African American's Must Heed Call To Serve Community

by Marlon A Onias on Jan. 02, 2017

Civil & Human Rights 

Summary: People of color must serve their communities through public service as law enforcement officials.

Over the past several months, I have seen the brittle relationship between the African-American community and law enforcement further deteriorate.

As an Afro-Latino and a former law-enforcement officer, I stand watch from a peculiar place in that I relate to both the officer and people of color. I have found it all too interesting to see the pundits introduce additional issues into the one and only true salient issue of the hour: How do you fix a problem that at its core was never truly an "American" concern?

The people seek justice from a system that knows no justice and scoffs at fairness. A system that was created with an ancillary purpose to keep those in bondage who had been freed. The American system of justice has for hundreds of years shown genuine bias against its least-favored son and will continue to do so unless young African-American men and women act.

I pray that this column serves as a rallying cry for them to commit to serving their communities by way of law enforcement and in courtrooms across America. Their presence is needed to tip the scales of justice and right the wrong.

America's judicial system in 1940, by what is now known to be providence, encountered one of its most radical social engineers our nation has ever seen. As the founder of the NAACP's Legal Defense Fund, Thurgood Marshall possessed an undeniable drive to fight injustice in our courts, risking life and limb time after time. Armed with a solid argument and a quick wit, he helped change the course of America forever. Whether as an attorney or a U.S. Supreme Court justice, Marshall knew that in order to effect true and lasting change, he had to serve.

We stand now in a nation in which we reap the fruits of Marshall's work, and that of many men and women like him who have benefited all Americans.

America as a nation must genuinely understand that the wounds inflicted by law enforcement during Jim Crow, segregation and the civil-rights movement are still present, and although the situation is different in 2014 compared to 1940, a spirit of distrust and a sense of oppression by law enforcement lingers over many African-American communities.

The cold, hard fact is that the New York Police Department, or any other socially dysfunctional police department, will not provide proper training on cultural diversity to European-American officers, because most do not care. Cultural-diversity training serves as politically correct burdens departments are loath to bear; however, to present a façade and gain access to federal funds, they play along.

Unfortunately, many law-enforcement agencies carry a residue of segregation, serving as the last bastion of divide between the African-American communities and government. At its true form, policing is proactive and interactive, not counteractive. Methods of policing such as utilizing foot patrols are seldom seen, robbing the communities of vital interactions with officers, along with the relationships they foster. Palpable change in relations with law enforcement will not be realized until we accept that change will not take place until we choose to serve.

Accountability is on both the African-American community and law enforcement. As a whole, members of the African-American community must learn to forgive all the hurts inflicted upon them by law enforcement. They must genuinely understand that law enforcement at its core is noble, just and no longer an oppressive force used to eviscerate the civil rights of Americans.

One of the most effective ways to change an organization is from the inside. If we want to see cognizable change in law-enforcement interaction with minority communities, young people must answer the call. No true change will ever happen until many more choose to serve.

My prayer is that by the year 2064, the discord in race relations in 2014 will seem as distant as the civil unrest of 1964 is now. America is but a young nation that is continuing to grow and develop into a more perfect union, and as the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. eloquently alluded to, she will be one that does not see the color of one's skin but searches the content of one's character.

Choose to serve; our nation needs help.

Marlon A. Onias is a South Florida attorney, a former police detective and a U.S. Coast Guard veteran.

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