09 May Forum Addresses Black Women – Police Brutality
Deputy Chief Catrina Shead stood facing a small luncheon audience on April 22, 2017, inside the headquarters of The Black Police Association of Greater Dallas. Yet just as her feet were planted singularly in Oak Cliff, the officer also thoughtfully, confidently, linked three different worlds.
The public forum focused on police brutality and Black women, areas that the Black, female, DPD officer could speak on from experience. The event was organized by Dr. Sheron Patterson, herself the daughter of a Black officer, to create understanding between police and the community in the wake of viral videos that depict how law enforcement dealt with Sandra Bland in Prairie View, Dajerria Becton in McKinney and, most recently, Jacqueline Craig in Fort Worth.
Shead spoke about her more than 22 years on the force as well as her son and daughter and their potential careers in law enforcement. She also spoke about the complex, sometimes violent relationship between peace officers and African American female civilians.
“The thing that I would like for people to know is that a lot of things are not said that need to be said as it relates to the police department’s response, as it relates to working with the community,” she offered. “A lot of times we don’t get the chance to openly say ‘I was Black way before I was blue.’”
Her ethnic identity takes precedence to her more so than what she does as a profession, just as it does for many women of color, the deputy chief acknowledged.
“We all were raised by, probably, a Black woman – probably in a not-so-affluent neighborhood. Probably, we saw White police officers come through, good or bad. We had the same perspectives on police departments, but we took a chance and we took a stand,” she declared in solidarity with those like her who chose to pin on a badge. “We had the courage to join the police department to try to effect a change.”
Patterson wants to effect change, too. As a faith leader in the community, the doctor noted that, as the result of police brutality cases against African American males, much is often made about private discussions regarding how Black boys should act when approached by an officer.
Black girls are not getting the same lessons, cautioned Carmen White of the District Attorney’s Office.
“What I did recognize when I was asked to come here, was this was a topic that needed to be discussed, because plenty of us are having conversations with our young Black men, but we’re not talking to our girls. There’s a lot about men and the police, and, sadly, men get beat up all the time; that’s just a sad fact,” Patterson conceded. “But when women started getting beat up, that’s when my antenna went all the way up and [I] said, ‘We’ve got to come talk about this.’”
The doctor took a moment to cite U.S.A. Today, which reported “… police incidents involving women of color occur at a disproportionately high level compared with media coverage.”
“That is inherent, but the media just won’t talk about it. More attention tends to be paid when victims of police brutality are men,” she said.
The community leader expressed her feelings from a place of contrast – how police abuse videos germinate fear and bitterness within viewers – but also considered the difficulty that came with being an officer.
“As the daughter of a policeman, I have both Black and blue running in my veins, and the blue in me knows about the sacrifice from the officers. The blue in me knows about the dedication of the officers to protect and serve, even when you’re getting cussed out and spit on. The blue in me knows about the dangers that police officers face and the frustrations that some officers feel when they see Black women thrown around,” Patterson said.
She underscored that the responsibility to stop police brutality should not simply be forced upon the potential victims of such abuses.
“So I believe that police have to be part of the solution, and their voices are very important, as much as ours,” she explained. “And that’s why I wanted them to be here today in the audience, mixed in with us, and not sitting up here on a panel where there’s separation.”
A similar sentiment moved Shead to attend the event.
“Some of the things that have happened, we’re always asking questions,” she said of Black officers. “We don’t like what happened in Fort Worth. We are not pleased by that.”
Shead discussed the high-profile video in which a mother – who had called the police after her son was allegedly assaulted by a neighbor – was later wrestled to the ground and arrested along with her daughter.
“That lady was our mother trying to stand up for her son,” the deputy chief decreed. “You know one thing you don’t do to a Black woman is mess with her son. We could all see ourselves in that place.”
She also drew some wry laughs from the crowd when she admitted that she had never met the Fort Worth police chief, who is Black, but hoped to.
“Because as a Black woman I would love to ask him some questions.”
She pointed out that police commanders had to have high standards because the rank and file officers on the streets represented the future of the department. As such, they would emulate the leadership model they witnessed as they came up.
“The impact of a decision that was made in Fort Worth has impacted us in Dallas. It hurts my heart to see a woman be done that way; it very well could have been me,” she voiced as the audience murmured in general agreement. “If I’m out of uniform in Forney, Texas, it could happen to me, and I realize that.”
She praised the forum organizer for offering a place to address such issues.
“This is a good start,” Shead insisted. “Often times in the Black community we have to watch things happen, never have a conversation or dialogue … and I can stand here in uniform, and I can stand here and be Black, and say those things were wrong. And I can stand here and say we, as a law enforcement community, we have apologized for that.”