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For a Black LAPD officer, police reckoning brings pressure from protesters and fellow cops

Kevin Rector, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

"Wow. This is where we're at in America," Silva recalled thinking. "We're at such a volatile point."

Since the murder of George Floyd by then-Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin in May 2020 and the subsequent demonstrations against police brutality toward Black people in cities around the world, a wave of scrutiny and attention has washed over Black officers like Silva — challenging their resolve and raising tough questions about their motivations to do the work.

How they handle the pressure could be a defining factor in the future of American policing, helping to determine whether L.A. and other major cities can ensure their police forces reflect the communities they serve — which experts and community leaders see as critical to establishing community trust in law enforcement.

The portion of officers who are Black has fallen from 14% in 2010 to 9% today. The percentage matches the 9% of L.A. that is Black, but officials fear it could fall further if hiring doesn't keep pace with a looming wave of retirements among older Black officers.

It's "a really tough time to be a Black cop," said Connie Rice, a longtime civil rights attorney who has sued the LAPD over abuses and worked within it to introduce reforms.

In addition to heckling from activists on the streets, Black officers are subjected to internal racism within the department, which always existed but has exploded further into the open since the 2020 protests, Rice said.

 

Silva has experienced it all firsthand.

He said protesters on the streets have repeatedly called him a "traitor" and a "house n-----," a loaded slur that refers to enslaved Black people who worked inside the homes of their white enslavers.

At the same time, in conversations with some fellow officers, Silva said he has felt isolated and judged for not rejecting the message of the Black Lives Matter movement wholesale, or for expressing sympathy for some of the protesters. He tries to avoid those topics with certain officers, he said, but tensions still creep up.

In an incident last year, Silva said he was deeply offended when a Black man being questioned on the street by an aggressive white officer asked to speak with Silva instead, and the white officer slapped Silva on the arm and said something like, "Oh, you only want to talk to a black-skinned officer? Here's a black-skinned officer."

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