Black and Blue
Trymaine Lee: Sergeant, now one thing. I know you are from Queens originally.
Stanley Jean-poix: Right.
Lee: But I know you're old enough to remember the philosopher-rapper from the Bronx, KRS-One.
Jean-poix: Of course.
Lee: Right? And he had songs, Sound of da Police.
Krs-one On Recording: Woop-woop! That's the sound of da police! Woop-woop!
Lee: Where he goes, you know, "Overseer, overseer, overseer, overseer, officer."
Krs-one On Recording: Overseer, overseer, overseer, overseer, officer, officer, officer, officer!
Lee: Like, and the direct link between the overseer, whether they're Black or white, and today's modern policing. And Black Cop.
Krs-one On Recording: Black cop!! Black cop black cop black cop. Stop shootin' black people, we all gonna drop.
Lee: Right? Where he basically--
Lee: --you know, talks about the police, and Black police in particular as an extension of the kind of oppressive, white supremacist kind of system. When you hear Black Cop and Sound of da Police and that sentiment that resonates in our communities, how does that sit with you?
Jean-poix: Actually, I understand the perception and it's just frustrating at times because you would like the community to know that not all cops are bad. But I understand the history and the experience of the Black community and so I don't take it personal.
Lee: Stanley Jean-Poix is a sergeant in the Miami Police department. He's 51 years old, has been on the force for 23 years, and he feels that tension of being both a Black man and a cop every single day.
Jean-poix: So I know outside this uniform, I'm still a Black man. At the same token, I love my profession and I want to use it for good.
Lee: Sergeant Jean-Poix grew up in Queens and moved to Florida to go to college. After graduating, he joined a gym and started lifting with a couple of Black men he came to respect.
Jean-poix: And we would talk. And then, you know, topics about the police would come up. And I would say, "Man, yeah," you (UNINTEL PHRASE), "I'm driving up the road, I'm gettin' pulled over, and the cop was a jerk, and this, and this, and that." And then they said, "Well, you know, do you know any good cops?"
I'm like, "I never met a nice cop." And then they're like, "We're cops." And I was like, "You're kidding me." And they just kept talkin' to me and they're like, "Hey, I think you'd make a good cop." And I said, "Naw, but the system is so jacked up." And they're like, "Listen. It takes individuals like you to change the system. You have more impact within than outside."
Lee: Today, Sergeant Jean-Poix is part of a long history of Black officers in Miami who have worked to change the department from the inside out, starting in 1944 when the Miami PD finally allowed Black men to join the force.
Jean-poix: Community's ecstatic. "Hey, we finally did it. We have people that look like us," you know, "that resemble us, and represent us."
Lee: But back then, the white police union wouldn't allow Black members.
Jean-poix: Not only that, Black officers could not arrest white people. They were all restricted to only patrolling the Black areas. Yeah. They didn't have police cars. They had to use a bicycle to arrest you, and just a whole plethora of things. And so finally, the Black officers got fed up two years later, said, "You know what? Instead of crying and trying to become members of this white organization, we're gonna form our own organization."
Lee: In 1946, they formed the Miami Community Police Benevolent Association. It's the second oldest Black police union in the country. Sergeant Jean-Poix is the current president. The union has fought for years for better representation on the force. And today, Miami PD is 27% Black.
That's 10% higher than the city's Black population. Now, that's probably because so many Black people have left Miami over the years. But it's still rare in urban areas. After George Floyd was murdered, departments all across the country pledged to hire more Black officers.
But despite diversity efforts over the years, most forces are whiter than the communities they serve. In Miami, Sergeant Jean-Poix sees himself and the other Black officers as being part of a long legacy of internal reform. It was Black officers who fought against discrimination within the Miami police department. And it's Black officers who, he says, are a bridge between law enforcement and the communities they patrol, like Little Haiti, where Sergeant Jean-Poix is currently assigned.
Jean-poix: That perception, that the Black community's totally against the police, is not true. But you have to earn that respect.
Lee: But not everyone in Miami believes that respect can be earned or if it's even deserved.
James Valsaint: My experience with the police growing up have been one where I realized they are not here to protect and serve me.
Lee: Jean Valsaint is 36 years old. He's an activist and a music teacher who grew up in Little Haiti and neighboring Miami Gardens.
Valsaint: I'm not afraid to admit that I did a lot of dirt as a child, right? Bein' on the streets, growin' up in impoverished communities, you just gotta figure out how to survive, and get by, and, you know, still have fun as a kid. So, yeah, growin' up, yeah, bein' a knucklehead on the streets, I always had my run-in with police, you know? Grab you, chase you, put you in the back of the car, you know? Poke you with the baton a couple times.
Lee: After spending a few years in Amsterdam, Spain, and L.A., James moved back to Miami ten years ago, where he got involved in protest movements like Occupy and, after Trayvon Martin was killed, Black Lives Matter. For James, more Black officers on the Miami PD does not equal better outcomes for Black communities.
Valsaint: A lot of times, the ones that was chasin' us and pokin' us with the batons were the Black police officers. It's an institution. It's a systemic thing we're tryin' to change. It's not an individualized, personal thing, you know what I mean?
