African American metro Atlanta officers speak on overcoming bias

ATLANTA — Every day, African Americans across the country are subjected to bias. Law enforcement officers also face daily bias. Both of which cause bias to reach a new level for African American law enforcement officers.

Channel 2′s Mark Winne spoke with five Black police officers about how we overcome bias. Is police training enough? How do we all understand each other?

“I understand the plight of African Americans as it relates to law enforcement interactions. I’ve been profiled since I’ve been a chief not in uniform in a different state and I know that, let me be clear, racially profiled in another state, while off duty,” said Clayton County Police Chief Kevin Roberts.

“I lost friends just because of me being a police officer,” said Atlanta Police Field Training Officer Almatin Lamb.

“I had friends that stopped talking to me since I became a police officer...but they more so, they didn’t like the decision when I came over,” said Atlanta Police Officer Antoine Gaines.

“We are a microcosm of our society,” said Atlanta Police Chief Rodney Bryant. “You’re gonna have good and bad, you’re gonna have indifference, you’re gonna have people who have their biases, who aren’t familiar with certain ethnicities. What we do here is train to try to overcome that.”

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Winne asked the officers what it was like to be a Black man with a badge in the era following George Floyd’s death.

“Can you overcome what’s in somebody’s heart with training? You can’t overcome what’s in a person’s heart. What you can do is deal with their behavior, and if you can adjust their behavior you eventually adjust the way that they think,” said Chief Bryant.

“I think every officer in America should have been thinking the same thing [when they saw Derek Chauvin kneeling on Floyd]—that it was a complete and utter lack of empathy. It was absolutely wrong,” Lt. Ralph Woolfolk IV with the Atlanta Police Department.

“I was hurt. It’s magnified the divide between the community and all police departments across the nation, thousands times fold,” said Chief Roberts.

“It also showed that officers had a duty beyond just being present, that they had a duty to intervene, and again here in Atlanta we actually practice it,” said Chief Bryant.

When asked if they believe the George Floyd incident changed the way people on the street look at them, they answered that they believe it had.

Most definitely, how they perceive me as a black man in uniform. Will I help if I saw that? Of course I will. I wouldn’t have been in a situation where I would’ve personally stood by and watched that happen,” said Ofc. Gaines.

“One of the things that we admittedly had to do was make sure that we put it in our policy and train on having a level of duty to intervene,” said Chief Bryant.

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Despite representing just two departments, each of the men has their own path to policing.

“As you mature, you start to think about, ‘How can you affect positive change?,’” said Chief Roberts.

“[I] always wanted to serve and protect, more so help people that need help, who couldn’t speak for themselves,” said Ofc. Gaines

I became a police officer just due to the interactions that I had previously as [I was] growing up,” said Ofc. Lamb.

“I became a police officer because of my grandfather. My grandfather spent 30 years on the Detroit Police Department. 17 of those years he was a commander in the homicide unit. I knew at five years old I wanted to be part of a profession that gave me an opportunity to help people,” said Lt. Woolfolk.

I attribute so much to my mother and growing up in the church at that time. So one of the things I could never do is embarrass them and the people that supported me as I grew up,” said Chief Bryant.

Is your faith a big driver of the kind of police officer you are?,” Winne asked.

“Absolutely, I pray all the time. I have people come up to me, saying that they’re praying for me and I know that that’s working because our profession needs it at this time. Our society needs it, and I think that that’s what’s really getting us through,” he replied.

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Winne asked what needs to happen for the divide to heal and communication was the prevailing answer.

“Honestly, I’d say communication,” said Ofc. Gaines.

We have to continue to have strong and hard communication,” said Chief Bryant.

“As long as there’s a pathway for communication, I think there’s an opportunity for success,” said Chief Roberts.

“I’ll speak to everybody just as I’m in the community. Because I live in this community, so they can understand that, yes I’m an officer, I’m wearing this uniform, but I’m here for you,” said Ofc. Lamb.