Join Risha as she discusses accountability in policing with Lieutenant Marcus Harper of the Tulsa Police Department.
Risha asks your most burning questions.
- Are police practices and protocols working to keep citizens safe?
- How do officers choose between rubber and metal bullets?
- Why are black people dying at disproportionate rates?
This and more in this 15-minute episode of Risha Talks. The transcripts are below.
Welcome to Risha Talks, your pathway to connected culture. Today we’re talking to Marcus Harper who is a lieutenant with the Tulsa Police Department. And the reason for this show is that, as black people, we are so sick of the hashtags. We had #breonnataylor hashtag or #MichaelBrown or #terrencecrutcher, which is here from our own community. Now there’s #breonnataylor and now Ahmaud Arbery.
And I just thought it would be great to talk to a member of a police department to really try to understand for one way as a person but also to help people maybe understand a little bit better, and they probably won’t, let’s be real, but at the same time to try to maybe understand in the mind of law enforcement why these things keep happening. So, Marcus, you’ve been a police officer how long now?
Let’s see. What’s the day today, the 19th?
25 years, five months, and two days. But who’s counting?
You got it. You got it down. You sound like a man that’s ready to retire.
Oh, my goodness. I’m there. I’m there. I’m very, very close. Used to have a passion for it, but it is a young man’s game this kind of time.
Well, with all the things that have been going on, I can only imagine, as a police officer and as a black police officer, that you get bombarded with questions all the time. So let me ask you, how do you feel as a black man when you hear these things happen?
Well, the way I explain to people is– and it’s trying to keep everything in perspective. I’m a black man, first and foremost. I happen to be a police officer. That’s my profession, OK? And one day I’m not going to be a police officer, but guess what, I’m always going to be a black man. And coming from the south, from Mississippi, and you know Mississippi is a different culture within itself.
And so there is this unrealistic expectation of because I’m a police officer, no matter what race, no matter what gender, ethnicity I am, then there’s an expectation. And it’s probably something that’s not always expressed that I should fall in line to agree with the views of many of my counterparts. And when you don’t agree with the views of your counterparts, which, as you’ve seen, with some things that happened to me in the past, they come back with it at you.
All right. And so when I saw the video, and I try my best not to watch it, not to look at it, but when I saw it, it outraged me. As a human being, to think how can someone, just a regular- let us just arrest a regular person, regular citizen, someone who is not in law enforcement. How can someone take it upon themselves to commit the act that they committed prior to the actual shooting?
When I have to put into perspective, like wait a minute, the suspects, in this case, have law enforcement training.
OK. And so then it’s like it makes you even more outraged because you think, they should know better.
So just to be clear, you’re talking about the Ahmaud Arbery case, right?
Yes, the Ahmaud Arbery case and the act of the suspects. And when I say suspects, I mean, the gentleman that jumped out the pickup truck and the gentleman that was driving the pickup truck. But then to see some counterparts question or try to present that I-got-you moment or that I-knew-there-had-to-be-something-else moment with the videos from the house, and was he really jogging, and, hey, look at his background. And even yesterday, a blog got published or an article got published that was trying to put Ahmaud Arbery in a negative light, OK?
And I was like, well, what does that have to do with the actual incident itself? And even in the article, it said– well, this article has nothing to do with the incident in Georgia, but– like, no, once you say but, you disregard everything that you’re previously saying in most instances. And it’s like they’re trying to drop this perception or this persona that Mr. Arbery must have done something that resulted in his death. I mean, he was jogging down a street walk, whatever he was doing, he was just minding his own business going down the street. And so you have a choice to make. Do you speak out or do you just keep it to yourself and here we go again. Tough situation.
Well, what is police protocol in these situations? Because when you look at Arbery, it was an ex-cop, but then all of these other ones, from Sandra Bland to the young lady Atatiana Jefferson in Dallas who’s in her house playing video games with her nephew, like what is the protocol? Because I don’t think– you hear white folks say all the time, we’re not complying. Well, but does that– when you’re sitting in your own house playing a video game or you’re sitting in your own house, as Brianna Taylor was, who was a medical professional, who’s sitting in her own home not bothering anybody, and, of course, her boyfriend is just going to get a gun because here come the police, you don’t know who it is, and all of a sudden, she’s dead. What does the protocol look like?
I mean, each situation is a different incident in itself as far as the death of the individual that you named. And what it comes down to is a lot of common sense and a lot of training, OK? And when we’re– Atatiana Jefferson, for instance, when she was killed, even the most staunch law enforcement professionals, they were shocked at what happened in that case.
Now, I can see how it happened, but it should not have happened. OK? And so you get to a situation or there’s a situation where, hey, you also made a mistake, and now you have to own it. You have to own that mistake, and I think that’s where we fall short a lot of times is we try to look for what did the person that we killed, what did they do to cause us to act the way we did? Well, I mean, I think you need to start looking in the mirror and start doing a little more soul searching.
So OK, what did we do to cause the person that we killed to react the way they did? I’m sitting in my house right now. And if someone kicked my front door in, I’m coming out with a gun. And as a citizen, I have a right to protect myself and my home. In some states, a little bit different as far as the Stand Your Ground laws like in Florida, Georgia is a little bit different, Texas a little bit different, but Oklahoma itself, I have a right to protect myself and my home. And it’s something that you just you can’t explain. You can’t explain.
