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Cops can't win, regardless of race.

Minority neighborhoods cry for cops, but then abuse them

By Joe Fitzgerald

Boston Herald Columnist

Monday, July 24, 2006

He stood in front of Simco’s, the landmark hot dog stand on Blue Hill Avenue, wiping his forehead on a sultry summer morning a dozen years ago.

    He didn’t want his name used, but he was more than willing to share his thoughts on what it was like to be a black cop on the beat in the minority neighborhoods of Boston.

    It became a column here, one that provoked a memorably diverse response. Some in the community were enraged by its content, while others were grateful for the exposure it gave to a topic considered taboo.

    And it’s being revisited this morning because of a similarly mixed reaction to a piece that ran here last week, telling how a crowd of adults attacked a Boston cop as he ran through a back yard in pursuit of a suspect he believed to be armed.

    That officer was kicked, punched and pelted with keys and Pepsi cans, all in full view of children who had gathered there for a birthday party on Sonoma Street in Roxbury.

    But the one reaction that raised hackles here came from hotheads insisting a white guy named Fitzgerald has no business commenting on Roxbury.

    Well, this one’s for them.

    It was July 1994, just as the O.J. Simpson case was taking on racial overtones, when the cop in front of Simco’s told it like it is.

    “Understand something, OK?” he said. “People not only see what they want to see; they see what they’ve been trained to see. A lot of people still view the police as someone to be afraid of, someone who’ll either beat you up or lock you up.

    “Ask any black cop what it’s like out here. White folks wonder how we got our jobs and black folks wonder why we’d want them. Whites don’t respect you the way they might respect a white cop, and blacks think you’re a traitor if you arrest one of your own.”

    He was told it sounded like a pretty thin line to walk.

    “It’s so thin you can’t see it,” he replied. “A few years ago people were marching on Dorchester District Court to protest what they felt was the heavy sentencing of black defendants.

    “To me, that was ridiculous. So I spoke up: ‘Look, your kids can’t be left alone on playgrounds, can’t even walk down the street, and you’re yelling about color? A criminal is a criminal. Who cares what color he is? I’m not speaking as a cop here; I’m speaking as a black man, because I’m sick of these bums running around shooting folks, selling dope. Let’s put ’em away.’ ”

    Even as he recalled making that appeal, his voice rose in frustration, as if he still couldn’t believe it was a point that needed to be made.

    “How did your speech go over?” he was asked.

    “Not well,” he said. “But I didn’t expect it would.

    “If I give out a parking ticket anywhere along this street someone’s sure to say, ‘You wouldn’t go to Southie and try that, would you?’ And I say, ‘Man, forget about Southie! This is your community.’ Believe me, this stuff goes on all the time.”

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