SACRAMENTO – The weeks following the May 25 death of George Floyd at the knee of a White police officer in Minneapolis, Minnesota have been filled with outrage and an outpouring of civil action. There’s also been the killing of another Black man, Rayshard Brooks, by a White officer at an Atlanta Wendy’s parking lot. Closer to home, outrage from the Black community prompted two Southern California police departments to investigate the hanging deaths of two men that they initially deemed to be suicides.
As part of its continuing coverage of the aftermath, The OBSERVER spoke with Sacramento’s first Black police chief, Daniel Hahn, last week about his response to the protests, his thoughts on Floyd’s death at the hands of law enforcement and the reform that people here at home and across the country say they want. This week, we share the second part of our conversation with Chief Hahn, where we ask him about policing in the Black community and being a Black officer in times of unrest.
Q: There’s a Black vs. Blue mentality right now. What are your thoughts on that?
A: I see so much frustration and anger on both sides. This happened to me a couple of years ago during the protests (in Sacramento following the police shooting of Stephon Clark). I saw a picture the other day, I don’t remember what city it was in, but it was a White woman flipping off two Black police officers during the protests. I’m just like, wow. You’re protesting the treatment of Black men and you just flipped off two Black men, it’s as if they’re not Black men, they’re just police officers. If you look at the protests over the last several years, both the Stephon Clark protest and these protests, the people who get it the most in our department, when they’re on the lines of a protest or some of these events, are the Black officers. They get abused badly.
Q: How do you feel when members of the community call you, and I’ll clean it up, a traitor?
A: I won’t clean it up. I’ve been called Uncle Tom, a sell out. I’m ‘not their kind of Black.’ I’m kind of used to that. You never quite fully get used to it, but I’m a lot better at having it directed at me than I am at having it directed at my line-level officers. I’ve been Black since the day I was born, It’s not something that’s going to change and it’s not something I want to change. In moments of self-reflection, when I look at myself, the most foremost thing that I am is my mother’s son and probably the second thing is I am a Black man, and probably third, I’m a father and a husband and probably fourth or fifth is a police officer. It has a special kind of meaning for a Black officer when our own community is calling us a sell out solely because of the color of a shirt we wear for eight or 10 hours a day and it doesn’t mean that that doesn’t come with challenges inside the department either. It hits to the core of who you are and who you look at yourself as.
Q: What conversations do you have with officers on this subject?
A: We spend a good deal of time, not just with Black officers, talking to officers. We do some things where we get people together and talk about our experiences — experiences inside the department and outside the department so we can all learn from each other. A lot of times people (say), ‘I had no idea.’ I’ve done some instruction inside the department with the management team about history and things like that. I always likened it to the Martin Luther King quote where he says it’s cruel to tell someone to pull themselves up by their bootstraps when they don’t have any boots.
Q. Sometimes officers’ mouths can be reckless and sometimes they say “extra” things in dealing with Black people. Can you understand where the animosity and distrust comes from, when many have negative experiences with the police?
A: Yes. That’s why credible messengers are so important, not just for the community, but the officers too … They’ve done a million studies on implicit bias and things like that. One thing I’ve consistently seen is when the question of ‘Who are the most feared people in our country?’ The answer is Black males. Who do Black people fear the most? Black males. Who do White people fear the most? Black males. Who do Hispanics fear the most? Black males, and that’s because of our society. It’s been either overtly or covertly pounded into our head. Just imagine you are a police officer. Maybe you grew up in Granite Bay or something like that and now we assign you to Del Paso Heights and the vast majority of your calls are going to be, because it’s a diverse community, you don’t go to the good calls. Grandma isn’t calling you over for cookies and milk. You’re going to shootings, you’re going to see some sort of domestic abuse or someone prostituting women out or gang shootings. That’s what you go to because you’re a police officer. That’s a large part of your job and if the vast majority of your calls are minorities — Hispanics and Blacks — over time it would be pretty natural for you to start thinking ‘people in this community, they’re not very good people because all I ever see are the really bad, horrific things people are doing to each other in this community,’ so it’s really important for us to have and find experiences where we can show officers that there are good people in the community.