Lee: I'm Trymaine Lee and this is Into America. Today, we go to Miami, a city with a rich, complicated history of Black police officers, to try to answer this question: Is the best way to reform policing from the inside out with Black officers who understand the neighborhoods they police? Or is it impossible to actually change a system that was designed to oppress Black people?
James Valsaint and Sergeant Jean-Poix are two Black men of Haitian descent whose lives took very different paths. One's an activist, the other's a cop. But they both believe Black communities deserve better from the Miami Product. Now, do y'all brothers know each other?
Valsaint: Nah, just met--
Jean-poix: No. First time--
Valsaint: --first met today--
Jean-poix: --meeting him.
Valsaint: --yeah. (LAUGH)
Lee: So we did something that doesn't happen very often and certainly not in front of a microphone. I asked them to sit down, to talk with each other, to try and answer some of those big, fundamental questions I just laid out. Hey, James, we're lookin' at, you know, reforms, the push reforms, you know, post-George Floyd especially. And we're kind of engaging with this idea that, you know, can Black officers be the key to reform or are they just part of the same old system?
Jean-poix: I'm tryin' to figure out how to answer this question as respectfully as I possibly can.
Valsaint: No, speak your mind, brother. (LAUGH)
Jean-poix: My man. Appreciate you.
Valsaint: Yeah. (LAUGHTER) I won't, I'm not judgin' you. I'm here--
Jean-poix: All right.
Valsaint: --I'm here to communicate. Right. That's askin', that's, like askin' if the overseer, you know, can reform the plantation. Fact of the matter is we have to come to the understanding that both police and prisons are a direct descendant of the slave system, right?
Jean-poix: So if we, like, get that fact out the way, then we understand that police are just overseers or runaway slave catchers. That bein' said, can a runaway slave catcher, can an overseer help to, you know, reform the system of slavery? I think that answers its own question. Absolutely not.
Lee: As a self-respecting Black man but also a police officer--
Lee: --who's dedicated to policing--
Lee: --how do you respond when you hear a brother say somethin' like that?
Jean-poix: I hear him and I understand it, 'cause when I go to the barber shops, I get it. However, I respectfully disagree. I really do believe we can make a difference 'cause I've seen it from my organization's perspective, the Miami Community Police Benevolent Association.
We've been fighting for Black officers' rights and the Black community. And we've made a lot of strides. Is he right in the sense that it's systemic? Yeah. But I'm gonna give you a inside perspective that you don't know. On the inside, law enforcement and the power structure are really not intimidated by the outside.
The perception is, "You're on the outside. You don't know how it works in here. You can't control this." What they do is, like, he's right. It's systemic. They sit back and they say, "Okay. Let me see your move. Okay. Now, I'm gonna counter," just like you saw with the Black Lives Matter protests in 2020. And this is awful similar.
When you have people on the inside like, "Hey. You can't do that. I'm watchin' you. I understand how you're makin' these moves," and you're callin' them on it, it does make a difference. I wish I ran into him when he was younger 'cause that's the type of person we would try to recruit to become an officer. (LAUGH) Yeah.
Lee: Oh, James. Oh--
Jean-poix: Yo. Yo, yo--
Lee: --oh, James. Officer Valsaint.
Jean-poix: --yes. You know why? Because--
Valsaint: Oh, man--
Lee: Officer Valsaint.
Valsaint: --y'all tryin' to get me cooked out here.
Jean-poix: No, no. (LAUGHTER) No, no. And, (LAUGH) but because he understands what the Black community's goin' through and he's been through it. So I think we can make a difference. Is it goin' to take time? For sure, you know? Is it goin' to be a constant struggle forever? It might be. But we have to keep trying. And I think it takes conversations like these to help change it.
Lee: Did that make sense, James? The idea that, as Sergeant just said, that the machine doesn't care about what's happenin' on the outside, and they grind us up everyday anyway. They're--
Valsaint: Uh-huh (AFFIRM).
Lee: --not worried. But on the inside, they might listen and might say, "Okay. You're one of them." (LAUGH)
Lee: "Maybe we'll listen to you." Does that make sense at all or--
Valsaint: Not at all, 'cause--
Lee: --is that beyond--
Valsaint: --everything that--
Valsaint: --has happened since George Floyd has shown the exact opposite. The powers that be are definitely afraid of the masses or else, you know, Derek Chauvin wouldn't be behind bars right now, you know what I mean? Like, the amount of mass, massive amount of people that hit the streets for George Floyd, for Breonna Taylor, and the amount and the response that we got from politicians and police all around shows that the powers that be are scared.
They are absolutely intimidated. And I think that's the issue. They might tell y'all, you know, as police officers, that, "Hey, y'all gotta be tough," and, you know, "We're not afraid," and all this, because you gotta show face. But at the end of the day, we see what's goin' on.
We see actual laws bein' changed. We see policies bein' change. We see police chiefs losin' their jobs for not, you know, carin' about discrimination. So we see a lot of, you know, ruffling of the feathers when it comes to the people on the outside intimidating the people on the inside.
Jean-poix: When you talk about, you know, with the protests working and things like that, yeah. I agree. The outside can cause pressure and cause things to work. But now you're in Florida. Now you have HB1, right?
