The leaders of some of the largest law enforcement agencies across our state are African-American. That includes the four largest agencies here in the Piedmont Triad. As the nation continues to grapple with the issue of race, these men and women are leading their agencies through tough conversations that are personal.
“When people see me moving around this county, if I’m not dressed a certain way or in a certain demeanor, some of them don’t have a clue who I am,” Forsyth County Sheriff Bobby Kimbrough said.
Like Friday night at a Forsyth County gas station when Kimbrough was in plain clothes in his personal vehicle.
“[He called me] a baboon,” he told FOX8. “He’s trying to sell me a used TV and I’m not interested. I looked at him and said, ‘Sir you’re going to have to stop cussing me.'”
He called for deputies. So did the other guy.
“He stands between me and my guys, my family and says ‘y’all get him.’ I realized after the fact he saw me as just a Black man in sweats. He felt like he had a sense of entitlement,” Kimbrough said. “When I got further down the road it hit me that what would’ve happened if you would’ve been somewhere else, those guys didn’t know you and he said ‘yall get him.'”
Kimbrough was one of the Black law enforcement leaders who recently toured the International Civil Rights Center and Museum. Those leaders say when people say racism is still a thing, they get it because they’ve lived it. And that helps them lead.
“I’ve sat with people I know didn’t like me, but I wanted to hear what they were saying because when you take the voice away, that’s when the anger gets heated,” he said.
“I began Black Talk White Talk within the sheriff’s office. And when I told them what the segment would be and how I would bring it across, you should have seen the eyebrows raised,” Guilford County Sheriff Danny Rogers said.
Sheriff Rogers says his Black Talk White Talk initiative gives staff a chance to open up about some of the things people don’t like to talk about.
“You hear people say, ‘I remember I was a little boy and my best friend in school was Black. And he could never go home with me, or he wasn’t able to come to my house and play.’ I had one that would talk with me about a grandparent that had been a Klansman.”
In the age of Blue Lives Matter, Black Lives Matter and All Lives Matter, we asked both men if they ever feel pressure being Black in the blue to pick a side.
“If you operate from the mantra that I’m going to do what’s right, what’s legal, what’s moral, you don’t get caught up in those weeds of what’s Black and what’s white,” Kimbrough said.
“I am a Black man. That’s a given. That’s there. My profession, my job, my title is to be a professional law enforcement officer who takes care of and serves all mankind. So I don’t have a pressure where you’re not doing this or you should do this,” Rogers said.
“We’ve come a long way, we’ve got some work to do. I understand that and I work every day to bridge that gap,” Kimbrough said.
Our area’s largest police departments are also led by African-Americans. Next week in part two of this “Black in the Blue” series, we’ll hear from Greensboro Police Chief Brian James and Winston-Salem Police Chief Catrina Thompson about how they’ve navigated their departments and how they continue to learn from the events of the last year.