I really don’t like feel-good cop stories—especially not while there’s a national discussion going on about systemic racism in policing. Every time the Black Lives Matter movement gains traction, you can expect a flurry of cop-aganda stories involving cops hugging a Black child, pulling Black people over and giving them ice cream, or playing basketball with Black kids. Cops love to show themselves doing everything with Black people but addressing the issue at hand: They’re killing us, and it needs to stop.
But I recently came across a video made by a Black California police officer who decided to directly address racism in policing and, to my surprise, he actually said some real shit.
The Mercury News reports that Sgt. Robert Nelson of the Tustin Police Department shared a cell phone video he made in May where he discussed the death of George Floyd and the subsequent fallout for Minneapolis police officers. He also speaks about violent protests, and he managed to do it in a way that doesn’t condemn the protesters. Nelson said he made the video for his “Compton folks,” and he didn’t expect it to go any further than his circle, but it ended up being viewed by the Tustin police chief, who expressed that he was proud of Nelson for putting himself out there like that.
In the video, Nelson is seen wearing a black hoodie and a cap on backwards.
“I would love to do this in full uniform,” he tells his viewers. “But because of certain policies, and me sharing my personal opinion, it’s just safer this way.”
He begins with an anecdote about him having a door slammed in his face and how he was “called a murderer” and “told all I do is kill people” by a woman who he said he “helped two years ago when she was scared to go home to her abusive boyfriend.” He said that his “feelings weren’t even hurt because I don’t work in Minneapolis where the officers who were not involved [in Floyd’s death] are getting it handed to them a thousand times worse than I did.”
Nelson goes on to talk about what happened to Floyd, and it’s during that part of the video he made a point that had never really occurred to me.
From Mercury News:
“Is this about race or is this about training?” he asks. “I personally believe this may have played out differently if George was not Black. But I believe more that if the crowd around him were not Black, it most certainly would have played out differently.”
Due to “ego and pride,” he surmises, the Minneapolis Police officers involved in Floyd’s death “didn’t want to seem inferior (by) conceding to those around them.”
“They would have taken that as a loss,” he continues. “For that moment in time, they didn’t think about the worst-case scenario and how it would affect their family or their job or even Mr. Floyd.”
Obviously, I’m of the opinion that if Floyd were white he’d still be alive. But I never thought much about the fact that the Blackness of the surrounding crowd might be why pleas for the officers to stop pinning Floyd down and to get the hell off of his neck went ignored. Black attitudes and emotions are often perceived as inherently threatening and are often met with more aggression and a lack of empathy by police officers.
Nelson then went on to address the wave of protests and violence that took place in the wake of Floyd’s death.
“I’m not going to tell anyone how they should express their frustrations,” he said. “Rioting in African American culture goes as far back as Nat Turner revolting against slave traders. I’m reluctant to say that I get it.”
“I’ll be sure to teach my kids that there are other ways to effect change,” he added. “I despise the destruction of your own neighborhood and the devastation it causes to business owners. That behavior comes with consequences. It gives more fuel and ammunition to conservative Americans to paint you as self-destructive creatures.”
Nelson also addresses the idea of hiring officers who are from the communities they’re tasked with protecting and serving.
“The police force should try to employ people who look and have similar experiences to the community they serve,” he said. “You can’t keep hiring these cookie-cutter people with perfect backgrounds who never overcame challenges (that led to) minor issues in their backgrounds.”
After Nelson’s roughly 10-minute monologue, the video cuts to him dressed in a police uniform.
“I’m Sgt. Robert Nelson,” he announces. “My job is my calling, but before that, I’m a human being and a Black person. I chose my career; I was born Black.”
Nelson closes his video saying, “To my Compton folks, everything I do in this job I do with you in mind. To my law enforcement folks, we got this. We can turn this thing around.”
The video was recently viewed by Tustin Police Chief Stu Greenberg who not only welcomed the message and promoted it with his own introduction, he expressed admiration for Nelson.
“I was completely impressed that Rob was willing to put his neck out there and share, from his own unique perspective, something so important to him,” Greenberg said.
“Chief Greenberg texted me, ‘I’m proud of you,’” Nelson said. “I thought, ‘Oh, man.’ I didn’t understand how it got to him so quickly. But he was very complimentary. That means a lot to me.”
You can view the full video, including an introduction from Greenberg, below: