We took an opportunity, with all of the divisive climate, to interview an officer to get his take on everything from his faith, to being a black male. Officer Whitley has been a sheriff and patrolled in neighborhoods from Muskegon County to Kent County. Follow below, for our August Edition of the Legacy Newsletter.
-You are a police officer and an African American male. What was your experience growing up and what made you go this route as a career?
OW: I love people, I love serving people and seeing people grow from the word you share with them or the smile you give them or even when you have to be stern or direct like a bus driver, at the end of the day they know you ultimately love them. Scripture says the Father chastens or corrects those He loves. I got into policing because I believe God wanted me there. There are a lot of people, both in law enforcement and citizens, that need correction or redirection. Many of which need guidance and I have learned that most of that guidance comes from leading by example. I chose policing because I love serving people. It's not the title, it’s not the badge it’s not the thin blue line but its the heart and ministry behind it all.
-West Michigan is known to have highly popularized residential zones by race. Can you speak to the perceived differences people may have in police patrolling certain neighborhoods?
Unfortunately, I cannot speak for all of policing or even only what I see because my knowledge is limited. However, I will say that it is noticeable but not just in policing but in everything from our schools to the grocery stores we shop at. We as communities need to venture off into different areas and make our presence known. As for policing, there is a huge difference in how the area is policed but this is not because of the officers this is normally due to the command staff who often times receive their direction from their chiefs or sheriffs who respond based on the public interest. For example, if the chief is receiving calls from the city manager in the middle of the night saying he or she personally does not like the loudness of an event, often times the chief will succumb to the individual because that individual has power to say he or she does not like the way this chief does things and the chief could lose their job. Or let's say the sheriff may want to not over police a certain community but the people who have funded that sheriff’s election makes a stink about the issue. That sheriff will respond differently because he or she has a family to support and doesn't want a ruined reputation etc. So, with regard to perceived differences in police patrolling this is why you may see a difference. It doesn't stem from the leadership in policing but the decision makers above us.
-What does it take to do your job in today’s climate? How difficult has it been?
It takes the same thing it took when I signed up. Vision to see past the here and now pain, humility, determination, faithfulness and for me trust in the Lord. It has not been difficult because most police officers are problem solvers so we work through it.
-We heard a story once how a black man had been involved in a hit and run, and could not stop until several blocks later. He shared how he was scared to death because he had hit a Caucasian woman. Upon the police coming to respond to the scene, a black officer responded and the man could be seen visually less distressed. Can you speak to how persons of color have responded upon seeing you as a potential symbol of relief or not?
I have seen it both ways I have responded on the scene of major cases and had black people not want to speak to me because "I'm a traitor or I work for the man or I'm not really black". I have also had it where I show up in a predominantly black neighborhood for a call and they only want to speak to me because they don't trust my partner who is white. We pick and choose our battles; meaning is it worth being upset at the complainant? No, because we want to solve the problem effectively and efficiently and move on. It’s not personal.
Everyone has had different experiences that shape their view; some have had no negative experience at all; but television has shaped their view. When you see an all-white raggedy painters van driving slow in the middle of the night, what comes to mind first? "Creeper Van". But why? Movies, radio, stories. Ultimately it creates fear and we need to start trading fear in for faith, hope and love.
-Lastly how do you translate between the Black Lives Matter and Blue Lives Matter movements? Potentially could you speak to how faith plays an important role in unifying these pieces?
I don't attempt to translate between blue and black lives. The blood of Jesus is what matters. For God so loved the world (everyone) that He gave...
I have to trust in God through all this and remain an agent of Christ. As He gave, I give every day. I thank God he allowed me to be a police officer but I identify as a child of God first who happens to be a police officer. I will continue to pray for this nation and other nations. I will intercede and I will pray for all leaders and rulers and those in authority that they would make Godly decisions so that we can live quiet and peaceful lives. I hope others would do the same.