The Paradox of Being a Black Police Officer

What did the white state trooper assume when he pulled over a black man with dreadlocks and a gun on the passenger seat?
What did the trooper do next?

The pistol belonged to Officer Corey Saffold with the Madison Police Department. During the school day between September and May, he was the School Liaison Officer at Madison West High School.

Corey Saffold shared stories about his life both in and out of uniform in front of audiences all over the state as a ShopTalk presenter. His talk, The Paradox of Being a Black Police Officer Today, was one of the most popular of the 25 talks available until recently as part of the Wisconsin Humanities Council’s programs focused on the meaning and experiences of work in Wisconsin.

Saffold opens his discussions with video of several police shootings of unarmed black men. He then talks his audience through what he sees in the videos, and his understanding of why these shootings took place. The  videos beg us to ask the question suggested in Saffold’s talk’s title — why, as a black man, Saffold chose to do the work of policing today.

Saffold’s talk combines personal history with insights into police training and the work he does with youth and out in the community. His warm personality and honesty is disarming. Audience members feel comfortable sharing stories of police encounters of their own and asking questions they’ve never had the chance to voice. Many have wanted to know more about how police do their jobs, about what they have seen on social media, and about what citizens can do to make communities safe for everyone. Saffold responses candidly and makes sure that everyone is respectfully heard.

In the above photo, an audience member at an event at the Pinney Branch Library in Madison helped demonstrate resistance to arrest. At another event in Milwaukee, a woman recalled becoming terrified of police when she was a child, after seeing an officer chase and beat a black boy in her neighborhood.  In Madison, someone wrote to Saffold after an event:

We are adoptive parents of black children and work to balance all the current media coverage and advice everyone has for us… Fear was primarily leading my thoughts towards police. This was before I had the privilege to hear you speak… I made the mistake of getting caught up with the social media hype surrounding the arrest at East Towne. I reposted the video with an angry and emotional reaction. I was called out by a former State Patrol Officer. I learned my lesson!!! Again, I appreciate your perspective and have changed my use and consumption of social media. It is not the forum to really connect with people or to change minds or social systems!

Corey Saffold is the Safety & Security Coordinator at Verona Area School District. Although the WHC’s ShopTalk speakers program has ended, you may still contact Corey about giving talks. Check out his website or be in touch via email.