Ask a Negro Leaguer Column

Week of May 18, 2006

St. Louis police

Hey Joe: What do you think of St. Louis police? What I hear anecdotally is never favorable. Personally, I've always noticed that when a black man is stopped in St. Louis, it takes two cops. If it's a white person, it only takes one. Then again, I was sat on the curb in handcuffs for driving through the north side. The cops actually said, "There's only one reason white kids come up here." So maybe it goes both ways.

Rob Getzschman, Washington, D.C.

Seemingly when characterizing white policemen, it defines the true meaning of the word "stereotype." However, it is a very deep question and cannot be dealt with superficially. The only thing I can think of to arrive at a rational answer would be to revert back to the days of bondage when the double standard was perfected.

At the time, the country abided by two distinct lifestyles under the doctrine of "separate but equal." This belief produced an adverse pattern of strange mental behavior. All whites were commissioned to oversee blacks because blacks were thought to be morally corrupt and were stereotyped as such. The course of this pattern continued until the civil rights movement. This eliminated the average white citizen from being judge, jury and executioner in cases against blacks. It was then handled by the courts.

Although lynching failed to cease, when I played in the Negro League in cities below the Mason-Dixon line, I witnessed white policemen enter black establishments unexpectedly, without reason or search warrants on several occasions. They'd search the places thoroughly as black owners, workers and patrons silently watched this act of intimidation. Black police had not yet been acknowledged in these townships and if they had, they could not arrest white offenders. Their authority only permitted them to detain white lawbreakers until white officers arrived to make the official arrest. This was the case in St. Louis. It must be remembered that Missouri is a so-called slave state. Besides the history of Dred Scott, I vividly remember the lynching of Cleo Wright in Sikeston for allegedly assaulting a white female. Townspeople forced their way past the police at the city jail to gain access to him. In relation to blacks, St. Louis was comparable to cities in the Deep South.

The city's white police are no different than most white police nationally. They are students of their history, which includes slavery and separate but equal. Although these things no longer exist, distinction is ingrained in their minds. Once legally commissioned with badge and gun, the power held over blacks yesterday becomes a reality today. The reason it takes two white policemen to apprehend a black person is that one is used as a witness. Remember the excuses for killing blacks: "I thought he was going for a gun," or "He tried to use his car as a weapon." Black policemen hardly ever shoot another black on these conditions.

You were handcuffed and sat on the curb because you had been stereotyped. Rather than coming into the black community to visit a friend, you were thought to be there to purchase crack. Although white policemen are hallowed by most whites, a sizable majority of blacks in the black community have stereotyped most white policemen as legalized thugs.

Prince Joe Henry, one of professional baseball's original "clowns," was an all-star infielder for Negro League baseball teams in Memphis, Indianapolis and Detroit throughout the 1950s. But up until the late 1940s, Prince Joe didn't know anything about the Negro Leagues. His knowledge of organized baseball was limited to the Cardinals and Browns games he attended during his preteen years at Sportsman's Park, accompanied by lifelong buddy Eugene "Gene" Crittendon, who could pass for white.

Perhaps Henry's most vivid memory of those games: Upon entry, white ushers would politely escort the boys to a small section of the left-field stands reserved for "Colored." After climbing past several tiers of bleachers, they'd arrive at their stop, rows and rows behind their white counterparts.

Even at a young age, the boys were conscious of the double standard -- and determined to vent their disdain. The opportunity would arise with the urge to urinate. Rather than head for the latrine, the boys would edge their way to the front of the section and let fly. As the liquid foamed its way down the concrete steps toward the white kids, Henry and his pal would ease back and relax, politely rooting for the visiting team to beat the hell out of the Browns or the Cards.

After all, Henry and Crittendon hailed from Brooklyn, Illinois, a small, predominantly black township just east of the Mississippi River. So hospitable were the residents of Brooklyn that they were known to take in a rank stranger, treat him to breakfast, lunch, supper and a night out on the town -- and afterward, if he messed up, treat him to a good ass-whippin'.

Direct questions on any and all topics to [email protected]. If we don't like yours, we'll hit Joe with our own.

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