Following a federal lawsuit alleging racial discrimination in the Syracuse Police Department, several Black officers have spoken up in support of the claim.
Several African American police officers from the Syracuse Police Department, both former and currently serving, have constituted a group to speak up about racial discrimination within the force. The group, which boasts more than 100 years of combined service, was created to stand in solidarity with officer Brandon Hanks. The Black officer recently filed a federal lawsuit against the department for cultivating what he referred to as a “Jim Crow culture." The group has come forward to share the systemic and interpersonal racism they face while on the job, revealing details of the "unwelcoming atmosphere" within the department, Sycaruse.com reports.
Grace Kelley-Neal, a Black former officer who spent 26 years in the department, said of Hanks and his experiences, "He’s going through what we’ve all been through." Others added that the Syracuse Police Department failed to hire and promote enough Black officers, maintained a racially hostile workplace, and held Black officers accountable more severely than White officers. This, the group claimed, made it harder for them to do their jobs as it "damages relationships between the department and its most policed communities." The distrust policed communities hold for the department is mirrored in the lack of trust Black police officers have in the department's leadership.
Over the last two decades, Black officers have comprised a critically low percentage of the number of officers present on the force. At present, only 9.5 percent of all officers in the department are Black. The group described a "cyclical problem" within the department: As White superiors perpetuate a culture of bias, fewer Black candidates are hired for the force. Those who do get hired rarely get promoted, which means the majority of those in power are White. These individuals preserve the historical bias within the department's hiring and promotion processes.
Police Chief Kenton Buckner claimed he was trying to fix these institutional mechanisms of oppression. During his tenure, 14 percent of all hires have been Black. While this is an improvement, it is still not enough. According to him, being one of the few Black officers within the leadership structure can be an isolating experience. "Some of these historical frustrations, because I am Black, people think that I can walk in and wave a magic wand and turn around the Titanic on a dime," he stated. "It’s not possible. Nor should anyone expect me to do that overnight. It is fair to expect me to understand those things and to give a genuine listening ear to the complaints when I hear them and to genuinely look into those things."
However, more and more Black officers in the department are moving on rather than tolerating the force's culture of bias. Leon Saddler, an officer in the department for nearly 20 years, is one of them. He retired early, using a benefit for those who served in the military to get his pension. He affirmed, "If the department would’ve been a more level playing field, it wouldn’t be going through the issues it’s going through right now. I didn’t want to deal with the bullsh*t no more. I just got tired of it. I didn’t want to deal with it no more. It just wasn’t an environment you wanted to be in." Now, many believe it is time to think critically about whether adding more Black officers to an institution founded on racism and oppression will really fix the problem.