By Veronica Mackey
The deaths of George Floyd in Minneapolis and most recently –Brooks in Atlanta—horrific as they are—is sadly not surprising to black folks. Only now are people of other races realizing the level of police brutality we’ve had to endure for centuries.
Some white people are beginning to embrace the idea that black lives really do matter. Black people are being treated unjustly by white police, and no, they are not making this up!
Across America, people are calling for police reform. Some are even demanding that police departments be defunded. But before lasting change can happen, we have to go back to the root of the problem.
How did Floyd go from being accused of passing a counterfeit $20 bill to being handcuffed, laying face down in the street with a white police officer kneeling on his neck until all life had drained for over 8 minutes? How can the officer who killed Brooks justify shooting him in the back when the man, armed only with a taser, was clearly running away?
We know that racism plays a huge part. But is there something else?
I talked with Army veteran Rudy Brookter about the mentality of police who kill unarmed black men and what needs to be done about it.
Brookter served in the U.S. Army for six years. Now 60, Brookter says he has observed 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 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, who approached him to ask for money, 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 mentally readjust to civilian life. “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, by those in the medical profession. They’re not ready to deal with race relations.
Brookter recalled his own struggles with adjusting to civilian life:
“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 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.”
With regard to white officers using excessive force against blacks, 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.”
If you’d like to offer your views on eliminating excessive violence by white police within black communities, email firstname.lastname@example.org to be considered for a subsequent article.