Lee: HB1, or the Combating Public Disorder Law, was signed by Florida governor Ron DeSantis this spring. It makes it harder for local municipalities to reduce their police department budgets and also amps up penalties for protestors.
Jean-poix: What did they just do? You may be at a protest and a knucklehead does somethin' crazy or he pulls down a Confederate statue. Guess what? You happened to be there. You're goin' to jail for aggravated rioting. These are on the books right now as of April. So for every move, there's a counter.
Lee: I'm gonna ask both of you this, but I wanna start with you, James. What does actual police reform look like? Like, I know there are people talkin' about defunding, or abolition, or limiting chokeholds, or qualified immun, there's all kinds of things floatin' around--
Lee: --but what does--
Valsaint: Good, good.
Lee: --you know, the ideal of police reform look like?
Valsaint: It's just all about accountability, man, you know? Like, there's three people in this room right now, you know? Two of us can't break a law and get away with it. One of can, kind of, you know? Gotta get investigated and maybe, if we're hopefully, might get arrested, you know?
You bein' a police officer does mean you sit above the rest of us. So first things first is makin' sure there's an equal field when it comes to accountability, you know? And that means getting rid of things like qualify immunity. The second thing, I would say, is I like the sound of community policing and all that stuff sounds nice and all, but at the end of the day, you're a cop comin' into the community with a gun on your hip.
And it's like, we can't do that. The Second Amendment does not apply to Black people. Like, with or without a gun, we still have to face police brutality. We know you can literally shoot us and get away with it. So until that policy changes, where, you know, you shoot us, immediately there's handcuffs on you, then we're on equal playin' field. And then, yeah. I'll be honest with you. As you walked in, I'm tryin' to figure out if I should shake your hand but when I saw you didn't have a gun on your hip, I'm like, "Cool. You're just another Black man."
Valsaint: You know what I mean?
Jean-poix: Right, right.
Valsaint: If you think you comin' into the community with a gun on your hip and a badge that says, "I'm above you," there is no equal playing field. I lived in Europe for a little while where, you know, your first interaction with police is not a person with a gun. It's a person with a baton, or a social worker, or whatever the situation calls for.
I was talkin' to my friend about a town in Colombia called Palenque, where they don't have police. So it is possible to go beyond police reform and talkin' 'bout communities that don't need policing. It exists in the world and it can happen. But I think the more we keep talkin' 'bout all this reform nonsense and, you know, I know defundin' the police is a very touchy subject but that's the only way we're goin' to get there, you know? So that would be my answer.
Lee: Feel free to (LAUGH) respond, Sarge.
Jean-poix: No, hey. It's a lot. I kinda understand what he's saying but I don't agree, respectfully. For instance, Europe and the United States is too different entities. The amount of guns that are out on these streets is unbelievable. And you watch the news every day about the guns that are being used out here and the gun violence.
Secondly, as officers, I think some officers do think they're above the others. Black officers like myself, we don't feel that we're above the oth, we just understand that the gun is a tool. We don't look at it as a tool to oppress people. We look at it for, "Hey, if it ever hits the fan and I have to use it, then I have to use it."
Valsaint: Yeah. That's just logical. But I'm talkin'--
Valsaint: --realistically now. There is, if I have a problem that does not involve a violent altercation, there is absolutely no number that I can call aside from 911--
Valsaint: --which brings a person with a gun. Now let's say I'm a single parent--
Valsaint: --and I just got a issue with my son, like--
Valsaint: --what happened in the case of Lavall Hall.
Lee: James is talkin' about an incident from 2015 in Miami Gardens, a small city north of Miami. Lavall Hall's mother, Catherine Daniels, reportedly called police for help with her 25-year-old son who had schizophrenia.
Valsaint: She specifically called 911 and said, "My son has a mental issue. I just need some help." What did Miami Gardens police do when they got there? They shot that poor boy 'cause he had a broomstick.
Lee: Lavall died on the scene. The police department said he wouldn't comply with orders and that there was some sort of physical altercation. The officer who killed Lavall was never charged.
Valsaint: I'm just sayin', as a first responder, there's so many issues that society has to deal with that doesn't require a person with a gun to come deal with it. That's all I'm sayin'.
Jean-poix: Right. I get that--
Valsaint: As a first responder.
Jean-poix: --right. I get that logic but that's not reality. And I'll give you another example. I had a similar call like that in Little Haiti maybe four years ago. A lady sees the officer drivin' by, she flags him down, she says, "Hey. My son's sittin' over there," you know, "He was threatenin' the family but it's because he didn't take his medication. He's really a good guy."
Officer gets out, sees he's sittin' down. He seems pretty calm. Officer starts talkin' to him and dialogues. Says, "Hey, what's goin' on with you?" And then he's like, "I feel like killin' myself." So in law enforcement we know code word, okay, when people talkin' 'bout harmin' themselves or they can't take care of themselves, they need to go to crisis or see a mental health expert.
He goes, "Okay. I'll take you." His backup shows up. Actually the backup was a female officer so out of protocol, like, "Listen, for your safety and ours, we're just gonna have to put the cuffs on you because you expressed feelings of hurtin' your mom and your dad. We don't know if you're gonna turn violent."
