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Are some police racist or is the whole system? A Black Spokane cop and his daughter discuss, disagree

Jada Richardson and her dad, Ed  (COLIN MULVANY/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
Jada Richardson and her dad, Ed (COLIN MULVANY/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

As a Black teenager growing up in Chicago, Ed Richardson often feared the police. But that didn’t stop him from becoming one of them.

In early June 1999, officers in the city shot and killed one of his close friends when she reached for what they thought was a gun but was actually her cellphone.

Today, Richardson works as a reserve officer for the Spokane Police Department and a full-time resource officer for Spokane Public Schools, patrolling the district’s schools on the South Hill.

As protests and riots have flared nationwide, Richardson finds himself conflicted. So does his 16-year-old daughter, Jada Richardson, who grew up around Spokane police officers who treated her well and changed her life, she said.

Jada described Jennifer DeRuwe, a Spokane police officer who specializes in youth outreach, as one of the teen’s “biggest cheerleaders.”

But Jada and her father don’t share the same stance on policing.

He thinks there are some racist officers in the world. She thinks the police system itself is “inherently racist.”

“We don’t agree on a lot of things, but we have good conversations,” Ed recently said with a chuckle.

These are conversations they have over dinner. The Spokesman-Review listened in on one of their evening discussions about policing nationwide and Spokane in the wake of protests over the death of George Floyd.

Jada rattled off mile markers in the history of policing that, she said, show its oppressive architecture. Her father laughed, sighed, repeated how proud he is of her and, ultimately, disagreed on many points.

One thing they do agree on: Some officers are biased, and the consequences are dire.

“When I watched that George Floyd stuff, I couldn’t even watch it all. I had too much pain,” Ed said. “We do have some bad people who wear this badge, and it feels like they can do anything they want to.”

When Richardson moved from Chicago to go to school at Eastern Washington University, he said he was getting followed by police and getting tickets for no apparent reason. He attributes that to bad apples.

“I had to process it, and I thought, ‘Let me look into being an officer,’ ” Richardson said. “Instead of me complaining, I’m going to go through the process of becoming an officer so I can help the community.”

As a reserve officer, Richardson is a volunteer employee for the Spokane Police Department . Reserve officers go through the same training as full-time officers at the Spokane Police Academy, said Julie Humphreys, a Spokane police spokesperson.

When on the job, reserve officers have the same authority of any Washington state peace officer and carry out the same duties.

Off the clock, they lose that status, while full-time officers always have the ability to make arrests, badge on or off, Humphreys said.

Spokane officers have been good to him and his daughter. Twenty-five years ago, an officer took Richardson under his wing, making him feel welcome and encouraging him to stay in the profession.

Overall, the father and daughter agree Spokane is like a safe “bubble” compared to Chicago and other cities. Jada said she comes back from trips to her dad’s hometown grateful for her own.

Still, as a child, her parents taught her how to talk to police. The possibility of police brutality was a given. As a small girl, she learned to always show her hands, to state that she had nothing that could hurt anyone and to be polite and calm. Jada said she’s cried thinking about it.

As she prepares to leave her “bubble” of Spokane for college, she and her father both worry about police becoming violent toward her. They disagree on the root cause, though.

“He’s right, there are cops whose bias leads them when they’re on patrol,” she said. “But the police system itself is inherently racist.”

When slavery was abolished, the 13th Amendment created a loophole through incarceration, Jada said, before she read aloud from the amendment: “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States.

“We can’t say the police force isn’t racist when it was created solely to make sure Black people stayed in prison. There’s no reason Black people should make up 12% of the United States, but 30% of our prisoners.”

Nationwide, Black Americans in 2018 made up about 27.4% of arrests, double their share of the national population at 13.4%, according to estimates from the U.S. Department of Justice and census estimates.

At a youth voices event June 3, Jada told The Spokesman-Review that the first police forces were essentially “slave catchers.”

In 1838 in Boston, the first publicly funded, organized police force with officers on duty full time was born. Boston was a commercial shipping center, and businesses hired people not to protect lives but to guard traders’ property being transported from the port of Boston to other places, Gary Potter, a crime historian at Eastern Kentucky University, told Time magazine in 2017.

Another root of modern policing came much earlier, in 1704, when the first formal slave patrol was created in the Carolina colonies, Potter said.

“People will make comments saying, ‘Why don’t you just get over it? These things didn’t happen to you, they happened to your grandparents,’ ” Jada said. “It’s so inconsiderate to ask human beings to get over the pain and monstrosities that happened to people in their lineage. I seriously can’t get over it, I’ll never get over it.”

On one hand, she said Black Americans can become numb to police brutality because they’ve been experiencing systemic racism for over 400 years. On the other hand, a violent history in policing has led to generational trauma, she said, in which Black Americans have learned over generations not to trust police.

Ed said he’d learned a lot of police history from Jada, but can’t agree that the system is built wrong.

He pointed to efforts like the Police Activities League, which helps police build relationships with at-risk children in Spokane. Police join kids in flag football and basketball games as well as activities that focus on science and math. The program works both ways, Richardson said. It shows minority students that officers are “human, not just a uniform.”

“I’m super proud of Jada. I’m so proud that she wants to make a difference. Her mom always says, ‘If you see a problem, fix the problem,’ ” Richardson said.

“I saw a problem in the community, and I wanted to fix the problem. I wanted to come out and serve my community and fix the problem. And my big thing is, it starts with the youth.”

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