Ice Cube, before he became a comic prop in family vacation movies, understood a fundamental truth about race and law enforcement 30 years ago that still has not sunk in with a lot of Americans.
Ready? All of the issues with race and law enforcement apply regardless of the race of a particular officer. Cops use more force against black suspects. White cops. Black cops. Male cops. Female cops. Cops. That's the point – it's a systemic problem, not a "Few bad apples" problem.
And on the other hand, without a gun they can't get none
But don't let it be a black and a white one
Cause they'll slam ya down to the street top
Black police showing out for the white cop
Sure, it would be a good idea (for any number of reasons) for police departments to hire a diverse group of officers. But "We have black cops too" doesn't mean that issues of race and law enforcement go away. It's still there. If cops generally perceive that black male suspects are a threat, that can go as well for non-white cops as for white ones. Three of the cops who beat Freddie Gray to death, to cite just one example, were black. They didn't stand there and watch the three white cops beat him. They didn't say "Hey you know this seems to be an excessive amount of force." They participated. Whether they were "showing out for the white cops" or behaving how they would have behaved if all of the cops involved were black is conjecture. What isn't conjecture is that black cops, like white, Hispanic, Asian, left-handed, and Turkish-Romanian cops, were part of the problem. Because the problem is bigger than cops. The problem is with the system. We repeat the lie that it's just a few bad apples, one or two loose cannons here and there, because it transfers responsibility from the system to the individual. And when the problem is the individual…oh well, what are you gonna do, right? See also: mass shootings.
Cities are racing to appoint black cops to top positions in troubled departments. Chicago recently jumped on the bandwagon, appointing an unknown, inexperienced (administratively) beat cop named Eddie Johnson as Superintendent in response to public uproar that has already taken down the Cook County State's Attorney in the recent Democratic primary. Look, it makes no sense to begrudge the city promoting a beat cop, a black cop, or a black beat cop to a position of authority. It's probably not a bad idea. The problem is that when these appointments are made, it's not hard to picture everyone in the Mayor's office and Police HQ slapping their hands together and exclaiming, "Problem solved!"
It's not a solution. It is, at worst, window dressing and, at best, a red herring. The problem in Chicago is not that there weren't or aren't enough black cops in the upper ranks. The problem in Chicago is that the police department has proven itself totally rotten, corrupt, conspiratorial, and willing to go to any length to protect its own. Top to bottom. The whole thing. Maybe Eddie Johnson will be a good Super, maybe he'll be gone in six months. Who knows. The point is that appointing him, or anyone else, does not solve the problem. And these appointments of black cops to high ranking position at a time when police departments are reeling from being asked to answer for the massive numbers of unarmed black suspects they bring to the morgue feels a lot less like a legitimate effort to bring diversity to leadership positions and a lot more like a cynical PR ploy to allow the old, white, reactionary base on which urban politics still depends to say "We appointed a colored, what more do you want."