He said, "Yeah. Sure. No problem." They put the first cuff on. Next second you know, he cold cocked the female officer, broke her nose, all-our brawl. It went from zero to a hundred. They had to call backup, restrain him. If he had a weapon, he could have used it, too. You just don't know when things are gonna happen.
Valsaint: That was a real random "if." Based on the story you just told, there was absolutely no reason for a person with a gun to be there, literally.
Jean-poix: But I disagree with that. The gun is part of us. That's what I'm talkin' 'bout. You're not in reality. Police are gonna be the first respon, that's why we're called first responders. Until you come up with a system--
Valsaint: Firefighters are called first responders.
Jean-poix: That's correct.
Valsaint: Paramedics are called--
Jean-poix: That's correct.
Valsaint: --first responders.
Jean-poix: So do you have a system in place that mental health is, people respond to calls? No.
Valsaint: That's why we need to work on that. But as long as--
Jean-poix: That's fly.
Valsaint: --we have people, but as long as--
Jean-poix: That's fly--
Valsaint: --I'm, I'll be--
Jean-poix: --right. Right.
Valsaint: --straightforward. As long as we have people like you--
Valsaint: --placatin' the system--
Valsaint: --then we ain't gonna get there.
Jean-poix: Well, I disagree with "placate." I think that's part of our job. You have to understand, as law enforcement, these are jobs assigned to us. Even when it comes to fires, they call us first. They'll be like, "Oh, send 911. Sent the poli," we show up and we're like, "No, no. You need fire rescue." And we have to get on the--
Valsaint: That's not because it makes sense, though. That's not because--
Jean-poix: No, I'm not sayin' it makes sense--
Valsaint: --okay. Okay. But--
Valsaint: --but that's what I'm sayin'--
Valsaint: --and that's one of the many things--
Valsaint: --that we need to change.
Valsaint: And unfortunately, that conversation gets lost in "defundin' the police."
Lee: Well, let me ask y'all about this. So there's this idea of defunding the police and then there are some who are straight abolitionists.
Lee: James, where do you fall on abolition or defunding? What do those two things mean? Because obviously been politicized. But what does that mean?
Valsaint: To me, they are simply points on the roadmap, you know?
Lee: To goin' where, though?
Valsaint: The ultimate goal is a beautiful, peaceful, utopian society where everybody lives nicely. Realistically, (LAUGH) the ultimate goal is a world where Black and poor people and Latino people aren't oppressed and don't fear for their lives, you know what I mean?
That's the end goal. That end goal we see as abolition, as an abolition of everything dealing with white supremacy, capitalism, and patriarchy. All of those systems have to fall, okay? And realistically, that's not somethin' I'm gonna see in my lifetime, you know what I mean?
So that's why I say it's just several points along the roadmap. And, you know, very early on in that roadmap is defunding the police. To me, it means that this country spends a ridiculous amount of money on violence, war, and policing, and that just a little bit of that money can go into the thing that he says is not a reality.
So if we just take a little bit of that. Not a, just a little bit, ten, 20%, whatever the people who are (LAUGH) smarter than me have figured out, and divert that into programs like social work, like having more counselors in schools instead of police officers.
I'm sorry, but it's just absolutely ridiculous to know that the school that I'm goin' to teach in in a couple hours is goin' to have a police officer with a gun walkin' through the school house. And it's kids. It's children. But putting money into these kind of programs so we have first responders that aren't people with guns, that are paramedics, firefighters, and social workers. That's what defunding the police means to me.
Lee: Sarge, does that make sense to you? I mean, 'cause in some ways, it sounds like, you say, (LAUGH) you know, "The game is what it is, not what we want it to be. And we're playin', I'm playing a role in this game that is already set." Where James is sayin' there's a reimagining that could happen here about the way not only we police communities but fund these communities. And there's another way to respond to the issues that we have that have been created by society. When you hear all of that, how do you feel?
Jean-poix: The abolition part, I don't know if, you know, I guess because I'm in, my mind, realistically sayin', I don't see that happening because I know how the system works, right? However, everybody wants a equal society. That's why we fight for what we fight for as Black officers.
When you talk about defunding, so most officers interpret "defund," which means "take away from," right, that, "Okay. You're gonna take away money from me to give to other organizations." Most officers wouldn't have a problem with that if they know that system's gonna be efficient. So like we talked about earlier, if you call a mental health person, you're taking away money from me to give to a mental health, let's say professional to respond to these calls. And then it gets violent. I still have to respond back--
Jean-poix: Then the police attitude is like, "Well, if I'm gonna have to keep comin' back to solve it anyway, then you might as well pay me." Now, if the mental health people can do it without needing us, we have no problem givin' up. And I think that's the disconnect in the communica, that's how law enforcement officers interpret it as. "Okay. I don't mind givin' it but are you gonna still have me come and respond then? If I am, then I want to be, you know, taken care of, comp," but they all want--
Valsaint: I'm sorry. That doesn't make much sense, though. That's the problem with policing. Y'all act like y'all removed from society, as though just because there's an extra step, you know, oh, so y'all done and y'all job done. No. I said as a first response. There just might be a second or third response, you see what I'm sayin'?
Jean-poix: Right. Right.
Valsaint: Like, again, I'm not sayin' that police in Europe don't have guns. That's silly.
