Duckler: Killings renew focus on race relations

  • Timothy Knoll, right, joins other protestors in a chant during a Black Lives Matter rally outside the Salt Lake City Public Safety Building, Saturday, July 9, 2016. (Spenser Heaps/Deseret News via AP) Spenser Heaps

Monitor columnist
Published: 7/10/2016 12:19:34 AM

Listen to the black woman, a board member on the New Hampshire Civil Rights Commission. Listen to her son, too.

Racism is entrenched within our nation’s police departments, they say, and that’s why black people, mostly men, are being shot and killed. That’s why the white officers involved are not being charged. They’re certainly not doing time, either.

Listen to the white men, the police chiefs in our state. People in law enforcement are fair and honest, they say. Look at their brothers in Dallas who risked their lives to save others, before five officers were killed.

Listen to the country, hear its voices, watch the TV news clips, see the blood.

Fifty years after the height of the Civil Rights movement and 20 years after O.J., here we are, drawing lines between the races, pointing fingers, killing each other.

Everything is now black and white.

Examine the issues, however, and nothing is black and white.

As Merrimack County Sheriff Scott Hilliard told me by phone last week, “I don’t know how our country has evolved to where it is today, on July 8, 2016. It scares me to think that people have evolved to such hatred. Not only of law enforcement, but disrespect of one another.”

The story is enormous, of historic nature. A black man was shot and killed last week in Baton Rouge while officers tried to arrest him. It was caught on video, of course.

Then a black man was shot and killed after a traffic stop a day later in Falcon Heights, Minn. His girlfriend filmed the aftermath, with the man sitting beside her soaked in blood and her young daughter in the back seat providing comfort.

From there, a sniper, identified as a black Army reservist, took deadly aim at white officers on the streets of Dallas Thursday while marchers protested peacefully, marking the deadliest incident involving police deaths since Sept. 11. Five cops died, seven more were wounded.

“I sat here and couldn’t go to bed and waited until 3 in the morning until I had to drag myself to bed,” Hilliard said. “I’m an optimist and I have strong faith, and those are the things we have to rely on right now. We need leadership. Martin Luther King would be, or is, turning over in his grave after thinking about what happened (Thursday) night.”

Few clear-thinking people, other than perhaps various black militant groups, believe retaliation was justified. The sniper was a cold-blooded killer, targeting officers who were working with the crowd, keeping the area safe.

“This is some of our greatest fears realized, what happened in Dallas,” said David Goldstein, Franklin’s police chief. “But I want to stress something I saw on the news, which was officers, no matter the situation, taking the public and putting them in positions of safety and running toward the gun fire.”

Then he continued: “I wish I could come up with a quip that could put this all into place, but there’s so much we don’t understand.”

To black people, though, enough information has surfaced to know exactly what’s going on, and this goes well beyond merely last week. These videos began spilling out over and over again three years ago.

They see cops pulling blacks over for minor or make-believe traffic offenses because of skin color, and they see cops shooting blacks because of skin color. It stems from our culture, they say, our socialization, leading to our perception of African Americans, especially men, as dangers to society.

So said Jerrianne Boggis of Milford, the head of the Portsmouth Black Heritage Trail and a board member for the New Hampshire Civil Rights Commission for the past five years.

Boggis, who is black, sees it this way: “It’s a system, and the police are within our system that is also within our bigger culture of a racist society. They suffer from the same sickness our country does.

“When the police see a black man they read it in a certain way, and when they see a white man they read it in a certain way. The history and socialization has told the police that a black man is a danger to society, wild and crazy, no control, all these stereotypes.”

Boggis sees the issue through a unique prism: Her husband is white. He’s also a cop, Sgt. Vint Boggis of the Peterborough Police Department.

The couple have had plenty of dinner-table talks in recent years, as the black community has accused police of racism, while police have stressed the danger involved in their jobs, saying suspicious behavior and non-compliance will lead to violence.

“Some cases (Vint) will say bad policing and some he will say the police had to protect themselves,” Jerrianne said. “On some of them we disagree, about the use of excessive force.”

They have two grown children. One is 32-year-old information technology specialist Marcus Boggis of Manchester. He said his father is a good cop, a great cop, in fact.

He also said racism among police is very real.

“It’s hard to put into words because it’s so depressing,” Marcus said. “You can’t deny it; it’s on video. If this can happen and there is no punishment, what incentive is there within the system to change it?”

On the Dallas massacre, Marcus said, “There was an equal amount of tragedy. With Black Lives Matter, you won’t hear anyone saying that is the proper response. It was just as disturbing as the incident that sparked it in the first place.”

Vint Boggis could not be reached for comment. Jerrianne, choosing her words carefully because of her husband’s career, said that her faith in police overall, in their integrity, their honor, is limited.

Speaking about her sons, she said, “There is a sense that if they are pulled over, that police are not there to protect and serve black men.”

Dave Watters is a white Democratic state senator from Dover who teaches African American literature and history at the University of New Hampshire. He adopted a black son, Harper Watters, who’s a professional ballet dancer currently touring through Australia.

Emphasizing a race war when talking about the Dallas shooting was unfair, Dave Watters said, because only one shooter was involved, not several, as was first speculated.

“This does not sound like an organized effort,” Watters said.

But, he added, Harper was told to be mindful about police and their perceptions while growing up.

“When he became a young teen, my wife and I had the talk, that you have to be careful,” Watters said. “He had a good experience growing up in New Hampshire, but as a parent of a black child, this is always in the back of your mind, that worry that something can happen.”

Officers I spoke to, all police chiefs, all white, preferred to break down the issue, limit it to New Hampshire rather than cast aspersions on authorities in other states.

They admit the lack of diversity here gives them less of a barometer with which to judge. But predictably, New Hampshire’s chiefs are proud of their tolerance, judgment and professionalism.

“I can not intelligently speak on something we don’t face in our region,” said Center Harbor police Chief Mark Chase, who’s a member of the N.H. Association of Chiefs of Police. “But New Hampshire law enforcement treats people fairly, and I’m proud that as the diversity here increases, you’re not seeing problems.”

Hilliard said, “I do not have a prejudiced bone in my body, and I’m proud I’ve been considered fair in my 36 years.”

Goldstein used similar words to defend himself, saying, “I don’t have a bigoted bone in my body. When I stop a car, I don’t care what the person looks like, but I can’t answer for 800,000 other police officers. I don’t tolerate it in my department and I have not seen it.”

I know both these men professionally and believe them. In fact, New Hampshire seems to have a good track record in this area. We never hear complaints in the newsroom about prejudicial treatment by police toward minorities.

But there’s no denying that our mostly white population could factor into this. There’s also no denying that blacks see life differently than whites.

Just ask Jerrianne Boggis. She’s looking outside our borders, seeing events on TV, watching the news, hearing the voices, seeing the blood.

“I hear it’s a few bad apples doing this, it’s not a reflection of the police force, or it’s not racism but just someone having a bad day,” Boggis said. “But they need to own up to it. I’m frustrated and tired over the same old story.”

Ray Duckler bio photo

Ray Duckler, our intrepid columnist, focuses on the Suncook Valley. He floats from topic to topic, searching for the humor or sadness or humanity in each subject. A native New Yorker, he loves the Yankees and Giants. The Red Sox and Patriots? Not so much.

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