Thursday, May 29, 2008

Sarge

©2008 by LeeZard

LeeZard has a new hero. No, make that SHEro but I cannot reveal her name. I don’t want the troubles I am about to relate to revisit her. Let’s just call her Sarge.

Sarge is a cop. In fact, she is a Sergeant and that is the nub of the story.

Unfortunately (in her agency), the fact that Sarge is both female and African-American led to the tale I am about to share. Sarge came to her rank the hard way, through a forest of sexism and racism that would’ve thwarted a lesser man or woman. She achieved the rank despite the odds and she took the very high road to get there.

As I was having lunch with Sarge the other day and listening to her story, I said, “You know, what you are telling me reminds me of what Jackie Robinson went through when he first came up to the Brooklyn Dodgers. Except, THAT was in 1947.”

“I know,” she sighed, “some things never change.”

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When Sarge and I last hung out, she was a basic patrol officer. LeeZard was posing as a reporter at the time and Sarge was his contact with that particular police force. For most law enforcement agencies, the preferred practice is to put an officer in charge of dealing with the media rather than trusting a civilian to handle that often-delicate assignment.

Sarge was better than most – much better. With no disrespect for her comrades-in-communication, she was smarter, more articulate and way more forthcoming than any other police spokesmouth I’d ever met. More importantly she didn’t hide behind the usual mistrust for the media and defensiveness displayed by virtually every other badge-carrying Public Information Officer (PIO). Over the many months Sarge and I worked together, we became friends.

Over one of our many coffees together, Sarge shared with me her frustration with what she perceived as a very limited career path within her agency because of her race and gender. In fact, she was seriously considering tossing in the towel and seeking a communications career outside the white-male dominated paramilitary police universe. “But, I love what I do,” she said without bitterness or whining.

Sarge and I lost touch over the next few years, after LeeZard gave up reporting to make an attempt at earning a real living. I actually tried her old mobile number, which turned out to be a dead-end. Communication to her old email address merely disappeared into the digital ether without a response. Then, a few weeks ago, who do I see sitting at my favorite local Starbucks, sporting Sergeant stripes and holding court with a bunch of uniformed, mostly WHITE guys who obviously work for her? Yup, you got it.

We got together for a catch-up lunch this week and Sarge connected the dots. “I finally got to take the sergeant’s test,” she said with no small trace of pride, “and, I finished number one - the top score.”

“But,” she continued in a more subdued tone, ‘ that absolutely freaked ‘em out.” She went on to explain, “In their minds, there was no way a Black woman could’ve accomplished what I did. Black women just don’t do well on these things.”



“So, they did a review of the test to make sure I hadn’t cheated.” <“How humiliating!!” From LeeZard>

“When they found out I hadn’t cheated, I received my first assignment and every officer in the unit put in for a transfer – all of which were granted without question.” <“How humiliating!!” From LeeZard, and, this is where I made my Jackie Robinson reference.>

“Then,” she added, “someone wrote an ‘anonymous’ letter to the union’s newsletter about this trouble-making Black female officer who never could’ve ‘honestly’ passed the test – which they published and posted on their web site. The writer basically defended his racism by pointing out he’d adopted two Asian babies which clearly meant he wasn’t racist.”

At which point LeeZard opined, “that’s like the guy who says ‘There are two things I hate in this world, prejudice………and Negroes!’” At which point Sarge almost choked on a piece of lettuce.

“Finally,” she said, “and by itself it’s not really a big deal, but the top scorer on the test traditionally gets to choose HIS first assignment and gets first choice of HIS new unmarked cruiser. When I went to the motor pool eagerly looking forward to my new car, I was told, ‘sorry, there are no more new cars left; they’ve all been assigned elsewhere.’” <“How humiliating!!” From LeeZard>

“Clearly you had a lawsuit,” I sagely observed.

“I went to an attorney,” Sarge replied, “one who’d successfully sued my agency several times. She told me I had a very winnable case, the end result being, the agency would settle for cash and I’d have to leave with the promise of keeping my mouth shut.”

“What’s wrong with that?”

Sarge sat up straighter in her seat and the sharply pressed creases in her uniform seemed to get sharper. “Those were not my goals,” she answered simply. “I wasn’t interested in the money and I didn’t want to leave. I love my job!”

“What a concept!!!” I blurted.

“So, I drove around for a year in the ratty, marked cruiser they gave me. I took whatever assignment they gave me and did the best-damned job I could. I went to the union and urged them to take the not-so-anonymous letter off their web site or face legal action.”

“Slowly, very slowly, things began to turn around. Word got to my captain that I had enough ammunition to create a messy lawsuit (even though I’d already decided not to pursue that course of action). All of a sudden, I had a new, unmarked car. Eventually, all the negative buzz around my promotion subsided and, today (five years after taking the test), I have a crew that I love.”

When she was done, I looked at Sarge through new eyes. “Ya know, I always had enormous respect for your intellect and your (internal) strength but now……….” And, at that point, LeeZard had one of his rare moments of speechlessness.

Yes, Leezard has a new SHEro. With dignity, quiet courage and determination, she did the right thing, the right way for the right reasons. And she won.

What a concept!