Valsaint: But your first interaction on the street with them is not a person with a gun generally speaking. It's just an official and if they need backup, then clearly, yeah, they get on the radio and boom, you know, and--
Jean-poix: But that's not--
Jean-poix: --right. Right. I understand--
Valsaint: --why is, why don't you see that as a peaceful society?
Jean-poix: Because it's not reality. I get that logic but that's not reality.
Lee: Man. It's really hard to break this up but we need to take a quick break. Coming up, Sergeant Jean-Poix talks about some of the changes he's pushed forward in the police department, like leading a campaign against the former chief of police. Stick with us.
We're back. I'm talking with Miami activist James Valsaint and Sergeant Stanley Jean-Poix about police reform and whether change is possible from within the system. Sergeant Jean-Poix says Miami's Black police union if proof that yes, you need people on the inside.
Case in point: his union's fight against former Miami police chief Jorge Colina. Jean-Poix says that under Colina's leadership Black officers were treated badly. They faced harsher punishments and fewer opportunities for promotion.
The sergeant took his union's concerns to the Miami City Commission in January 2020. The commission didn't act on the complaints. But this fall, Chief Colina announced his plan to retire. The news caught the city off guard. Colina had the job for less than three years. But Colina said this was always his plan.
Jorge Colina On Recording: I feel a great sense of satisfaction that we've been able to achieve the goals that we set.
Lee: Miami got a new chief of police this spring, Art Acevedo, who came from Houston, Texas. Jean-Poix says he's hopeful Chief Acevedo will usher in a new era of accountability about Miami PD.
Jean-poix: I believe, from my perspective (doin' this for a long time) was officers were not held accountable, right? In the old days it was just like, "Well, all right. He made a mistake. He's one of ours. We're all brothers in blue," right? "We all went to the academy together. We're all together. We have to back each other no matter what. We don't snitch each other out."
That's for real. "And if you go against the brotherhood, guess what? We don't back you up. If you ever get in a tough situation, we're not comin'. You're on your own." The system ostracize, "Hey stay away from that guy," right? And s--
Lee: And Black officers have found themselves in--
Jean-poix: -- of course--
Lee: --that position?
Jean-poix: --no, of course. And then you find yourself dealin' with the racism on top of it. That's why I think Black officers are the key because we're the ones steppin' out, saying, "Hey. We have a lot of problems and we need to address it and treat everyone with respect."
But once you, I noticed, you start holdin' officers accountable, they'll be like, "Who, wait a minute. Did you see what Officer-- what happened to Officer O'Malley when he did that? Man, he went to jail. Man, he got suspended for three months."
People say, "You know what? It's not worth it." Now we have a new chief, Acevedo. What he's doin' is, I love it. He said, "If you lie, you die. If you out here lyin', you can't be a cop. You out here doin' wrong? I'm gonna hold you accountable."
Let me tell, that has sent shockwaves. He's only been here two months. The departments like, "Whoa." They've never seen that. And so that's why I come from the perspective of you can change it from within and the police department can become more responsive to the community. We just need to be held accountable, right?
Lee: Hey, James, how often do you hear officers speak about accountability the way, you know, the sergeant has right there?
Valsaint: I got a question for the sergeant. In the 23 years that you've been on the force, have you ever held a single cop accountable for wrongdoing?
Jean-poix: Me personally? Yes. As a Sear, yes. All the time.
Jean-poix: But is it common? No, of course not.
Valsaint: 'Cause that's the issue. It's like, it's weird to hear you say that other people gotta hold police accountable--
Valsaint: --when all you gotta do is slap some handcuffs on somebody when you see 'em doin' wrong, whether they a cop or not.
Valsaint: And we just don't see that happenin'.
Valsaint: We got this new chief and all this great talk about accountability. But I know for sure there are several officers on the force that have killed people, that have broken laws, that aren't being held accountable. They continue having power, they continue having a gun and a badge when you know they're doing wrong. That's insanity to me, bro.
Jean-poix: I agree. But we're saying the same thing in different (UNINTEL).
Valsaint: This is why I say--
Valsaint: --this is why I say--
Valsaint: --guys like you are pretty cool. We can--
Valsaint: --sit here and talk.
Valsaint: But all you're doin' is placatin' the system. Get out the way and let us do our job, please.
Jean-poix: I don't think we're in the way. I think we're actually doin' a great job. I think we're actually helpin'. But the system's deeper than you think.
Valsaint: So let--
Valsaint: --me apologize 'cause--
Valsaint: --'cause I, it's a bit of an emotional outburst for me to say, "Get out the way." What I mean is, "Get on the right side of history, man."
Jean-poix: I think we are--
Valsaint: If you are against--
Valsaint: --if you say you're supporting--
Valsaint: --an end to police brutality, then you gotta listen to what the experts have been sayin' on this.
Lee: But Sergeant, I do wanna ask you--
Lee: --one thing. And I think James kind of intimated as much. And I wonder where you and Black officers fall when it comes to that "thin blue line."
Lee: To me, it's dripping in racism, this idea that there's the thin blue line between civility and savages and--
Lee: --we know who they're referring to when they're discussing these "savages." It's us.
Valsaint: Uh-huh (AFFIRM).
Lee: Where do you fall, and where do Black officers fall, behind that line?
