By Veronica Mackey
Across America, people are calling for police reform. Some are demanding that police departments be defunded. But before lasting change can happen, we need to go back to the beginning.
And, the beginning, according to Army veteran Rudy Brookter has to do with the mentality of those who apply to work as police officers. While citizens cry out for better police training, Brookter said more attention should first be given to a candidate’s mental and psychological well being.
Brookter served in the U.S. Army for six years. Now 60, Brookter says he has observed behaviors of 25 to 35-year-olds coming out of the Armed Forces, and is disturbed by what he sees. “We need to demilitarize the police. I’ve watched these guys—some who graduated with my sons—and I wish they had more counseling. I know three of my son’s friends who went in (the military) and they came out screwed up,” he said.
One who had been stationed in Afghanistan for 4 years, and only out of the military for 2 months, went to work for Brink’s armored truck company. He carried three weapons on various parts of his body, including a 357 Magnum strapped to his leg. A homeless man approached him to ask for money and slipped and fell.
“He reached for Reggie’s leg to balance himself. That’s when Reggie pulled out his 9 millimeter and shot him.”
In the decades since Brookter left the military, not a lot has happened to help veterans transition to civilian life. Although law enforcement seems a natural fit for former service members, there is a growing consensus that it is the least suitable choice for those still working out their emotional issues from deployments. The current pandemic has certainly not made it easier. According to Militarytimes.com Veterans unemployment jumped to nearly 12 percent in April, as the country’s total jobless rate rose to its highest levels since the Great Depression.
“They come out of the military and the first thing the government does is hire them for the police department or fire department. Their mentality is not being checked by society, by psychologists, or by those in the medical profession. They’re barely given enough time to adjust to civilian life, let alone race relations.”
Brookter recalled his own struggles:
“I had the same mentality when I came out. Here I was working at Memorex in a civilian job, and I’d be home, cleaning my weapons a couple times a week. Why? It took me three years to exhale. I had to balance my mentality and come down and realize that everyone is not the enemy.”
Brookter said military training holds clues as to why some officers can kill so easily. Veterans are taught to de-humanize people. Emotions, he said, are not part of their training. “They don’t teach you to be angry. They teach you to kill. You have to suppress your emotions. They taught us with a thousand and one different videos that we had to watch and tests we had to take.”
What needs to happen, he said is to give newly released veterans more time to debrief, along with psychological testing and cultural sensitivity training.
“Some of these young guys have only been out of the military for 3-6 months. They haven’t had time to de-program. What helped me when I left the military and got hired at Memorex, was working around a lot of other veterans, so it was a blessing because we could talk to each other. We could deflate. After a while, we quit talking about it because we didn’t have to deal with it any longer.”
As noted by the Marshall Project in its 2017 report, “When Warriors Put On the Badge,” preferential hiring of ex-miliary personnel and special funding has made it harder to “build police forces that resemble and understand diverse communities.” About 60 percent of all enlisted men and women are not people of color.
Brookter said vets are programmed to see people of color as the enemy both domestically and abroad. “For about the last 20 years, the wars have been fought in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Kuwait, and Iraq. All these people over there are dark. When those white vets come back over here, they have been trained to see the darker ones as a big problem, so we’re seeing more violence against young black men on the street.”
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