WASHINGTON — When a black Secret Service agent protecting the White House handed her white colleague a bottle of water, a protester yelled at her from 50 feet away, “I bet you get his lunch, too.”
That insult was not unusual. In another weekend incident, black men protecting the White House faced taunts from protesters calling them “slaves” and “house niggers.” Other protesters antagonized black law enforcement officers by calling them “Uncle Toms” for protecting President Donald Trump.
Across the country, protests have been marked by chants and confrontations, but the interactions between black protesters and black law enforcement officers have been especially complex.
One encounter during Saturday night’s protests stood out, going beyond those jabs into a deeper discussion about motives and beliefs, when four black law enforcement officers monitoring the protests near the White House told two young black men, “Everybody is not the same.”
“You’re a protester,” one of the black officers said to a young black man. “I’m not going to do anything because you’re protesting — but when you start burning stuff, doing crazy stuff, throwing stuff at people, what do you think you’re going to get back?”
The protester, who declined to be interviewed for this story, insisted the officer weigh in on the death of George Floyd, who was killed in police custody. “We’re talking about the incident that we’re protesting,” he said.
“Yes, we wear uniforms,” the officer responded. “Yes, we took an oath to do certain things, but we have feelings just like you. The thing about it is, just because we have this on doesn’t mean we don’t have an opinion about what happened. You are putting all of us in a bottle together. Everybody is not the same. That’s what you have to realize. You don’t know where I came from.”
A second black officer interjected.
“Hold up. Hold up. Hold up. You don’t think that don’t affect us — somebody that looks like us that’s hurt like that. But y’all come out here calling us slaves,” he said.
“We have an opinion just like you,” the first black police officer told the protesters.
At this point, each officer seemed resolved to convince the young men that not only were they insulted by some of the rhetoric coming from black protesters, but they were on the same side of the argument. “Do we think what happened was right? No.”
A third officer chimed in, “I’ve been a cop for a long time. My little brother’s a cop. My father retired as a cop. My uncle — cops all over — we got feelings too.”
One of the protesters responded that he also had police officers in his family, one of whom had left the police force because he felt he was “complicit in the wrong things,” he said.
After an officer suggested lawyers and doctors face the same scrutiny as police officers. The protester shot back. “Yeah. Sure, but if a lawyer fuck up, everyone’s going to say it’s wrong. If a doctor fuck up, other docs say it’s wrong, and they’re going to take his license. When this happens with police officers, everybody just…,” he said, his voice trailing off.
The remaining two officers left abruptly when a white officer came over. “We up,” one of the officers said to the two protesters as they walked away.