I had the privelege of sitting down and talking to Police Chief, Chris Mitchell.
He shared his experiences as a black man in America and in law enforcment.
Here is the summary of our beautiful conversation.
An interview with Chief of Police - Chris Mitchell
By: Dr. Teresa Habib 2020
I met Chief Chris Mitchell for the first time today. I initially thought we’d do a video interview, but I am glad we decided to just talk. Chief shared some stories that were at times funny and at other times, heartbreaking. Our discussion focused on race tension around the country and within our community. I am fortunate to have been invited into his sphere of experiences and I want to share some of those stories and insights because this leader, this man, this servant of God is worth listening to.
Me: Regarding your 2016 interview about racial tension in the country following an incident of police brutality, do you still think and feel the same way - that racism isn’t the problem, the heart is?
Chief: Without a doubt the issues are similar, and communities are hurting one another with and without racial reasons.
Chief: As a young teenage in Ohio and living in a mixed neighborhood in the 60’s, a friend and I were sitting in front of my house watching a car with white people drive around the block a few times. After the third time, I got my Dad who came out and approached the car the next time around. The people in the car were looking for a friend’s house but couldn’t find it and needed somewhere to rest on their way north. Dad invited them into the house, gave them drinks and food, and they stayed for three hours. I was mad because that was MY food Dad gave away, and I was a growing boy, and I was hungry!
Me: Although teenager Chief admitted that he kept a small chip on his shoulder, he remembers this event as a pivot point for his anger and resentment. His Dad demonstrated how to reach out to others and that has been a beacon for his own life.
Chief: While in middle school, I got into a fight when a white kid used the n-word. I came home with torn pants and changed into my only other pair of pants. Dad was not happy. He told me to get the dictionary and look up the n-word. Done. Read it again. Done. Dad asks, is that who you are? No, I am not. Read it again. Done. Is that who you are? No. Read it again. Done. If you are not what that says, then why are you defending it? Lesson learned.
Me: I relished the journey down memory lane with Chief Mitchell. Some of his stories are too personal to share but let me say this, they elucidate how this man became the leader he is today. His family should be proud.
Chief: In 1977 while serving in the US Navy in Northwest Florida, I was picking up some things at the local Piggly Wiggly. The attendant told me to get out of line and join the other one. The longer one. The black line. I refused. I was in the military so that suggestion by the attendant could be ignored, right? Well, the attendant called the Sheriff who came and asked me to come outside. The Sheriff agreed that the situation wasn’t fair, but it was “the way things are done down here.”
Me: Hearing this story hurt. It hurt my heart and I can’t imagine how Chief felt talking about it, let alone experience it. Could it be those folks at the Piggly Wiggly just didn’t know any better? Perhaps, but we are a country that has learned enough to know that this is not acceptable. Ever. Speak Up!
Me: Lingering Trauma is how Chief explains the emotions of today.
Chief: “This is a sin issue, more than a race issue.”
Me: The history of human bondage blazed across the globe and very few escaped its claws. We must keep discussing!
Chief: Years ago, I attended a Southern Baptist church for the first time with my wife and some good friends, who were white. After the first song, the pastor stated there was someone there who should not be. And without looking directly at me and my wife, he said it again. An usher came to our row and directed me and my wife out of the building. My friends were mortified and embarrassed for us, and they walked with us out of that church.
Me: A place of worship kicked out a man and woman for the color of their skin? The people in that room were okay with it? Today we might think this never happens, and even if it doesn’t, we must listen to those who experienced this. This is not okay. Experiences like this leave scars. Speak up and Just Listen.
Chief: “Hurt people hurt others.”
Me: “If I gave you a megaphone that reached to every major city and every peaceful and non-peaceful protestor, what would you say?”
Chief: We as people must honor and respect each other. The better way to get your voices heard is to march peacefully and directly to those who make the decisions that affect you: the mayor, city council, chief of police… marching randomly down a street with no endgame makes no sense.
Me: Chief is firm in his declaration that the Golden Rule should be practiced as we navigate this national crisis. Love will conquer much of our fear and mistrust. Perhaps we should try it as we listen to one another.
Chief: “This generation has been inoculated with lies. They are not disadvantaged.”
Me: In my observation, the media fills the airways with partial truths and expands with sensationalism and falsehoods to create emotional turmoil and fear. If we could unplug both television and social media, what would happen? Would we have to rely on our own authentic experiences to determine how to think or feel about issues? Would we go back to neighborly behavior and community involvement in positive ways? I challenge anyone to think critically about this.
Me: What advice do you give families- from the inner cities, or those struggling with raising kids in these stressful times?
Chief: Mothers want to see their children succeed. Look at Ben Carson. His mother couldn’t read but would not allow the same for her son. She raised him to be better than herself and that is a lesson for mothers in the black communities. “Love and show them they can be better than where they are. Give them tools to be better. Find male mentors.”
Me: Regarding policing. I have friends with opinions on both sides of this issue and I am not sure how to respond to them, so I asked Chief his thoughts.
Chief: “Policing has an internal culture” that can be detrimental to good order and discipline.
Me: Although the essence of servant leadership is present in police, fire, and military volunteers, there are still going to be pitfalls and troubles along the way. Chief leads his police department with a no-nonsense policy about treating everyone with dignity and respect. He will not tolerate any deviation from that and police who violate that value will be fired.
In conclusion: I can’t say enough how grateful I am for the glimpse into Chief Chris Mitchell’s experiences. Although I will never know the feeling of racism, I am better equipped to listen for understanding. I hope you will, too. Just listen.