Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Dr. Cedric Alexander: Oral History

These were the words that allowed Cedric Alexander at the age of 19, a college drop-out, and new father to get his start in law enforcement. In a recent oral history interview, Alexander, now the chief safety officer for DeKalb County, Georgia and the president of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives (NOBLE), described his conversation with Sheriff Raymond Hamlin as a defining moment in his life.

In 1970s Florida if someone wanted to attend the police academy, they would either have to already have a job with a Florida police department or pay $100 and get a police chief or sheriff to sign off on their paperwork. For Alexander, Sheriff Hamlin was his last chance. “I didn’t even know how to dress for an interview,” recalled Alexander, “I went over there in a jean jacket, jeans, [and] a skull cap, like a typical college student.” Hamlin had a “reputation of being a sexist and a racist and a bigot”, but the two men found common ground. After two and half hours of talking, Hamlin signed Alexander’s paperwork and they went their separate ways, yet Alexander says, “Everything in my career over the last 37 years is because Sheriff Raymond Hamlin opened the door and gave me an opportunity that nobody else would.”

Alexander’s conversation with Sheriff Hamlin paved his way into the police academy and local law enforcement. Now as a law enforcement official, Alexander encourages everyone to take a second look at people and try to truly follow Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s lesson of judging people by the content of their character and not by first impressions. The challenges of being a black man in the United States are keenly felt by Alexander who is all too aware of the precarious tight rope African-American officers must walk in their communities. He says, “It’s a double-edge sword for a black police officer because… you’ve got to be sensitive to the struggles and history in your own population, but you also are tied to the responsibilities and the oath that you’ve taken as a law enforcement official.”

The need for racial sensitivity in hiring, policing, and training will be foremost in Alexander’s thoughts as he works in his community and on a national stage in President Obama’s new task force on 21st Century Policing. But Alexander’s expectations for his officers are the same for all the law enforcement executives he encounters, “we maintain law and order, do what we’re sworn to do…we’re aware of [our biases and prejudices]…and we treat everybody the same regardless.” Read Dr. Alexander’s full interview and find more first-hand accounts of law enforcement history in our Museum Oral History Collection, sponsored by Target®.