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‘Walking the Blue Line’- addressing the racial divide with a former police officer

Terrell Carter is pastor of the mostly-white Webster Groves Baptist Church
Terrell Carter
Courtesy Photo

Since the shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown and the subsequent community unrest, dialogue about racial division in the St. Louis area became a frequent topic. Additionally, many people vowed to come together and address the apparent ‘invisible line’ separating black and white residents in the region.

Terrell Carter, a former St. Louis City police officer, joined “St. Louis on the Air” host Don Marsh to discuss ways to combat the racial divide as introduced in his book, "Walking The Blue Line: A Police Officer Turned Community Activist Provides Solution for the Racial Divide."

The book chronicles Carter’s life before and after becoming a police officer in the mid-1990s. At the time, he was a father-to-be searching for a solid career. He reached out to a friend who was a police sergeant for advice after hearing a promotional ad for the job.

“I had not had positive experiences with police,” Carter said of his younger days. “I grew up in a neighborhood where police were not welcomed and [police] did not necessarily appreciate the neighborhood or the people in the neighborhood that they patrolled.”

Carter said his sergeant friend explained to him some advantages and disadvantages of the job.

Three months later, he entered the police academy, despite his previous negative experience with police.

Unbeknownst to Carter, his time as a police officer would only last for five years. He did not enjoy the job, he said.

“I was extremely burned out,” Carter explained. “In addition to that, ultimately I had a partner who I was going to have to testify against for falsifying a police report and making some false arrests. I knew that when that happened, when I said ‘yes’ that I would cooperate with federal prosecutors, I knew that I would not be able to survive on the department.”

Carter had crossed the “thin blue line.”

There is an inner-fraternal rule, Carter said, that police officers do not “snitch” on other police officers. Nonetheless, those who do “snitch” eventually face inevitable hardships from fellow officers. This “corrosive” system, he explained, was the catalyst for his decision to leave the police force.

Among other things, Carter spoke of the difficulties black and white officers face when patrolling. For example, one of the concerns for black officers is that in minority communities, residents expect them to be more “sympathetic” toward them. Otherwise, the community labels them as “sellouts”, he said. “The questions are, ‘are you trying to impress these white officers, or are you really trying to do something to help people,’” Carter said regarding the types of questions people in minority communities often asked.

White officers, Carter mentioned, often face challenges of total disconnect from minority communities, not just in terms of race, but also in not being from the communities they patrol.

Nevertheless, Carter does not put total responsibility on police officers when it comes to fixing conditions in communities. He said that residents in the community must be willing to see officers as not just people who are there to protect, but also as figures that have authority. Additionally, communities must be willing to police themselves, he said.

“My goal (in writing the book) was to try to show both sides of the situation,” Carter explained. “Not to vilify police officers, but also not to defend them either. As well as, not to vilify citizens, but not to defend citizens either.”

“None of this has a simple answer,” Carter continued. “We are all human. We all have our own quirks. The systems that we live in, work and that we operate in have been in existence for a long time. The things that need to be changed about those systems will not change unless those things are brought to light.”

Listen to the full audio to hear a list of solutions Carter suggests as outlined in his book.

St. Louis on the Air discusses issues and concerns facing the St. Louis area. The show is produced by Mary Edwards and Alex Heuer and hosted by veteran journalist Don Marsh. Follow us on Twitter: @STLonAir.

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