The Black and the Blue
A Cop Reveals the Crimes, Racism, and Injustice in America's Law Enforcement
By Matthew Horace
Hachette. 256 pp. $27
Reviewed by William K. Marimow
On the night of June 1, 1983, Matthew Horace, a strapping football player at Delaware State, left his family home in West Oak Lane, got on the Broad Street subway, and headed downtown to join the throngs celebrating the Sixers' NBA championship.
As he emerged from the stairwell on the east side of City Hall, he saw a snarling German shepherd, accompanied by a group of four or five police officers. Moments later, the German shepherd — a police K-9 dog named Macho — had ripped off Horace's right sneaker and repeatedly sunk its teeth deep into his ankle.
Horace ended up that night in Hahnemann Hospital, where he would remain for a week. As a result of that experience, Horace writes, when he graduated from college, it didn't "take much more to explain why being a law enforcement official wasn't at the top of my list of desired professions."
Despite that traumatic encounter with the Philadelphia police K-9 unit, Horace — the son of a Philadelphia electrician and a secretary — became a police officer, serving first on the streets of Arlington, Va., and later as a special agent and supervisor in the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.
Having crisscrossed the nation in his work at ATF and having worked with dozens of local police departments, Horace has written The Black and the Blue to chronicle what he learned during his decades in the trenches of law enforcement. As an African American man, Horace has seen first-hand how racial tension, insensitivity, and prejudice profoundly affected the relationships between minority communities and the police officers who patrol their streets.
Horace's experiences, from his childhood in Philadelphia to his work on the streets and in police training classrooms, will be revelatory to many readers who have not felt the sting of racial prejudice. Even after more than 30 years in law enforcement, Horace still vividly recalls his parents' childhood admonition about being stopped by Philadelphia police: "No matter how absurd the reason for the stop, no matter the insults endured, no matter the degradation, submit so you can make it home alive."
What Horace saw on the streets of Philadelphia and in his own extended family explain his abhorrence of drugs like cocaine and heroin and the people who peddle them. One cousin was a crack dealer, paralyzed after being shot in the back; one of his aunts was addicted to heroin; and Uncle Jerome also succumbed to heroin. Because of that, Horace writes, "I did some things I'm not proud of because I knew the hurt that heroin and crack can bring."
And although he knew the law, Horace also admitted that as a cop on the beat he adhered strictly to the two fundamental tenets of police work: Cover your ass and never rat out a fellow cop.
Horace's book moves swiftly, interspersing personal experiences with interviews with cops on the beat; police commanders from New York, Chicago, and other cities; activists; public officials; and victims of police shootings.
On occasion, the pace slows, most notably during Horace's chapters on police misconduct and efforts at police reform in Chicago. As he introduces his readers to the city, he recounts conversations with three drivers of the car-shares he uses to get around town. The subjects of those interviews are identified only by their first names, and — from my perspective — insights like theirs could have been expanded and amplified had Horace dedicated some additional time to finding Chicago residents to speak to him on the record, take him on walks around their neighborhoods, and invite him into their homes.
That, however, is a minor misstep amid 209 pages of solid reporting and trenchant analysis that give Horace's readers a poignant understanding of how it feels to be both a black man and a black policeman. Reading The Black and the Blue will help all of us better understand the formidable challenges that big-city police officers confront every day — and how those challenges are exponentially more difficult when the police officer is a black man.