Prime Time Crime

(Prime Time Crime exclusive Nov.  9, 2012)

Proud men

By Bob Cooper


I was sent this article by a friend who is a retired member of the RCMP:  Race is among the most sensitive of subjects these days and one that people with common sense avoid like the plague but if I had common sense I wouldn’t have had half the fun I did in my younger days so here goes.  First of all I’d like to acknowledge Sgt. Smith for his long service and for being a pioneer.  The fact that almost 600 out of 19,000 members of the RCMP are Black is due almost entirely to men like Sgt. Smith for blazing the trail and being positive role models for the next generation and he deserves to be very proud of that.  I’ve no doubt that during that time he and other members of visible minority groups were subject to insensitive or ill-considered remarks, pranks, or outright discrimination. 


That said, as I read the article I couldn’t help but notice that a lot of those mentioned in it have done very well.  I’m seeing ranks like Inspector and Superintendent and if that’s discrimination I could have used some of it when I was on the job.  I’m no statistician but 600 out of 19,000 doesn’t seem too far out of line as far as Canadian demographics go.  The line about “you’d better be White by 6 am” looks astonishing  through a 2012 lens but it was 40 years ago and pales, if I can use that word, when compared to a legendary comment made by an NCO when calling a Troop of female recruits to Attention.  It could also have just been cop humor, the way we typically talk to each other; a type of kidding designed to make someone feel part of the group.   While it shocks civilians, I’ve seen plenty of similar examples where no malice was intended.  Another claim involves a recruit that was told to resign or be fired 12 months into his training.  It occurs to me that RCMP recruit training is only 6 months long and perhaps, after giving him every chance, this guy was just found to be unsuitable.  Then I saw the line about a sequel to his book in which Sgt. Smith says he “will look at things that were supposed to happen, like affirmative action….” and thought, ‘Ah, there it is’. 


With the greatest respect for all he’s done, I disagree with Sgt. Smith on this issue.  In a previous column Justice should be colour blind , I wrote “that anything, particularly in the law, that bestows an advantage or disadvantage on any person or group based upon race is ipso facto racist and there is simply no such thing as good racism despite what liberals would have you believe”.  Back in the 1970s when I was walking Chinatown I ran into Inspector Hank Starek who was in charge of Human Resources in the hallway one day.  Later to become a Deputy Chief, Inspector Starek was a gentleman, very thoughtful, and always looking for ways to make the Department better.  He asked me what I thought he could do to increase the number of Chinese (I think we had one at the time) on the job.  I suggested that he do nothing and while that answer surprised him, I explained that in traditional Chinese culture being a policeman was considered a very poor career choice but that things would sort themselves out in a generation or two.  Trying to do it artificially might be an attractive option in the short term but would result in long term disadvantages.  Every recruit would be looked upon as a ‘special case’ and wouldn’t have the respect of other cops and you wouldn’t be doing them or the job any favors.  A little over 30 years later, when you look at today’s VPD, you won’t find a more diverse department anywhere and that diversity thrives in an atmosphere of mutual respect.


In my opinion, groups like the Association of Black Law Enforcers are divisive and detract from that atmosphere.  In the early 1980s, my partner at the time, Bill Chu, was asked to a dinner to discuss forming an association of Chinese police officers.  He asked if I would be welcome at the dinner and when they said ‘no’, he told them to get stuffed.  Cops need to stick together, nowadays more than ever.


The U.S. Army may have been a world away but the same dynamics apply. On my first day of Basic Training in 1970 our Drill Sergeant, S/Sgt. Henry Roberts, told us that he didn't care whether we were formerly Black Panthers or KKK in civilian life, the only color here was Green because in combat you had to depend on each other to stay alive. He made Lou Gossett’s character in An Officer and A Gentleman look like a sissy and I wish I had a nickel for every time he screamed at me to get my skinny White ass over that wall or under that barbed wire or he’d kick my f**king head in.  I was 17 and far too busy being scared to death of him to feel discriminated against but just like in the movie, when it was over we'd have all followed him off a cliff and I’ll never forget him.  Like most of the Black NCOs and Officers I met later on, he was a self-made man, proud of his rank and proud of his country, and got where he was through ability and merit. None of them needed 'affirmative action' or artificial 'set asides' and would have recoiled at the very thought of it.  Matter of fact, they’d have considered it an insult that implied they couldn’t do it on their own and if any desk-bound Officer offered them a promotion on a race-based quota they’d have knocked him down and cheerfully done 6 months in the Stockade.  


Most of these men had grown up in the South in the 50’s and experienced racism that would make the lives of Sgt. Smith, et al look like a Hawaiian vacation.  The Army offered them a more level playing field where they could overcome disadvantage by outperforming their peers, distinguishing themselves on the battlefield, and leading by example. Those proud men did more to advance their race and race relations than all the associations, lawsuits, and human rights complaints on earth and we could all learn some valuable lessons from them. 



Bob Cooper is a retired Vancouver policeman.  He walked a beat in Chinatown and later worked in the Asian Organized Crime Section and the Homicide Squad.



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