EPD Officer Smith addresses being Black in law enforcement

Local News

UPDATE:
EVANSVILLE, Ind. (WEHT) — As protests around the country target members of law enforcement, Officer Phil Smith tells Eyewitness News what it’s been like for him to be a Black man in law enforcement in America.

“We’ve come a long way in our profession. Is it perfect? It absolutely isn’t,” said Officer Smith.

For Officer Phil Smith, the desire to serve and protect came naturally but it wasn’t always a part of his family history. “There were no police officers on either side in my family and now myself and also my brother, Ray Smith, is an Evansville Police Officer so we made history within our own family becoming police officers, African-American police officers,” said Smith.

Now in a time when the world is watching department’s like his, Smith says he’s using his own experiences to educate those around him about what it’s like to be a black man enforcing the law.

“People will remind you that you’re a black police officer. Whether they remind you by saying, ‘Hey I’m glad to see that there are more African-Americans on the police department,’ or whether they’re attacking you because of your race or whatever reason. Law enforcement as a whole, you know we’re together more than we are with our actual families at times so sometimes you have to have those tough family conversations,” said Smith.

For Smith, bringing the community together begins with addressing the narrative: us versus them.

“We hurt just like everyone else hurts because of what happened to Mr. George Floyd. I want to start by erasing that line between law enforcement and community because there shouldn’t be a line like that,” said Smith.

Smith says throughout his career, several people within the department have reached out to check-in on him and to learn from his story.

“Each Black officer, each White officer, each Hispanic officer, Latino, Iraqi, all of us at one point or another sat across that interview and told the reasons why we wanted to become officers and those reasons were simple. It was because we wanted to make our communities better, we wanted to make our communities safer, and we wanted to make our families proud and that goes beyond color,” said Smith.

ORIGINAL STORY:
EVANSVILLE, Ind. (WEHT) — The spotlight on local law enforcement isn’t just focused on the nation’s largest cities, but also right here in the Tri-State. Officer Phil Smith tells Eyewitness News what it’s been like for him to be both a Black man and a member of law enforcement.

“Blacks weren’t always allowed to be police officers, but then change happened and progress is made,” said Officer Phil Smith.

Officer Smith and his older brother Ray made history in their family when they became the first police officers in their family tree.

“We both serve this community, we both love serving this community and it absolutely came in our mind that we were going to  be black police officers,” said Smith.

In light of the death of George Floyd and protests targeting law enforcement, Smith says he’s been using his own experiences to help educate others about what it’s like to be a black man in law enforcement in America.

“People will remind you that you’re a black police officer. Whether they remind you by saying, ‘Hey I’m glad to see that there are more African-Americans on the police department,’ or whether they’re attacking you because of your race or whatever reason. So, you’re reminded of the color of your skin,” said Smith.

To Smith, an important part of his duty to serve and protect is addressing the narrative: Us versus Them.

“The community to me is one thing. The police are a part of that community also,” said Smith. “We hurt just like everyone else hurts because of what happened to Mr. George Floyd. I want to start by erasing that line between law enforcement and community because there shouldn’t be a line like that. You have to understand as the police officer, that they’re lashing out at something that may not be directed towards you the individual, but at the situation as a whole. So you know, does it hurt? Yeah, but you have to do what you have to do and be held and rise to that higher standard.”

Smith says throughout his career, several people within the department have reached out to check-in on him and to learn from his story.

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(This story was originally published on June 8, 2020)

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