Q. You’ve talked about creating opportunities for officers to interact with young people in positive spaces such as Impact Sac and its Teen Mental Health sessions. What’s the impact of that?
A: We’re basically showing each other’s hearts. Instead of what’s on the exterior, like a uniform versus sagging pants or whatever. That’s the ‘walk in my shoes’ part. That’s why we do this … If we don’t partner with our community right now, we’re going to continue going through this and people might believe things that aren’t true, just based on their experiences.
Q: On one hand, you’ve shared the same space as Stevante Clark, the brother of Stephon Clark, who maintains you should have fired the two officers who killed his brother, and that seemed to be progress, then on the other hand Black leaders were chastised for kneeling and marching with you recently in Oak Park, by folks who said ‘how dare you walk with the police officers if we’re protesting against them and their actions.’ How do we get beyond this point? How do you get to the point where a family, that has something so tragic as this happen because of their interaction with the police, can dialogue with you?
A: I think part of it is that I’m from this community. It is not somewhere that I’m going to leave after I retire. I don’t think you can discount the Clark family themselves. This is not a family who advocated for burning the police department down — even right after the shooting. There’s been different times when either Stevante or Grandma Sequita have said, ‘We’re not mad at the police department, we’re mad at those two officers.’ I just saw Stevante and Sequita this weekend. I gave both of them a hug and they hugged me. Sequita just invited me over to the house last week for a prayer vigil. You don’t see that in other cities.
It’s easy if you are a line level officer to say, ‘How dare that family? That shooting was within the law, everyone says it was within the law, how dare the family keep bashing the police department?’ The one thing I keep saying is, no matter what you think about the actual shooting, none of these family members had anything to do with that. I don’t care what the facts are, how would you feel if your family member was shot in the backyard? Forget the facts, whether you think it’s justifiable or not justifiable, how would you feel? I just think about my daughters. I wouldn’t care how they died, if they died I’d be devastated. I don’t know what I’d do. It’s about humanizing. Let’s not let all our emotions take over from all of the things that have happened since that shooting and recognize that they are a family that lost a loved one. They have nothing to do with that, nothing, and think of them as that. Don’t think of him as someone who’s yelling at you or is angry with you. Just think of them as someone that lost their loved one at the hands of someone who wore a uniform that looks just like yours and just understand that’s a lot of pain.
I’ve been on panels, not just with Stevante, but others, where I’m just getting slammed and I just tell myself — as hard as that is, and as angry as I get when people are flat-out lying sometimes and are saying other things — they are expressing their anger, their trauma so I just let them get it out.
Q: People say there needs to be more diversity in the police department to better reflect the city’s population.
A: It isn’t about diversity for diversity’s sake. I don’t want entirely Black or entirely gay officers or women officers just to check off a box. I want them to be good officers. I think it sets us back if we hire half-stepping folks in diverse categories, because then there will be some people who say ‘see, told you they can’t be cops.’ So it’s not a matter of hiring for diversity sake, it’s a matter of hiring quality people. I think there are qualified people in every category. It’s how do we attract them, how do we make this a profession that they want to be?
Q: What keeps you at it in law enforcement?
A: Obviously I’m Black and obviously I’m a police officer and I wouldn’t change either one. I love being Black, I’ve never regretted it for one second in my entire life and I love being a police officer. I’ve lived in this community my entire life and I’ve been a part of the police department since I was 19 years old. I believe in both and I know that because of my connection to this community and this police department for all my life pretty much, I know we can get to where we need to be in terms of all of the community having faith in the police and all police officers having faith in their community. I don’t think we’ll get there during my career; as a matter of fact, I know we won’t. You don’t change 300-400 years of history in a span of two or three years, but my job, like I said at my swearing-in, is to drive that bus as far down the road of reconciliation, togetherness, partnership and trust as far as I possibly can in the time that I’m police chief here.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: To read the first part of Senior Staff Writer Genoa Barrow’s interview with Chief Hahn, visit http://sacobserver.com/2020/06/chief-daniel-hahn-discusses-police-training/
By Genoa Barrow | Observer Senior Staff Writer