Jean-poix: If you notice, and I can tell you for my department. I can't speak for all. For my department, I never wear the thin blue line bracelets, you know? We never got into that because, just like you said, we're savvy enough to understand when you say "the thin blue line," that's a separation.
So most law enforcement, when they come on, right? They're trained to believe they're warriors, right? They're goin' to war and we're the last line of defense to protect the community. Black officers, we view ourselves as guardians of the community.
We view ourselves as one of the c, part of the community, and our job is to pr, help the community protect itself. So it's two different mindsets. Can it be mutually inclusive at the sa, yeah. Because you have Black officers viewing it one way. You have the dominant culture viewing it another way. But that's the irony of it. Because we fight internally but on the outside, we have to show a united front. So for instance--
Valsaint: Why do you have to sh, why, why, why do you have to show a united front?
Jean-poix: We have to, well--
Valsaint: As the police--
Valsaint: --that sounds like a gang.
Jean-poix: Can I finish?
Valsaint: Yes, you can.
Jean-poix: Okay, I do--
Jean-poix: --we do step out when we can. But because the way the job is set up, the way we're trained, like, "Hey listen, you have to come home at the end of the night," or, "You have to back your partner up 'cause all we have is each other. The community may back you, they may not. All we have is each other. Make sure each other gets home." That's how it was ingrained in us, right? It's like family. We may have our problems inside but on the outside, you have to show a united front. And so we try to show--
Lee: James suggested it's more like a gang--
Valsaint: And that's the conditioning--
Lee: --than a family.
Valsaint: (SIGH)-- and that's the--
Lee: I mean, this is what James is--
Valsaint: --that's the conditioning--
Jean-poix: I mean--
Valsaint: --that you got.
Lee: This is how you positioned it.
Jean-poix: --well, you know what?
Valsaint: You've been conditioned to think like that. You just said it.
Jean-poix: I, listen. I get it. I agree. It's more like a gang, (UNINTEL), I would say I agree. But I think you have officers like myself that are pushing back from that, right? Because let's be real. At the end of the day, this is still a job, right? And so you spent two years goin' through the academy, tryin' to do all these trainin's to become civil servants, right?
And then, you're not part of the dominant culture. And you know if you go against the dominant culture, one, they may not back you, you might get hurt, you're gonna get written up, you might get fired. And then, now you're family's like, "Dude, we got bills to be paid."
As long as I'm taking care of my family, I'm gonna do my job. And you have others like us that are like, just in our core, we love our community. We love where we come from. We're like, "Hey, listen. We can't let it go down like that." But it's not a simple answer. When we go outside, we have to show this united front. But on the inside, hey, we fight like cats and dogs.
Valsaint: The united front should be with the community, not with one another. It's like--
Jean-poix: That's true.
Valsaint: --if the, the fact that you can't s, like, you know what I mean? That--
Jean-poix: That's true.
Valsaint: --that's not what's being ingrained.
Jean-poix: Listen, listen. You asked me what have we done--
Valsaint: For sure.
Jean-poix: --to hold people accountable.
Jean-poix: And I'm tellin' you, if you've been watchin' since 2019, 2018, before George Floyd, we went toe-to-toe with the FOP.
Lee: The FOP, the Fraternal Order of Police. That's the main police union in Miami. And it's part of a larger national union. And it's very conservative and depending on which side you stand on, very controversial.
Jean-poix: Okay. We let America know we do not stand on the side of the FOP when they talk about we should have chokeholds, and that officers are not doin' anythin' wrong, and they don't need implicit bias. We're on the other spectrum saying, "Yes, we do. And the way we police is not reflective on how we should be or responsive to how we're doin'" according to--
Lee: Let me jump in here. James, is there any value to having officers who in practice, in some way, is bucking the system? 'Cause they are puttin' themselves in a wild position as police officers. Is there any value in that?
Valsaint: There's a lot of value in what he just said about goin' up against the FOP. So I'll commend you there--
Valsaint: --you know what I mean? That's a big deal. It's just that, I gotta be honest, everything else feels like lip service. I mean, again, like, we are not in the system, like you say, you know? That we need some people in the system to change the system, you know?
So those of us outside the system, all we have is our voice. All we have is to speak out and as long as it ain't disenfranchised, our votes, you know what I mean? To hear that the people who are on the inside are using the same tactic as the people on the outside are doin', that feels like a waste of time. That feels like an exercise in futility.
Lee: Let me ask you this, James. Are there any good cops? Are there good Black cops? Have you had any engagement, any relationship, anything with--
Lee: --a good cop?
Valsaint: I have, personally, have several interactions with good people who just happen to be police officers. I know one situation where, you know, I was passed out in my car, expired license plates, suspended license. But yeah, one of those situations.
I'm passed out in my car. I get a knock on the window. And this, it is a Black female cop in Little Haiti, right? You know, I'm in my car, so eye level, the first thing I see is a gun on a hip, you know what I mean? I did get to panickin', but she was like, "Hey, are you okay? Are you okay? Are you okay?" in a very soothin' voice.
Long story short, she made sure that I got to a safe location okay. She followed me. She realized my tags were expired. And she's like, "Okay. I wanna let you go but I don't want you to get pulled over when I let you go," you know? So she followed, she gave me a police escort, to a safer location.
