SBS 301 Cultural Diversity/Prof. Koptiuch         Fall 2007        Personal Memory Ethnographies

Andrew Doom

Professional Racists

     In the fall of 1991, I vividly remember an incident that occurred while I was participating in a “ride-along” with a police department in the Phoenix valley area.  A police officer who I used to lift weights with, had asked me if I wanted to go with him and observe police work close up.  Since at that time I had wanted to be a police officer, I naturally jumped at the chance.  It was a Friday night shift and I was tremendously excited because Friday nights tend to be busy.  I was going to get a first hand look at my desired future career! 

     Things were actually very quiet that night for the most part.  We made a stop at a small local Denny’s restaurant to meet up with other officers and touch base with the exciting graveyard shift happenings.  One of the other officers was looking toward the door when he made the following comment: “Who left the lid off the trash can?”  I turned around to see what he was referring to.  I don’t remember the exact number, but at least two Hispanic youths had just walked in the restaurant.  I was in utter shock.  What kind of outlandish comment was this coming from a “professional” police officer? Since I was a guest and not really familiar with this group of people, I decided not to say anything and to ask my officer friend about it later.  


     It was a pleasant autumn evening and my close friends and I had just gotten off of work that night.  All of us, young Hispanic males, decided that we wanted to stop by the local Denny’s restaurant and have something to eat.    We weren’t really dressed to dine out, but it would take too long to go home.  Our decision was to eat now and go home later to watch a little late-night television and sleep. 

     Before we entered the Denny’s, we noticed a few freshly-washed police cruisers sitting in the parking lot.  At least we were going to eat in peace with the police being in the restaurant.  As we entered the restaurant, we noticed the mostly white police officers sitting in the back of the restaurant.  It appeared that there was a young white civilian sitting with them with his back to us.   The civilian was probably one of the police officer’s friends joining the rest of them for a late dinner.
     Just before the waitress cordially greeted us, I specifically heard one of the officers say, “Who left the lid off of the trash can?”   All of the officers turned around and looked in our direction.  I realized that the comment was directed at my friends and I.  Now I didn’t feel so good about our eating experience.


     What made this incident especially powerful for me is the fact that in July of the same year, I had just married my beautiful wife of now 16 years.  She is a Mexican woman from Mexico.  I feel a closeness to the Mexican people.  I have always loved their language and their music.  When I was in high school, I studied the Spanish language for two years.  I always got A’s on my tests.  At Glendale Community College, I studied   Spanish for an additional semester.  In the summer of 1990, I met my current wife.  We started dating in October of 1990 and in July of 1991, we were married.  I remain fascinated by her culture.

     I couldn’t help but wonder if my officer friend thought of Hispanics in the same way as his colleagues.  I don’t remember his reaction to the comments made and I don’t remember asking him about it later.  But I do know now that he does not think of Hispanics in the same way as his then cohorts did.
     I was disgusted at the specific police officer who made the remark and his complete lack of professionalism.  Since I was a young child, I have had several good friends whose fathers were in law enforcement.  My next-door neighbor at one time was a police chief.  His son was my good friend.  Some of my wife’s family was also in law   enforcement.  At no time did they conduct themselves in an unprofessional manner.  I always understood that police officers were public servants.  As the writing on their vehicles states, they are to protect and serve. They are to protect and serve, regardless of ethnic or racial background.  It is extremely unethical and unprofessional to refer to Hispanic youths as trash in our society.  

     I realize that some of our youth and even some Hispanics participate in unruly and   criminal behavior.  I also realize that some Hispanic youth are involved in gangs and   wreaking havoc in the community.  That does not make them trash.  It also does not give members of law enforcement a license to go around and refer to Hispanic youths as elements of a garbage can.  These officers needed to realize that a civilian observer was present and overheard them make their comments.  And the overall example they were portraying was not right.  I was not impressed with their behavior. 


     Who did those officers think we were anyway?   Did they think we were a bunch of low-life scum just because we were young Hispanic males with brown skin?  Perhaps they thought they were better than we are because they were white police officers and we   were just laborers?.  What kind of professionals were they?  At this point, we actually felt   a touch of racism and discrimination.  And we are supposed to look up to those officers?  Their behavior was totally unprofessional.  We were relieved when they got up to leave about 30 minutes later.  Our perception of law enforcement had been changed. 


     I am today still involved with the law enforcement community and still have several   friends who are officers or retired officers.  I am extremely thankful that their attitudes are not like those officers I observed back in 1991.  As a police officer, there is no room for that kind of behavior or attitude.  People deserve the same treatment and respect regardless of race or ethnicity.  It sets an extremely bad example and leads to becoming a “black eye” in the community when members of law enforcement engage in behavior and speech that puts down people of a certain ethnic background.

     Looking back on this incident, I thoroughly understand the “borderlands of difference.”  What was taking place was a clash between white “professional” police officers and whom they perceived as young, Hispanic, gang members.  The police officers were of one socio-economic class and the young Hispanic males were of another.  This incident took place right after a large group of Hispanic immigrants had come to the United States to start a new life.  This incident was a result of stereotyped perceptions based on skin color and appearance.  It was an unfortunate display of so-called professionals not being professional. 

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