Who is Joel?
Joel is an Investigative Sergeant with the local police department. He grew up in a Catholic, Democratic household in Rock Springs, Wyoming, a mining town, “the most diverse city in the State of Wyoming.” He describes his own political views as “quasi socialist,” and realized how conservative the state of Wyoming is when he moved from the “relatively liberal” county of Sweetwater to join the police departments in southeast Wyoming. He is married with children, and hopes to retire early to travel the world.
Excerpt from interview with Joel by Whitney Dow, 2018
Q: Have you gotten any specific advantages from being white that you can point to?
Joel: [01:07:17] Being in Wyoming, where a majority of people are white it’s kind of hard for me to specifically state that my whiteness helped me any more than any other person, mostly because Wyoming is something like eighty-six percent white. However, looking at our general histories in America and the overalls of America, I have to accept the reality that because I’m a man, I—whether I was aware of that or not at any specific time—probably had some sort of hand up in a situation. Also, because I’m white that stands to be the same. I do consider myself spoiled in that regard; I was able to take that for granted, and didn’t realize how much I took that for granted as I was growing up. The longer I’m in law enforcement and the more aware I am of the world around me, the more I realize that being of Anglo-Saxon descent, being a man, and being in a region of America that is somewhat rural, and because it’s rural by default mostly white, means that I definitely get preference points in some form or another. If you were to put someone like me in many parts of the East Coast or more of the urban areas I might be more aware of that favoritism, but because the overall racial diversity of Wyoming is so small, I rarely, before I became a law enforcement officer anyway, was aware that there was any favoritism, but like I said now, I definitely sense that there is, and that I was ignorant to.
Q: And, if you had to name—can you identify any disadvantages you have from being white?
Joel: [01:09:09] Mostly, like I said, it’s in law enforcement when people think I have an inherent bias against them, because I am white, because I’m a law enforcement officer I’m automatically considered “the man,” that I have some sort of agenda, to arrest and bust people who are minorities and to treat them worse than others. The reality is that I got into law enforcement to help people who are in bad situations. Currently, my job is focused on what’s called person crimes, and person crimes is crimes of violence, basically; sexual assault, child abuse, child pornography, homicides, aggravated assaults, things of that nature. When I go into those, I don’t go into that thinking I’m going to frame someone, I go into that thinking there are child victims out there who need help, there are women out there who are in bad situations and because their minds have been exposed to the cycle of violence so much, sometimes they don’t know that there’s help out there. I know that there are young men of all races out there who are suffering child abuse, who are suffering from labor abuses, things like that, and I want to help them out of that situation, I want to help to lift them up to reach what potential they have instead of having someone push them down. And, I see that as an opportunity in my job.
Joel: [01:36:12] So, when we talk about Black Lives Matter and Blue Lives Matter I think we’re getting too bipolar. I think we are oil versus water on that situation. I think we all need to look at the situation realistically and more balanced, instead of with our emotive response. We need to look at each other on a more human level. Black lives do matter. We can’t deny that police brutality does exist, okay. At the same time, I would like the people in the Black Lives Matter communities to understand that not all officers are against you. The majority of us actually want to make your lives better. We want to respond when you’re having that bad moment and make that moment better. Sometimes the person who created that moment needs to go to jail, sometimes they don’t, but at the end of the day we want to help you; we do need to be aware that there’s police brutality, too. With that in mind, the negative rhetoric on both sides has escalated violence against police. You know, killings of police officers in a violent manner has grown. If you look at the assaultive homicides on officers, that has increased and the link to that is the ongoing, negative, and biased rhetoric against law enforcement on the whole, instead of saying we have an issue and we need to work as a community to fix this, we’re getting statements like “Fuck the police,” and “Never trust the man,” and “No matter who that cop is, you don’t do what he says, you don’t listen, because he’s just trying to shove you down,” that’s not the truth. When I make contacts with anyone my priority is preservation of life and safety of the persons on scene and after that, preservation of life and safety of myself. While I did volunteer to get into this job knowing the risks, that doesn’t mean that I should just swallow that pill knowing that I’m going to die, and that I should just jump in front of it and embrace death.
It also doesn’t mean if I’m making contact with someone who’s a minority of any type that I should automatically go into some protective mode, nor should they. But, the only way I’m going to be able to break through that, as an individual, is to allow for the idea that they might have some views against what I do and—but I need to take that in, let it register, and think of a way to respond positively to try to neutralize their views. If they are contacted by me and they immediately reacted verbally aggressively and I react verbally aggressively, guess what? All we’re doing is creating conflict. If they react aggressively and I take the time to say, “listen man, I know you’re angry, I know you’re angry, I just want to assure you I’m here to help you, I understand there’s a problem, instead of dealing with whatever issues we may have with each other, let’s deal with what brought me here and try to work through that.” And if we can try to work as a community and understand that our anger is feeding that discontent and hatred and try to leave that anger behind and try to come to an understanding with each other, it’ll improve it. With Blue Lives Matter, I very strongly agree with the idea that the safety of our law enforcement matters, but I don’t think that should come with the sacrifice of the idea that we need to have a real and serious dealing with ongoing police brutality we have, we need to properly deal with our bad actors.
Joel: [01:15:46] Mostly I’m an island from the conservative thought processes that definitely go on in Wyoming, and definitely in law enforcement. They have conservative views for a reason, by and large a lot of liberal views do not jive with the idea of structured law enforcement, a lot of liberal people view some form of law enforcement as a big brother program, like it’s coming straight out of 1984 or something like that whereas conservatives argue for the law and order. The funny thing with that is a lot of the conservative people that we deal with day in and day out are some of our biggest headaches, because there’s this duality in their mindset where “it’s all well and good when we’re enforcing the law for all of these people, but as soon as I’m the bad actor, it’s no good and you’re stepping on my rights and don’t tread on me.”
For my police officers, their views lean conservative in part because some liberal pundits or sometimes even liberal politicians make things out that the entire law enforcement employment group or the entire series of agencies throughout America have this pandemic issue, that’s not the truth. We do have issues like any other group or organization that is made up of humans, and that puts them on the defensive. Additionally, there’s some interplay with that because a lot of the police officers I know in Wyoming have families who work in the energy sector or what is generally considered the conservative job types, which is blue-collar jobs. When you have people who feel like their jobs are being attacked by liberals due to environmentalism or things like that it tends to drive them even further to the right, not only with their views with law enforcement and law and order, but in their views of you’re trying to ruin my families lives and take away their livelihoods. Not to diverge too much from the topic, but when Hillary Clinton said something to the extent of “We’re here to kill coal” - that is going to very much rub a lot of Wyomingites the wrong way, including law enforcement officers who have families in those industries. I think the reality is that she didn’t actually mean we’re going to kill coal; had she made it a little more articulate she could have said, “The reality is coal is an unsustainable future for us, and we’re not here to kill coal because if we kill coal we’re here to kill your jobs, we don’t want to kill your jobs, we don’t want to kill your livelihoods and your employment and your ability to support your families, but we need to be realistic and transition away from coal, and while we transition away from coal we’re going to make an effort to provide you guys with a livelihood and a sustainability for yourselves that is on par with your current quality of life” Had she said something about transitioning instead of saying I’m going to kill coal, it could have gone a lot better. If some of our politicians used less aggressive rhetoric about how crooked police are and instead are focused on those specific situations, I think we could get more balance throughout the entire sense of understanding left, right, center, otherwise.