was cussing at me and I still, you know, I just kept my composure. I'm like, OK, he mad. They're mad. I get it. I understand. What they don't understand is I'm mad also.


So, you know, I ran his name and everything, had a good driver's license.


I didn't write him off, take it or anything. And I just walked back up to his car and I gave him my stuff back and I told him, you know, I have a good night.


And it's like after I said that, he couldn't respond. It's almost like he couldn't believe and he didn't cut me out or anything, but I was hurt, but I kind of had to just hide it.


It's just been feeling like everybody is against you. I mean, you know, your own people are calling you Uncle Tom sellout. And, you know, you got your white counterparts who. Again, Scott is having this feeling that there are these conversations going on in the office that he's not really a part of. He says in the conversations that he's hearing, everyone is flatly condemning what happened to George Floyd, but then he goes on Facebook.


You know, there's been some things social media posts by officers, white officers that were less than it made, it made officers feel some type of way. It's specifically our black officers. I don't even know if it is.


I don't even know how to really approach the subject. But we we have some officers, some young white officers who made some statements.


And this is what Scott said he saw.


We felt were he reads one post from a white colleague that said George Floyd was a piece of shit and a criminal is a criminal. And then he reads another comment from a white supervisor who writes that, wow, there must have been a big fight before that happened and really rubbed me the wrong way.


But I was another white colleague reposted a picture that said, only in America can an ethnic group have Black Awareness Month, a black holiday, black only colleges, black only dating sites, black only bars and clubs and turn around and call everyone else racists.


But these these are colleagues that you probably see every day.


Yes. So it's always difficult when you when, you know, people feel like that in your heart. It's tough, so even now, I still speak to him and I still dream the same because I was I was your supervisor. But it did make me feel some type of way. Yes, and did it make other black officers feel some type of way? Absolutely. Can you truly protect and serve the people where you work, if that's how you truly feel?


Do you think, Scott, you've been able to make a difference in policing who you talk to me.


Some days, you know, I try to help people every day and I help a lot of people. You know, I get calls from jails and prisons all the time and attorneys and prosecutors and victims. And, you know, so, you know, I look at individual things, you know, where I've been able to help people in one way or another. And I take those as winds. But when I look at the overall career and where we were at when I came on the department and where we're at now, it doesn't feel like a.


What's that feel like crap? It makes you feel like it makes you feel like crap. I don't want to say it's been wasted, but if we as black officers haven't changed the minds and hearts of our white officers, you know, it just they just don't feel right. It just don't feel like a win. Hmm. So where do we go from here? Where do I go from here? I'm trying to get my mojo back. But I keep seeing the same stuff.


You know. I haven't seen it, I haven't seen I haven't seen real change yet. But I'm going to retire and I'm going to go off into the sunset. I hate to retire in a sense because. Who replaces me, will will it be a, you know, someone not from our community? So is the real answer is I don't know. I guess I'm I'm still wondering, and I don't I don't mean to belabor this point, but.


You hear so much about recruiting more black officers as one of the solutions for reform and and I feel like this kind of call for diversity happens. Each time I mean, when when Michael Brown was shot, a big criticism was that the Ferguson Police Department didn't go home at night to Ferguson. They went to their suburbs far away from Ferguson. They didn't actually live in the community they policed. And after the Dallas shootings, the five officers in Dallas were shot.


I remember that Dallas police chief said, like, if you want to change, like we're hiring, get off the protest line and come and come on this department. Yeah. Yeah, that's true.


And is that true, though? Is that is that the thing that will change? Or would you get a flood of black police officers who are, I don't know, divided from the white officers? Then you have these two departments instead of this one department, and that would limit the change to those black officers could bring.


I mean, is it that is that is very that's a very that's a very tough question.


Mm hmm. I don't know, I don't I don't have a definitive answer for that, but I will say this. I just went to the park not too long ago and I had a basketball, a brand new basketball that was sitting around sitting around my house that I bought from my son. And I went to this one park and I'm like, you know what? I'm going to just go out there and just give me some shots up and just kick it with the people that I know, you know.


And when I'm done, I'ma let them keep this basketball. So when they have good games going on or whatever, you know, they'll have a really good basketball to use in the park basketball. But as little things like that. But that's just me, you know, that's just me. In a statement to the Times, the city of Flint acknowledged that the police department had received complaints about Facebook posts made by police officers and said that each of the complaints was investigated and, quote, appropriately handled.


They also noted that the department has recently launched a special recruitment effort to hire more officers who are from Flint. The city has also hired a new chief of police, Terrance Green, who was himself born and raised in Flint. Green has said that addressing the morale of officers is among his first priorities coming into office, he begins his post tomorrow.


We'll be right back. This podcast is supported by Kibbie, the streaming service with fresh original stories that unfold in minutes. Kubi has been nominated for 10 Emmy Awards, including the thriller Most Dangerous Game, starring Liam Hemsworth, the piercingly funny comedy Dommy, starring Anna Kendrick, the topical and intense drama Free Rashawn, starring Stefán, James and Laurence Fishburne and the shocking drama Survive with Sophie Turner. Watch shows like You've Never Seen Tolton Minutes. Download now for your free two week trial.


Here's what else you need to know. Over the weekend, a man affiliated with a right wing group was shot and killed in Portland, Oregon, during a confrontation between supporters of President Trump and demonstrators protesting police brutality in the pro.


Trump supporters had staged a rally that involved driving through downtown Portland, where they clashed with protesters who have demonstrated there for months since the police killing of George Floyd, the man who was shot and killed, who was wearing a hat with the insignia of Hatriot Prayer, a far right group based in the Portland area that has clashed with protesters in the past.


President Trump, who has repeatedly highlighted the unrest in Portland in his reelection campaign, said it was the latest evidence that Democratic run cities are out of control. In a tweet defending his supporters, the president wrote, quote, The big backlash going on in Portland cannot be unexpected.


In response, his Democratic rival, Joe Biden, accused the president of, quote, recklessly encouraging violence.


That's it for The Daily, I'm Michael Barbaro. See you tomorrow. Would you pay 100 dollars for a six pack of beer, could you, as climate change disrupts global agriculture? We're approaching a future where everyday items, including beer, will be far more expensive. Of course, beer will be the least of our problems. The economic consequences of climate change will make 2020 look small in comparison. That's why fat tire amber ale is now America's first national carbon neutral certified beer.


It's a good start, but it's not enough. Learn more and take action to solve climate change at drink sustainably. Dotcom.