In the days after Baton Rouge police officers shot and killed 37-year-old Alton Sterling, a black female officer from Cleveland felt compelled to address the murder on a public platform. In a Facebook Live video, Nakia Jones sounds off on other cops who, she says, live with a “God complex.”
Jones talks about being torn between her oath to serve and protect and the fact that she’s a part of the community police are slaughtering. “If you’re that officer that know good and well you got a god complex, you’re afraid of people that don’t look like you, you have no business in that uniform,” she says. “Take it off.”
The roughly seven-minute video posted on Wednesday starts with Jones’ recounting of what happens in many households now: her son coming home from work and showing her video of a black man’s death at the hands of the police, in this case the shooting of Alton Sterling.
“I watched the video over and over and over and over and over again, so that I wouldn’t become judgmental,” says Jones. “Because not only am I a mother of two African American sons, and I have African American nephews and I have brothers, I am also a person that wears the uniform with the blue. I’m also the one that puts their lives in danger. I wear blue.”
Jones says she became a police officer in 1996 and grew up in the hoods of Cleveland, which is also the community she chose to serve. This is where the video starts to hit on the familiar, frustrating idea of “good cops.” You feel yourself wanting to turn it off. “I’m looking at it and I became so furious and so hurt because it bothers me when I hear people say, y’all police officers this, y’all police officers that. And they put us in this negative category when I’m saying to myself, I’m not that type of police officer,” says Jones. “I know officers like me that would give their life for other people. So I’m looking at it and it tore me up because I got to see what you all see. If I wasn’t a police officer and I wasn’t on the inside, I would be saying look at this racist stuff.”
While explaining her decision to become a cop, Jones also brings up black-on-black crime—another reminder of how people so instinctually and inappropriately link that topic to police brutality. But a respectability lecture is not where this is headed. What you’re seeing in the video is the complex intersection Jones lives at: she is black, a woman, an American, a cop. “The thing that hurt me most of all was a lot of people I was arresting were the same color as me, that grew up in East Cleveland like me. Why would you want to destroy your community?” she says. “But they’re not sworn to serve and protect. They didn’t take that oath.”
She continues. “What hurts me the most is the people that stood in front of the judge and stood in front of the mayor and said, ‘I wear on my oath that I will serve and protect this community.’ If you are white and you work in a black community and you are racist, you need to be ashamed of yourself.”
“How dare you stand next to me in the same uniform and murder somebody,” she says. “How dare you. You oughta be ashamed of yourself.”
It feels futile to say we’ve reached beyond the point where it’s possible to tolerate the good cop argument at all—that there’s no way for a cop to completely separate his/herself from the systematically, disproportionally aggressive police force they work for. As Jones talks about the good ones, I’m remembering Greg Howard’s piece last year on the association of blue with terror. The urge is to say no, fuck all of you.
But then you look at Nakia Jones, wishing she didn’t feel the need to even say there are good ones, and didn’t feel the need to bring up black people killing black people. You wish it was easier for her to do exactly what she is trying to do, what police officers almost never do—which is condemn the fatal misbehavior in their workforce. You wish she could just admit there must be a reason that the police system collectively, consistently fails to uphold its duty and instead spills blood. But nothing is ever that simple.
So Jones pleads to whoever’s listening about black death that happens by us and to us. Beneath everything, this is a black woman who’s also a cop visibly calling out police brutality on a video platform, performing the simple act of saying that everything about this shit is wrong. It’s the opposite of the officer who couldn’t just say something when he spoke to Hot 97's Peter Rosenberg.
It’s heartbreaking to see how staunchly Jones stands by the pledge she’s taken, when we know that without the badge, and even with it, she could easily become a victim of the group she partially defends. What’s even more heartbreaking is seeing this video next to the unfathomable composure of Philando Castile’s girlfriend, who sat there taping and watching her boyfriend get murdered while still addressing the officer as “Sir.”
At this point in Jones’ video, toward the end, no amount of italicizing or exclamation points from me can really get across her anger, so just watch it. “If you’re that officer that know good and well you got a god complex, you’re afraid of people that don’t look like you, have no business in that uniform. Take it off,” she reiterates. “If you’re afraid to go talk to an African American female or a male or a Mexican male or female ’cause they’re not white like you, take the uniform off. You have no business being a police officer. Because there’s many of us that will give our life for anybody and we took this oath and we meant it. If you are that officer that’s prejudice, take the uniform off and put the KKK hoodie on.”