Where you said that you understood how it happened but that it shouldn’t have happened, in what way– because I think black folks like– especially black folks not in law enforcement, we have no idea how something like that happens from trained professionals.
Exactly. And it should. And it should. And to be honest with you, I really can’t– there’s no explanation or no expectation for. I’ll tell you an interesting story. One night I get off work and it’s late. We got called out to do probably work homicide. And so I normally come to the garage, but I didn’t feel like punching a code in a night like this, so I’m just going to come through the front door. And I’m putting my keys in the door and I was having– I was tired. Difficult time trying to get my key in the door.
And finally, I get my key in the door and I opened the door. And it’s dark– dark in the house, porch light– well, I don’t think porch light was on. And when I came in, my wife was at the stairs and she had a gun out. And I mainly threw my hands up, and then I was like, hey, it’s me, hey. She was like, I couldn’t see you. I don’t know who you are. You’re wiggling keys so I’m thinking it’s a burglar, somebody trying to break in.
And so if I didn’t identify myself, well, she didn’t recognize it was me because it was so dark, or if I had made some type of furtive movement, my wife could have shot me, and I wouldn’t blame her. I probably would have done the exact same thing. But my wife is not a trained law enforcement professional. The expectations that citizens should have from [inaudible] the best training, we go through these scenarios, we go over my head over and over and over again, and there’s no way that we should be shooting into a house, into someone’s bedroom when we think it’s a burglary call.
What was the threat that this officer saw? And I guess we won’t know until we actually get into a court setting to figure out where his mindset was, what was he thinking. And no matter what he says, his actions don’t justify her– whatever she did, it doesn’t necessarily justify. It won’t justify his actions because in another day, we can always step back and call for backup. That’s an option that we have.
So can you talk a little bit about how it is that officers make the decision between using real bullets and rubber bullets? Because you would think with the amount wrongfulness that we’ve seen over the past few years that there would be some conversation around how to prevent this.
OK, so here in Tulsa, there’s no issuing of rubber bullets, but we do have what we call less-lethal or non-lethal options at our disposal, whether it be the pepper ball guns, pepper spray, batons, tasers, which is a very popular item. And so– when I say popular, so many people have them now. Officers have that.
And so it’s just what you rely on is your training, your experience, and that when you make that decision to use lethal or non-lethal force, then you’re making the right decision. It’s never a good day when someone has to die or someone dies at the hands of law enforcement or just was a regular system to another system. But sometimes those things do happen. They do happen, so sometimes things look bad.
In the cases that we talked about previously, those were very, very, very bad incidents that poor decision-making was made and people lost their lives. So rubber bullets is not something that’s very common. I’ve seen them or heard of them being used like in riot control situations. But in that moment that you have to make a decision, if I have to make a decision to protect your life, I don’t want to worry about if I have rubber bullets in my gun or not, or I’m just going to rely on having some proper decision-making to ensure that you’re safe and that I’m safe.
But then why is it that it seems that black folks are dying at disproportionate rates at the hands of law enforcement?
Because we see this right here in our face. I think a lot of times what happens is that, as it pertains to African-Americans when we clearly make a mistake, the first thing we do is we want to go out and make the victim into a suspect. Where now this individual’s family and friends have to now defend him, like, wait a minute.
We go back to Ahmaud Arbery, he was the one that was murdered. Why do we try to– Why is his family put into a position where they had to defend him. And so it seems like when an African-American is killed by law enforcement, it’s front and center, and we see it, we know about it. My dad always told me, he says before he passed last summer, he was like, young man, you guys are seeing this stuff on video now. Imagine when there was no video, OK?
And so those are some things that we’re combating. So it’s unfortunate. It was beyond on force that these things happen. But there’s going to have to be a serious change in law enforcement to make sure that when we have to take a life that we are truly justified in what we’re doing, and we’re making those promises. And that was our only recourse at the time.
So do you have any closing thoughts?
What I would say is I’ve been doing this for a while. Some longer than me a lot, but the majority have been- don’t have the experience I have. And I can tell you, for Tulsa, we have some really good young officers out there that are doing the right thing, have been trained, and are making good decisions out here. But before we see an injustice, whether it be here in Tulsa, whether it be somewhere around the country, that we’re speaking out and letting people know that sometimes when we are silent does not mean that we agree with what’s going on, but we are working within.
The organization are working. But sometimes you have to be very vocal to express yourself. And so we put the working in-house. The team continue to try to build relationships in the community and trying to get my fellow officers to realize that we’re beyond the time of “believe what I say because I’m a policeman.” Or just because someone in the community questions something that we do or was asking a bunch of questions doesn’t mean they don’t support the police. They support good cops and work hard striving to be one of those good cops. But just like anywhere in society, you have those that shouldn’t be in the profession. And so it’s our job to make sure we identify and try to weed those people out.
Thank you for watching Risha Talks, your virtual pathway to connected culture. Continue to look for us on all your favorite social media channels. Until then, get rid of your B.S. because there is no them. There’s only us, all of us.