So, yeah, you know? I imagine the reason she did that, because she was a Black woman. I shudder to think, I fear to think of what would have happened if it were the white police officer. I mean, we know many situations where a Black man sleepin' in his car resulted in a white police officer showin' up and they bein' dead, and even Black police officers bein' there as well. So I don't--
Lee: So there are benefits to havin' some Black cops? Is that what you're sayin', there is some--
Valsaint: You really want me--
Lee: --benefits to (UNINTEL PHRASE)--
Valsaint: --to say it, huh? (LAUGHTER)
Lee: Oh. (LAUGH) I'm just trying to unpack it all.
Jean-poix: I know he--
Lee: I'm just tryin' to see--
Jean-poix: --I know he--
Lee: --we clear.
Jean-poix: --think, because--
Valsaint: Yeah. Yeah.
Lee: I'm pushin' on both of y'all--
Jean-poix: No, no. Listen--
Lee: --I'm pushin' on both of y'all--
Jean-poix: --but I'm gonna tell you--
Lee: --to see where we at.
Jean-poix: --you know, listen. I'm a Black male, I'm Haitian American, I love my culture. It makes a difference because I can relate to his upbringin' and his experience. White officers, when they deal with a they person, they let 'em get away, it's because they can relate to that person.
You know, they go back to the time, "Well, when I was in college, you know, I remember havin' a couple beers at a frat party," and you know what I mean? And they relate to it. But with us, because it's a different perception, different views of us, they view us as inferior. And so, that's, he kind of proves my argument. You do need more good Black cops 'cause we do make a difference. But I understand his point in the sense that it's a system. So--
Jean-poix: --one or two individuals may not be able to change it. But I think conversations like these are good because trust me, you know, there are some things that I don't agree with. But for the gist of it, I understand what he's, 'cause I hear it from my friends. I hear it at the barber shop. So it's not foreign to me.
Lee: But what happens though, Sergeant? What happens though when you have this connection to the community because you're a Black man--
Lee: --and you understand what's what, right?
Lee: But then a white cop kills a Black teenager who had been unarmed under--
Lee: --questionable circumstances. Do you stand by, what--
Jean-poix: Yeah. Oh, no--
Lee: --where does the connection--
Jean-poix: --we've done--
Lee: --where does that lie?
Jean-poix: --oh, no, listen. It's traumatic and it's hard on us because we're like, "Man, we try so hard to give a different perception," right? Because our goal is to recruit more people to come in that think like us to effect change from the inside. And that's why if you notice, our organization, the minute George Floyd happened, we were one of the first organizations nationwide to step out and say, "What Derek Chauvin did was wrong and that was murder." And the FOP didn't like that. They're like, "Hey, you're supposed to be," and we're like, "No. Murder's murder." And that was the debate back and forth. And so it's gonna take time. I think it's gonna take conversations like these. So--
Valsaint: (UNINTEL PHRASE)--
Valsaint: --if I can say somethin'--
Valsaint: --real quick. Standin' up to the FOP and stuff like that is--
Valsaint: --definitely somethin' to be commended. I'm just thinkin' about "a good cop." Every time I hear "a good cop," I think "good cop, good soldier." And--
Valsaint: --at the end of the day, a good soldier follows orders. That's your job, to follow orders--
Valsaint: --not to work on your own brain.
Valsaint: And it's like, I remember specifically when they were evicting Occupy Miami, I'm one of two Black people amongst, like, a hundred white people.
Jean-poix: (LAUGH) Right.
Valsaint: And those white cops beat the hell out them white kids, okay? So race does not really have, there's plenty of stories of Black police officers--
Valsaint: --shootin' Black people and white police officers shootin' white people. So race in this situation, it just messes the conversation up, you know what I mean?
Jean-poix: You know--
Lee: Hey, James, man, you keep talkin' like that, you're not gonna make a good cop, man. He's (LAUGHTER) tryin' to recruit you. He try to get you on--
Jean-poix: Oh, listen.
Lee: --man. You thinkin' like that ain't gonna help.
Jean-poix: Listen. (LAUGH) Let me tell you. Give me some time, Trymaine. Watch. (LAUGHTER)
Valsaint: You might be shocked. You might--
Jean-poix: This should be--
Lee: Officer Valsaint. (LAUGHTER)
Jean-poix: --it's gonna be a great--
Valsaint: Officer Valsaint. (LAUGH)
Jean-poix: --this will be a great experiment.
Lee: In the neighborhood.
Jean-poix: It'll be a great experiment. Because I could see him, you know, talkin' to the kids and really making a difference. You know, like I said--
Valsaint: And when I do talk to the kids, just like when I talk to my seven-year-old, I tell him--
Valsaint: --he should fear the police. His favorite show is Paw Patrol, and I'm (LAUGH) sorry. I'm tellin' him that little dog--
Jean-poix: Well, no, but (UNINTEL PHRASE).
Valsaint: --cop's cool. You know, I have to.
Jean-poix: But let me tell you why that's, how old is he?
Valsaint: Seven years old. And--
Jean-poix: Let me tell you.
Valsaint: --he understands that police are there to do good but they are violent and have guns so you should always be careful. That is what my seven-year-old son understands.
