Black Lives Matter Activist Wanted To Be A Cop. Why Didn't He?
Monday, June 1, 2020
NPR's Noel King talks to Rashad Turner, founder of the Black Lives Matter chapter in St. Paul, Minn., about the death of George Floyd, who died last week while in police custody in Minneapolis.
NOEL KING, HOST:
Over the weekend, I went to meet a man named Rashad Turner. He's 35. He lives in St. Paul, Minneapolis's twin city. My producer Ashley Westerman and I had a plan to meet him outside at Mounds Park. But we went to the wrong entrance. And so we had to wait for him.
I said hey to a group of young men and boys who were hanging outside a house. It was a hot day. We talked about George Floyd, about the police. One of the men, Davionte Davis, said this whole thing is crazy.
What do you mean by it's crazy?
DAVIONTE DAVIS: For somebody to put their knee into somebody's neck, that's bogus. Like, I don't even like watching a video like that could be me. I just feel like that's just hurtful, like, 'cause at the end of the day, to me, I don't feel like the police help us for nothing.
KING: And then...
Oh, oh, is that the police? Why are are the police here?
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: That's what we're talking about.
KING: Some police rolled up while we were doing an interview. Let's have a look.
Two officers got out of their car and started asking Davionte questions.
UNIDENTIFIED POLICE OFFICER: We got a call because somebody thought they were selling some stolen shoes.
KING: They said someone called the police and said Davionte was selling stolen shoes out of his house. Davionte said he was not. And so the cops went away. When I turned around, Rashad Turner was there. And we walked over to the edge of the park.
All right, Mr. Turner. Where's a good spot for you?
We were there to talk about police and trust. And then Rashad Turner said something that surprised me. He used to want to be a cop. He trained to be a cop. To him, the cops were the good guys.
RASHAD TURNER: My dad got killed when I was about 2 years old.
KING: What happened?
TURNER: He was shot and killed in an alley.
KING: Do you know who did it?
TURNER: Yeah, the guy was arrested, did some time.
KING: What did you think of the police?
TURNER: I would play cops and robbers, right? We'd ride our bikes. I'd always be the cop, right? I mean, I had this idea that the officer friendly that came to our school to be officer friendly - like, that was all cops. And, you know, that was coupled with this desire to, like - I don't want any other kid to lose their parent. Playing cops and robbers. Like, my brother and our friends - they'd probably say, like, oh, Rashad was never the robber, right?
KING: They would say that, huh?
TURNER: Yeah. And it was one of those things like I felt like, yeah, I'm practicing.
KING: And he kept practicing. As he got older, some of his friends quit him. They'd had bad interactions with the police, and they didn't understand why he'd want to be a police officer. Then in high school, he got an internship with the St. Paul Police Department. And that was when Rashad had his first problem with the police.
TURNER: I can remember a time when I was 18 - 17 or 18, right? I was coming home from umpiring a Little League baseball game, right? I had these tight, gray umpire pants on. And I am literally one block from my house, getting ready to turn the corner. I see a young man that I recognized from the neighborhood. He's looking pretty distressed.
KING: Rashad stopped to help. The kid had been in a fight, and the police showed up. While they were there, they saw a B.B. gun in the back of Rashad's car. He used it to shoot squirrels on the golf course. But he figured he'd be OK. He'd interned with the police. He knew them. And then while he sat in the back of the car, he saw a message on the computer screen up front. The cops were talking about him.
TURNER: Something like, oh, yeah, that's that intern? I knew he was dirty.
KING: And what did you feel when you saw that?
TURNER: I mean, I felt just small. I realized, like, it didn't matter that, you know, I was putting my blood, sweat and tears into this internship, trying to learn, trying to help, making what I thought were relationships with these officers. I was just another n***** to that cop.
KING: But he kept going because he wanted to be a cop. He got a Bachelor's in Criminal Science. He got married. He went into the police academy. And then one day, Rashad did something that scared him.
TURNER: My daughter's mother - my daughter wasn't even born then. But she came down the stairs, and I had the shades up in the living room. And she simply asked me, why you got the shades all open like that, right? And I just sort of snapped. Why do you mean? What does it matter why the shades are open? And there was absolutely no reason for that reaction or response to her. And I just remember her saying, like, that cop stuff is changing you.
KING: He graduated from the Police Academy in St. Paul and decided it was time to leave home. He applied for a job in Tulsa, Okla., and went down there for an interview. He says he aced the written test.
TURNER: I'm doing this oral board, which is basically...
KING: What's an oral board?
TURNER: My bad - which is basically - at the time, was a bunch of white guys, like, eight white guys sitting around a table, commanders, lieutenants, sergeants.
(SOUNDBITE OF FIREWORKS)
KING: What's that?
TURNER: Just fireworks.
TURNER: And they ask you a series of questions. And they said, you get a call to a bank. The bank's just been robbed. The suspect had a gun. What do you do? And I knew they wanted me to say I would kill this guy, right? So I just said it. I said, I eliminate the threat. And they said, OK, well, now, how do you do that? I said, I'll discharge my firearm and eliminate the threat. Well, he's still going. Well, the threat's not eliminated. I will keep going until the threat's eliminated. They all paused and basically gave me a round of applause. And this was something like - I knew what they were wanting me to say. But, like, the fact that it was just so impressive to them, it was just sort of that last straw.
KING: Rashad had decided he didn't want to be a cop. A few years ago, he founded the St. Paul chapter of Black Lives Matter. He doesn't regret his decision. When you saw that video of George Floyd with a police officer pressing his face into the ground, was there any part of you that thought, I should've become a cop because if I had become a cop, that wouldn't have happened?
TURNER: Never popped into my head, actually.
TURNER: No. First thing that popped into my head was, here we go again, right? I think the second thing that popped into my head was - I don't even know what the second thing was. I'll just say that I went into sort of a dark place.
KING: It's not a dark place that he needs to dwell. The point of being a cop was to help people. He has protested peacefully. He has kept an eye on his neighborhood. And he was watching closely while those young men near the park were being questioned by the police. He's helping.
(SOUNDBITE OF TERENCE BLANCHARD'S "MIDNIGHT") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.View this story on npr.org
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