A Conversation with Matthew Horace: Former Federal Agent Shines Light Behind the Blue Line
Mathew Horace’s new book The Black and The Blue illuminates police culture and policies and how African Americans are affected. It is a detailed and sometimes harrowing account of the tenuous relationship between law enforcement and communities of color. From the corruption of city governments throughout the United States, the murders of unarmed men by police officers, to the embedded racial biases in places such as Ferguson, Missouri, Horace writes an account of America from a law enforcement perspective that every American should be concerned with.
Denver Urban Spectrum: There was a scene in Boys In the Hood where a Black cop throws a Black teenager against the squad car and put the barrow of a Smith and Wesson under his chin. The policeman taunts the teenager by calling him names such as nigga and tells him, I hate little mother fuckers like you. He threatens to blow his head off and reminds him that it wasn’t shit he could do about it. A tear rolls down the teenager’s face and the Black cop, reluctantly lets him go. The cop seemed reflective for a brief moment, seething with anger and maybe self-hatred - a Black cop in the middle of two opposing worlds. The constant exposer to violence, drugs, and gangs may have made the character in the film so bitter that he adopted the attitude of his white co-workers. After all, in the real world, it must be difficult for a Black man to be part of an organization that is considered to be an enemy occupying force instead of protectors.
Matthew Horace: We make the point in the book, this is not just a Black and white issue, it’s a Black and blue issue. Baltimore is a city that has a 52 percent Black police department. They had Black mayors, they have a Black city council, and they have a Black police chief. But none the less, they still find themselves under the constraints of a consent decree. The issue is not only white police officers.
This involves a broader issue. My point (of this book) is to paint a very realistic picture of the culture of policing in the United States. The culture of policing does not involve just one officer, two officers, three officers, it involves a systematic culture that allows things to happen, like some of the things we see. And then, even after these things happen, it will enable a system that says to the police that we are being attacked. Because these things are now on video because the world is now seeing it, then we are under attack, not the public, we’re (law enforcement) under attack because no one likes cops.
Which is definitely not true, because when you get in trouble, you call the police. But what police don’t want to do, police do not want to be called to the carpet. We need to get to the point where everyone is listening. That is the main reason I wrote this book. I realized when I was one CNN weekend and week out, talking about the same things, no one was listening. Many of the officers are not listening, the police chiefs are not listening. The more progressive chiefs are listening to what the public is saying, and I point that out in my book. You have to be with the community, not against it. I just felt that no one was listening, not even the community was listening.
DUS: The incidents in Ferguson helped birth the Black Lives Matter movement. Do you think we could have started a campaign like this without the Ferguson incident? More Blacks are killed by other Blacks than are killed by cops. After all,a life is a life.
MH: That’s an Interesting question. We are not allowed as a culture to make that argument. The argument, according to some, is meaningless because no one talks about white-on-white crime or Hispanic on Hispanic crime. So why do we have to say Black-on-Blackcrime. We are not allowed to make that statement because it has nothing to do with the police. Some educators say we should not use the term Black-on-Black crime. The question do black lives matter?No they don’t matter because every measurable statistic tells you that our lives don’t matter. A prime example is how we are treating the opioid crises versus how we treat the crack crises versus how we teach. I live here in Denver, and they are talking about having supervised injection sites for an illegal drug.
DUS: One of the things mentioned in your book several times by you and others is the need for better police training. Can you comment on that?
MH: This is twofold;there’s training and proper screening. In the screening process, we screen officers for every behavior that we think would not be appropriate in the governess of our jobs, with the exception of bias. We do polygraph examinations, background investigations, but we don’t do anything that would screen bias. So, in my opinion, I think that needs to be a part of the process of moving this profession forward, because if you don’t accept people that you know possess those biases, that can’t be held in check enough to be professional, then you shouldn’t be on the job. Moving away from screening to training; understanding how your biases impact how you communicate, and how you treat others becomes very important.
Once you identified that you have these biases, how do you keep them in check and how do you approach them in a way that you are able to self-govern yourself to ensure that you are not treating people unfairly because you have the power to.
DUS: What can the average citizen do to make things better?
MH: Our communities can do a better job by reaching out to our police departments. Every church can offer a social justice or law enforcement ministry. We can create those relationships, so when issues do occur, you already have a built-in line of communications, and you are able to come to the table. You create this in times of peace, so you are in a better position to communicate in times of tension. From a broader standpoint, I think that all police departments need to take a frank and honest and open look at some of the things that happened and work toward criminal justice reform. It’s not just policing, it’s the entire system. At every level, city government, city executives, justices’ lawyers, judges, it’s just a failure.
First, acknowledge the problems and then worktogether.
Editor’s note: Matthew Horace will present a talk and book signing event at the Blair Caldwell African American Research Library on Thursday, Feb. 21 from 6 to 8 p.m. The public isinvited this free event. For more information, call 303-292-6446 or 303-865-2401.