(Police aiming at a protester in Ferguson’s business district on August 11, 2014. Photograph by Scott Olson for Getty. Below, Maywood Police Chief Valdimir Talley. Photograph by Michael Romain for the Village Free Press).
Thursday, August 21, 2014 || By Michael Romain
In the wake of the murder of Michael Brown, an unarmed African-American man who was shot by police in Ferguson, Missouri, a torrent of national rage and criticism has descended on the small Missouri town from all kinds of angles. You can read some of the best online analysis of the Ferguson case here and here. But a lot of that multi-directional criticism has been aimed at the striking disparity between Ferguson’s black population (more than 60 percent) and the percentage of black officers on its police force (6 — as in black people comprise six percent of the police force for a town that is 60 percent black). This disparity may underlie another major point of criticism surrounding this case — the bewildering way in which the Ferguson police have handled the mostly unarmed, mostly black, mostly peaceful protesters who materialized after the fatal shooting. This criticism, in turn, leads into a third major point of national concern — the militarism of Ferguson’s local police, replete with GI-Joe-style riot gear, automatic assault weapons and big reinforced vehicles.
On August 14, U.S. News & World Report released an astonishing set of charts that it produced with information obtained from the Missouri Attorney General’s office. The charts comprise one of the most striking illustrations yet of how significant is the Ferguson Police department’s racial disparity both to Michael Brown’s murder and to the department’s reaction to the public outcry in the days and weeks afterward.
Maywood Police Chief Valdimir Talley weighed in on the Ferguson crisis during a recent interview:
What are your thoughts on Ferguson?
All I can do, as a chief, is speculate. As an administrator, though, I’ll say this. Even though I wasn’t a Navy Seal, one of the things I like about their ethos is that they take responsibility for their actions. That’s something the [Ferguson] police chief should do. If he’s in a community where he knows there’s a lot of ethnic minorities who collectively represent a large pool of human resources, he should make every effort at trying to cultivate that pool of resources. He can do that multiple ways — one is recruiting; going to any number of organizations (i.e., the Urban League, the NAACP, etc.) and asking them for assistance. That’s just for the African-American base. There’s bound to be Latin Americans as well. He needs to cultivate them, too.
As a chief, you have to look at your demographics and you have to have a police department that’s reflective of your community. It’s difficult getting females, for instance, but it can be done. If may mean working with your local board of fire and police commissioners or the equivalent, or reviewing your merit system or changing your interview process. All those things help to develop a diverse workforce. Absent a divorce workforce, you encounter the kind of problems you see in Ferguson. Inevitably, you get a group of people who express a concern or have a need for which the police express no sympathy or have no understanding about. As police, we have to be aware of multiple cultures and economic levels and we have to respond to the needs of each and every one of those groups with fairness and equity.
I only have news reports and accounts on this, but from what I’ve seen in the news reports, the officer [who killed Michael Brown] made a poor decision, which could’ve been due, in part, to the fact that he was raised in a cultural environment devoid of the enriching experience of being around individuals from underrepresented groups. He may have been protected from those positive experiences.
What do you think of the Federal government giving small, local police departments military-grade equipment such as tanks and riot gear? Is that stuff necessary in any instance?
My background is in Homeland Security and I will always advocate and support a community’s ability to protect itself in whatever way it can from any kind of threat or hostile force. From what I see on the news media, there are about 8 to 10 people who are causing the raucous. For the most part, the crowds are out there protesting. It’s how the police are dealing with those individuals that is the problem. That’s just my opinion. I don’t have all of the facts. I wish I had more information, but from what I can see and read, it looks like there’s a cultural divide.
Personally, I enjoy the richness of the Maywood community, because we’re diverse. I make a specific point of meeting business owners and going to community organizations so they can know that I’m everybody’s chief, not just the chief of one group. My last name is Talley, which is Dublin Irish. My family has Latin roots that trace to Portugal. Of course, I’m from Africa, which makes me African-American. I feel that I’m a unique reflection of all the communities and groups that exist here in our Village and that’s why I think I can be effective. Looking at Ferguson, the police chief there needs to be more sensitive to the entire needs of the community. His excuse is that he can’t find any [black people]. That’s not an excuse, that’s a lack of effort, in my opinion. VFP
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