One of the Finalist for FPD Chief Is Black; So What?
Fayetteville is in the process of hiring a police chief. The need for doing so was brought on by the retirement of Chief Tom Bergamine. There is no doubt in my mind his decision to retire was the result of well over a year of allegations of racial proﬁ ling (also referred to as “Driving While Black”) directed at the Fayetteville Police Department. Although various reports showed that roughly three times as many black motorists were stopped and searched as whites, no concrete evidence of racial proﬁ ling was ever presented and Bergamine stood strong in defense of his personnel.
As is my routine, I walked to the street and picked up the Dec. 13 copy of The Fayetteville Observer newspaper. With my wife standing in the garage door, I opened the paper to look at headlines. In the Local & State section, there it was: “1 police chief ﬁnalist is black.” I literally screamed, “So what?”
My reaction grew out of what I see as the perilous condition in Fayetteville. We are a city divided by race. I am convinced that if this were not the case, The Fayetteville Observer would not have deemed it appropriate or necessary to print this headline.
It was stated by Jesus as recorded in Matthew 12:25, “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and every city or house divided against itself will not stand.” This quote is from the New King James version of the Bible.
Let me walk through just some of the destructive consequences that are possible, even probable, from this police chief selection process due to our racial divide and tension. First, given the obvious push from some sectors of the city for a black police chief and considering the tremendous racial tension that has brought us to this point, I cannot believe that Ted Voorhees, the recently hired city manager, can feel safe in making a selection based solely on qualiﬁ cations if doing so does not result in the selection of the black candidate. In light of Fayetteville’s unenviable record regarding forcing city managers to resign, this cannot bode well for high morale among city employees or for attracting and retaining quality employees.
Second, if the black candidate is selected, he will be expected to, as Attorney Allen Rogers is quoted in the article as saying in an email: “The fact that an African-American is one of two ﬁ nalist is extremely encouraging. The potential selection could offer a minority perspective in the way justice is administered and could improve biased perceptions that would be beneﬁ cial to the continued progress of this community.”
Given my experience in this town, that translates as he or she would be expected to agree that there is racial proﬁ ling, take action to correct the perceived resulting injustices and toe-the-line regarding any other complaints/allegations raised by those who have pressed the racial proﬁ ling issue. When I failed to toe-the-line regarding allegations of racial proﬁ ling and contended that Chief Bergamine and the Fayetteville Police Department were being treated unfairly in how the allegations were handled, one leader in that cause asked me, “How can you be black and say the things you say?” If the new black chief yields to this pressure without clear and substantiated reason for doing so, he or she will lose the respect and trust of many department personnel and of many citizens. It does not take tremendous insight to see the resulting condition of the Fayetteville Police Department/the citizens and what that resulting condition would mean to this city.
Third, in the racially tense and racially divided atmosphere of this city, how will citizens who were never comfortable with the handling of the racial-proﬁ ling allegations against the police department react to the selection of a black person as chief of police? The conversations I have had with people around the city and responses to my written comments on the racial proﬁ ling matter indicate that this group is sizeable. My suspicion is that if we did not have this racial divide and were without the debilitating racial tension, the selection would be accepted and even applauded by these citizens. However, that is not our circumstance. Very likely most who questioned the handling of the racial proﬁling allegations would see such a selection as political expediency. That is, seeking to please and calm a vocal segment without due consideration of the whole of this city. This view would conclude that the selection was not made based on qualiﬁcations, but on skin color. That conclusion would only further racially divide this city and insure the decline that comes to a divided city. Jesus spoke truth.
In the midst of what I have presented as a very disturbing condition of our city, there is a bit of encouragement, a glimmer of hope. The article by Andrew Barksdale reports that Jimmy Buxton, president of the local NAACP, said having a black police chief would be historic, but color is not his concern. Then he quotes Buxton directly as saying, “My main concern is qualiﬁ cation, more than anything else.” This is from a man who was at the center of pressing the allegations of racial proﬁ ling against the Fayetteville Police Department.
My prayer is that all the citizens of Fayetteville will have reason to believe that the selection of the next Fayetteville Chief of Police was made based on qualiﬁ cations and understand that this is as it should be. Without this result, I fear that what seems to be Fayetteville’s march toward self-destruction will continue.