In Other Words: Stories of Police and Community

SCR Staff
 | Apr 11, 2019

Lea Coco and Erica LaVonn in Sheepdog.

The story of two people—Amina and Ryan—in Kevin Artigue’s gripping drama, Sheepdog, is complex and mysterious. Actually, it's a mystery within a love story because, in addition to being police officers and partners, Amina and Ryan are lovers. Until something happens that rocks their relationship to the core.

Artigue explains that the term “sheepdog” comes from a concept that suggests police officers are like sheepdogs, which have qualities of both sheep and wolf—including the capacity for violence—in order to do their job effectively. Read below to hear other voices on the stories and issues of community and law enforcement.


​David A. Love

The Untold Story of the Black Cop by David A. Love
From The Philadelphia Citizen
Black officers often experience conflicting loyalties to the community versus the department. Many face racial discrimination in their own departments, which helps explain why African-American police have their own organizations to look out for black interests and sometimes even their own unions, as in St. Louis, where the name of the African-American union—The Ethical Society of Police—hints at the internal chasm between the races. On the force, many report being subject to retaliation from their agency if they speak out against police corruption and abuse. And on the street, black officers are often victims of racial profiling, harassment and shootings from fellow officers.

Despite the introduction of inclusive hiring policies, police culture has not changed, and a “blue mentality” has prevailed in cities with a majority black and brown population—including localities with African-American police leadership.

Rochelle Bilal—who served as a Philadelphias police officer for 27 years before retiring—said she faced racism from her days at the police academy, and was called “Angela Davis” by her colleagues for not allowing white officers to commit misconduct in her presence.

A recent report dealing with Philadelphia' force found that blacks account for 80 percent of people shot by police, and black suspects in officer-involved shootings were most likely to be the subject of “threat perception failures”—unarmed and carrying a nonthreatening object such as a cellphone or wallet, but perceived by police as carrying a weapon. Whites, on the other hand, were most likely to be involved in a physical altercation with police leading to a shooting.

Internally, the black cop is often similarly targeted. Cariol Horne, an ex-Buffalo police officer who was fired for stopping a white fellow officer from choking a handcuffed man. The offending officer—who punched Horne in the face, requiring her to replace her bridge—was forced to retire after choking and punching other fellow officers, and indicted for federal civil rights violations against black teen suspects. But Horne has been fighting for her pension for 10 years.

In New York, Officer Edwin Raymond resorted to recording NYPD officials in an attempt to reform the department. He became the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit brought by a dozen cops of color who claimed the NYPD forced them to meet racially discriminatory arrest quotas against blacks and Latinos. Other NYPD officers have received death threats and lost backup on duty from other cops for piercing the blue wall of silence.

According to Rochelle Bilal, black officers have to ensure that they do not allow the system to change them, and stay grounded in the community.

“Because most of us do the job of policing, we move on up and disconnect ourselves from the communities that mold us. And then we separate ourselves from the people who raised us,” Bilal says. “Then you build this mentality of us versus them, and you get this false sense of security. Then, you find out you’re black again.”

Read the full article. David A. Love is a journalist and commentator who writes on politics, social justice, race and human rights. His work has been featured in numerous outlets including CNN, MSNBC and CBC news. He teaches in a social justice journalism lab at the Rutgers University School of Communications and Information.


​Ta-Nehisi Coates

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Quotes From His New York Times Bestseller
“You may have heard the talk of diversity, sensitivity training, and body cameras. These are all fine and applicable, but they understate the task and allow the citizens of this country to pretend that there is real distance between their own attitudes and those of the ones appointed to protect them. The truth is that the police reflect America in all of its will and fear, and whatever we might make of this country’s criminal justice policy, it cannot be said that it was imposed by a repressive minority. The abuses that have followed from these policies—the sprawling carceral state, the random detention of black people, the torture of suspects—are the product of democratic will.”

"You are a black boy, and you must be responsible for your body in a way that other boys cannot know. Indeed, you must be responsible for the worst actions of other black bodies, which, somehow, will always be assigned to you. And you must be responsible for the bodies of the powerful—the policeman who cracks you with a nightstick will quickly find his excuse in your furtive movements."

“It is not necessary that you believe that the officer who choked Eric Garner set out that day to destroy a body. All you need to understand is that the officer carries with him the power of the American state and the weight of an American legacy, and they necessitate that of the bodies destroyed every year, some wild and disproportionate number of them will be black.”

"In America, it is traditional to destroy the black body—it is heritage.”

“My work is to give you what I know of my own particular path while allowing you to walk your own.”

“Black people love their children with a kind of obsession. You are all we have, and you come to us endangered.”

“All my life I'd heard people tell their black boys and black girls to be 'twice as good,' which is to say 'accept half as much.' These words would be spoken with a veneer of religious nobility, as though they evidenced some unspoken quality, some undetected courage, when in fact all they evidenced was the gun to our head and the hand in our pocket. This is how we lose our softness. This is how they steal our right to smile. No one told those little white children, with their tricycles, to be twice as good.”

“The streets transform every ordinary day into a series of trick questions, and every incorrect answer risks a beat-down, a shooting, or a pregnancy. No one survives unscathed. And yet the heat that springs from the constant danger, from a lifestyle of near-death experience, is thrilling.”

Learn more about the book. Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent for The Atlantic. His book, Between the World and Me, won the National Book Award in 2015. He is the recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship.

In California News

“Why California’s proposed law on deadly police force isn’t as tough as it seems” Los Angeles Times April 4, 2019

Learn more about Sheepdog and buy tickets. This world premiere is part of the 22nd Pacific Playwrights Festival.