Inside the intense pressure facing Black police chiefs across the US

Black police chiefs face intense pushback from officers as they press for reform and anger from citizens scarred by a history of mistreatment by police.

USAToday - John Drake remembers disliking the police during his youth in Nashville, Tennessee. One of his earliest interactions with the Metropolitan Nashville Police Department was being falsely accused of the brutal rape of an 89-year-old woman, despite bearing little resemblance to the description of the assailant.

Drake is now chief of that same police department. And his story is similar to those of other Black police leaders.

Daniel Hahn, the former police chief in Sacramento, California, grew up in the city’s impoverished Oak Park neighborhood and was arrested at 16 years old. He said it was for assaulting an officer. He didn’t hate police, he said, but when he was in college, he brushed off police recruiters multiple times.

Boston Police Commissioner Michael Cox said becoming a police officer had never seemed like a possibility to him because there were so few people of color in the department. In 1995, a few years after he joined the force in Boston, Cox was beaten by fellow officers who mistook him for a suspect, an incident that was covered up until Cox won more than $1 million in a civil rights lawsuit.

Despite such negative encounters, all three men persevered to lead law enforcement in their hometowns.

“My upbringing prepared me for all of it,” Hahn said. “It gave me perspective and gave me compassion. I’m in both worlds and so I can understand fully.”

Drake and Cox agree that their racial identity informs their work as they take on the challenge of repairing police relationships with communities of color. Still, many Black police chiefs face say they intense pushback from their own officers as they press for reform, and often see anger directed at them from citizens scarred by a history of mistreatment at the hands of police — tensions again inflamed by the murder of George Floyd by police officers in Minneapolis in 2020 and subsequent nationwide protests for social justice.

“I was supposed to solve all the world’s issues, at least the Black issues, with the snap of my finger,” said Hahn, who led the Sacramento department during the protests over the killing of Stephon Clark by police in that city in 2018. “I’d be called a coon, a sellout, Uncle Tom by the Black community. I’d be discriminated against in many different ways by non-Black communities.”

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