Jean-poix: Well, yeah, I could understand you saying, but here's the thing. What if he gets lost one day or he needs help and he sees an officer? If he's--
Valsaint: He's goin', he's not gonna approach that officer, I assure you that.
Valsaint: He's going to, he's not. He's going--
Jean-poix: But that's a bad thing 'cause that officer might be the one--
Valsaint: Is it a bad thing for me as a parent or--
Jean-poix: --let me hear (UNINTEL PHRASE)--
Valsaint: --is it a bad thing for you as a cop that the people--
Jean-poix: --no, no. Let me (UNINTEL) you--
Valsaint: --don't trust you?
Jean-poix: No, no, no. Here's my point. My point is I would want, if your son was lost or he needed help and he saw me, I would want him to feel comfortable like, "Hey, let me go up to this officer for help." You want kids to know that if they see an officer, we're there to help. Do you have bad apples? Yeah. That's the ones you have to hold accountable.
Valsaint: Bad apples? That's a--
Valsaint: --(UNINTEL) thing. I wonder why every time people talk about "bad apples," they don't finish the entire quote. Do you know what the quote is?
Jean-poix: What's the quote?
Valsaint: "Bad apples spoils the entire barrel."
Valsaint: And there've been bad apples in policing since the beginning, so the whole barrel is rotten. We gotta get rid of the whole barrel, bro.
Jean-poix: Well, I don't think so. I don't--
Valsaint: No, no. Right--
Jean-poix: --I don't--
Valsaint: --but you do start with bad apples.
Jean-poix: --because let me tell you--
Valsaint: --bad apples.
Jean-poix: --let me tell you why. And I think you're just a voice, and I respect your voice. I talk to many people in the Black community. I work Liberty City, Little Haiti, Overtown, Black Grove. And when you talk to most people, they'll tell you at the end of the day, they don't want to get rid of police.
They say, "I want good poli, I want to get rid of the bad seed and I just wanted to be treated with respect. Whatever, however you treat the dominant culture, I want to be treated the same way. Don't talk down to me. Don't belittle me. Don't rough me up when you don't have to. I just want a good officer. I want a professional." That's what I mostly hear.
Valsaint: Professional, okay?
Valsaint: A good officer could be a person without a gun on their hip. It really--
Jean-poix: So that's-- (LAUGH)
Valsaint: --is that simple. It's that simple, bro.
Jean-poix: So now we're back--
Valsaint: I, yeah.
Jean-poix: --to the gun. (LAUGH)
Valsaint: You know me. 'Cause that's what most people are talkin' 'bout.
Jean-poix: Like I say, (LAUGH) trust me. You know, Trymaine, it's funny. I actually laugh. He's just like my whole barber shop in one person, (LAUGHTER) you know what I mean? I always get--
Lee: All of 'em just in one.
Jean-poix: --in one person. That's him.
Lee: Well, listen, I will say this. This has been, now I'm only half jokin' when I say y'all should have a podcast. You probably really should because I really do believe that as Black men, especially, and Black people, we need to have these conversations, right, wrong--
Lee: --or indifferent, in order to understand the greater society--
Lee: --and the roles with play on all sides of it. So I think this has been great.
Jean-poix: Appreciate it.
Lee: I want to thank you two brothers very much for this lively discussion. This was dope. And I don't think we moved the ball much (LAUGHTER) but I think we do have some understanding. I think we have some understanding, though.
Valsaint: For sure.
Lee: I think we do.
Lee: And the thing about it is is, what's interesting is y'all agree most places--
Lee: --except for the fact that the way you view police and the way you view policing--
Jean-poix: Right. Right.
Lee: --in general--
Valsaint: Uh-huh (AFFIRM).
Lee: --is polar opposites. But y'all seem to agree.
Lee: So I want to thank y'all very much.
Jean-poix: Appreciate it.
Valsaint: That tells me that bein' Black men comes first, you know what I mean?
Valsaint: But appreciate you, man. Like--
Jean-poix: Appreciate you.
Valsaint: --keep this awesome show goin'. 'Preciate you for the conversation.
Jean-poix: No, I appreciate, yeah. Yeah.
Lee: 'Preciate. Thank you. We'll be in touch.
Jean-poix: All right, guys. Thank you.
Valsaint: Absolutely. Blessin's, y'all.
Lee: That was Sergeant Jean-Poix of the Miami Police Department and activist and music teacher James Valsaint. This conversation was part of a week of coverage here at NBC News and MSNBC called "Future of the Force." Be sure to check out all of our reporting from across the country on where policing is headed.
And I really want to thank y'all, our listeners, everyone who participated in our survey. We got some amazing feedback and the one thing we learned is that you love the show and you love to share it. So tell your mom and them, your friends, your cousin. Just let everybody (LAUGH) know how much you love Into America. We greatly appreciate it. We're gonna take all your feedback to make sure that we give y'all somethin' even better next time, so thank you again.
Into America is produced by Isabel Angell, Allison Bailey, Bryson Barnes, Aaron Dalton, Max Jacobs, and Aisha Turner. Original music is by Hannis Brown. Our executive producer is Ellen Frankman. Special thanks to Brian Robertson. I'm Trymaine Lee. Catch you next Thursday.