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Black police officer after ambush: 'Doesn’t my life matter?'

Susannah Lohr | St. Louis Public Radio

With more than a hundred homicides already this year, St. Louis is no stranger to gun violence. On July 14, a St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department sergeant was ambushed while working a second, security job in the early hours of the morning. The officer survived thanks to a bulletproof vest, and four suspects have been arrested in connection with the shooting.  

We independently confirmed the identity of the officer with the St. Louis Police, but have granted him anonymity out of his concern for the safety of his family in order to hear his perspective on the situation.

He spoke with St. Louis Public Radio’s Durrie Bouscaren. Here is a transcript of the highlights. They’ve been edited for clarity:

On the night of the shooting:

OFFICER: I was working secondary—a side job after my regular police department job, where officers get a chance to make additional money to make the ends meet with their families.

In total, they found about 18 bullet holes in the windshield. I guess that was from me firing back and them shooting also inside my vehicle. For a period of time I had actually taken my vest off that night because it was very hot and humid. But apparently, God was on my side, because something told me, “Just put it back on, it’s not that bad.” So I put it back on, and about 30 minutes later I got involved in the shooting.

BOUSCAREN: Do you think that you were targeted?

OFFICER: I feel like I was. For one, I was in my personal car. I wasn’t hiding. It was 4 in the morning, so there wasn’t a lot of movement in the neighborhood. I never took my uniform off at any point, so there’s no way for them not to know that I was a policeman.

On frustration on the lack of an outcry:
BOUSCAREN: Your wife posted a message on Facebook the weekend after the shooting. She said that she was upset that African-American clergy members and Black Lives Matter protesters hadn’t reached out to your family after you were ambushed in your car. Can you tell me about that?  

I`m a black male, and I happen to be a police sergeant in the city of St. Louis... doesn`t my life matter?

OFFICER: I think some of her frustration was, sometimes on the news and the media you hear about #BlackLivesMatter. Well I’m a black male, and I happen to be a police sergeant in the city of St. Louis. Obviously, the frustration was, doesn’t my life matter? Isn’t anybody going to help me out or not necessarily make a big deal, but just say, 'Hey, this is a black police sergeant protecting our community, protecting us from those who commit crimes'? Where’s this voice or cry saying, 'Hey, we gotta do better'? We can’t have our policemen getting shot. Black or white.

On working the protests in Ferguson:
OFFICER: I was actually in some of those Ferguson riots originally back in August and even in the fall. You had a lot of people throwing things at our police line, calling us names, spitting on us, stuff like this. It wasn’t a good feeling.

A lot of the black officers that worked with me, it seemed like we had a lot more of the verbal abuse from the protesters than some of the non-black officers, if you will. We all had a rough time, but I feel like certain officers probably were targeted for the uniform they wore or for the color of their skin.

On life as a St. Louis police officer this year, and why he asked for anonymity: 

OFFICER: Some officers’ houses were targeted; some of their cell phones got leaked. Social media things came out about some officers. Officers’ kids were getting targeted in school. It made it very uncomfortable to be associated with police or policing. I’ve been in the police department for 16 years and I’ve never known a time when people were ashamed to say they knew a policeman. I know some officers’ bank accounts got targeted, so it was pretty bad. I don’t want that for me and my family.

Officers` kids were getting targeted in school... I`ve been in the police department for 16 years and I`ve never known a time when people were ashamed to say they knew a policeman.

BOUSCAREN: Do you think it’s more dangerous today to be a police officer in St. Louis than it was a year ago?
OFFICER: I can’t say it’s more dangerous, I just think people are hyper-vigilant about what police do nowadays.

On growing up in St. Louis:
OFFICER: I can remember as far back as first grade, thinking the police are here to help people, and that’s what I want to do—I want to help people.  

Where I grew up at is where I patrol now. I went to the elementary school and graduated from middle school here in St. Louis city. It’s kind of surreal and nice to patrol the area now, because I still see some of the neighbors and the people who are still there in some of those neighborhoods. My mom still lives in the neighborhood I grew up in. So it’s kind of nice to look out for your family and friends and neighbors that have literally known me for my whole life.

On what St. Louis police should do to improve their relationship with residents:  

OFFICER: We have to get back to the community. If people got more involved with their community they would know their policemen on the block, policemen would know who they are on the block. People are just not inclined to communicate with the police, or even to give information about people committing crimes. We had some kids recently sitting on a porch, and I think a 3-year-old got hit.

We gotta do better. We have to do better in our community. It’s not about Black Lives Matter or any other slogan or hashtag. It’s about caring communities and building up each other. I shouldn’t have to meet you for the first time because you’re a victim. And I shouldn’t have to meet you for the first time because you’re a suspect. We should have a basis of already knowing each other when we see each other.

It’s a slow drip, and I think we’ll get there. But I’m just happy that the positive dialogue has started since some of the more violent protests with a lot of people.

On plans for the future:

OFFICER: Right now I’ve got a lot of family and friends’ support; a lot of coworkers have reached out to me. I’m cleared to go back to work. However, I’m going to take some personal time just to make sure, physically and emotionally, that I feel like I’m ready to come back.

Bouscaren covers health and science for St. Louis Public Radio. Follow her on Twitter: @durrieB.