(KPIX 5) — A local reporter who’s been covering the Bay Area protests against police brutality opens up about something she was shocked to hear from other people of color.
It started the night of Black Friday, days after the grand jury declined to indite Ferguson Officer Darren Wilson for fatally shooting unarmed teenager Michael Brown. A tense scene was unfolding between a black officer and a group of young minority protesters the night on the streets of San Francisco.
“We are ashamed of you! Your children are ashamed of you!” protesters yelled at the officer. “We are out here for you! We are your people!”
Then moments later, they start chanting, “You’re a sellout to the system! Sellout Cop! Sellout Cop!”
Lt. Leronne Armstrong says it’s a scene that’s all too familiar.
“It’s always surprising to see people call you an Uncle Tom or something to that effect,” he said.
Born and raised in Oakland, Lt. Armstrong is the president of Oakland’s Black Officers Association. He hears those taunts over and over on the skirmish line.
“An African American gentleman as I stood at Seventh and Broadway would scream in my face calling me all kinds of names and said that I was a sellout and asked me how could I do this,” he said, “how could I wear that uniform?”
And as KPIX 5 reporter Christin Ayers recalls, it’s not just black officers getting the brunt of the backlash. “As a reporter, I’ve had protesters quite bluntly question my own blackness,” she said, most recently at West Oakland where a protester told her, “You’re working in the house, for the master,” a slave analogy that turned her stomach.
It was the fourth time in a matter of days for which she was accused of being a so-called sellout. “What are you really here for?” one woman asked, wanting to know Ayers’ motives as a woman of color in the media.
There were also voices of reason, saying “let’s not attack the press.”
But Ayers said there was little she could say in response and retain her objectivity as a journalist. Armstrong says he’s used to that, too. And he knows the hostility is rooted in deep mistrust.
“I think all of us recognize that there’s an issue with trust in the community with law enforcement,” he said. “And I think across the board we all want to do what it takes to build that trust, to rebuild it so people have confidence in us.”
Armstrong wanted to tell the protester who confronted him at the last rally that he cares about what is happening right now around the country.
Instead, “I had to just stand there and accept the things he was calling me,” he said. “But you always feel like, ‘hey, I wish could respond.'”
More protests are planned in Oakland for Thursday.
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