What it’s like to be a black NYPD sergeant in NYC

#What it’s like to be a black NYPD sergeant in NYC

June 6, 2020 | 3:52pm

Sgt. Edmund Small, 46, is an NYPD veteran and a member of the executive board of the Sergeants Benevolent Association. Appointed to the NYPD in 1997, he was promoted to sergeant in 2005. He is currently assigned to the 70th Precinct in Brooklyn, the notorious stationhouse where cops sexually assaulted Haitian immigrant Abner Louima in 1997. Small tells The Post’s Dean Balsamini his story of what it’s like to be black and blue amid the nationwide furor following the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis.  

When I was 5 years old, I saw a woman being beaten by two men with a bed frame and an African-American police officer make the arrest. This is the reason I became a police officer.  From that day forward, I have had a passion to help others. Shirley Chisholm once said, “Service is the rent you pay for room on this earth.”  What better service is there than to help others?

I was born and raised in Brooklyn, the son of Jamaican immigrants.  I’m a 22-year vet of the NYPD and face the challenges of being an African-American police officer every day.  It’s like a balancing act.  People see you more as being a part of the problem rather than part of the solution. Because I’m in my uniform, people’s biases make them forget that I am also a black man who also feels the effects of racism.  Being a black man in America comes with its struggles — struggles that I am not exempt from just because I am a police officer.

I have faced racism on the job … even from fellow officers. The NYPD is a microcosm of our society so of course racism exists within it.  I remember the experience of applying to be transferred to the elite Harbor Unit.  An executive told me that I wouldn’t like Harbor because it “entailed swimming” and refused to sign my transfer. I believe that he was using his implicit bias about what he thought to be true about blacks and swimming in order to deny me an opportunity. It took an African-American chief to intervene and I was ultimately transferred.

In the 175 years of the NYPD, the department has had only two African-American police commissioners, two chiefs of patrol, and recently, only one chief of detectives. In my two decades with the NYPD, I have witnessed the slow progress in diversifying, not only the rank and file, but also the executive staff of the NYPD.  There’s been positive change, it’s just been slow.

Sgt. Edmund Small
Sgt. Edmund SmallJames Keivom
James Keivom

When I saw the video of Mr. Floyd’s death I was sickened to see a man die at the hands of a police officer. I have patrolled some of the toughest streets in Brooklyn and have never kneeled on a person’s neck to gain compliance. As far as the NYPD’s response to the protests, as a law enforcement professional, I support people’s right to protest and I believe that the NYPD has taken appropriate actions towards the looters.

The biggest misconception the public and the media has is that “good cops” aren’t saying anything about the “bad cops.” Or, that when situations like these happen, all cops just side in agreement with the officer who did the unjust deed. The fact is, the genesis of the majority of internal investigations are from “good cops” reporting “bad cops” to the Internal Affairs Bureau.

I believe that reasonable police reforms will come out of this. Just like other professions, there needs to be a national standard for policing.  Police departments from New York to Los Angeles should have the same standards. For example, the NYPD has banned choke holds, hog ties/positional asphyxiation.  These reforms will help reduce situations like the one that led to the death of Mr. Floyd.

On the other hand, I don’t believe that the movement to defund police departments or emergency services is productive, as it will ultimately hurt the black and brown communities the most.

As an African-American police officer I realize that I can be a bridge between minority communities and law enforcement. We are here to help them and inspire them to one day join the force.

It’s important for the younger generation of black and brown children to see that all police are not bad, just like I did sitting on the stoop as a kid in East New York all those years.


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