Bitten by indifference, minorities may shy from system that doesn’t protect them

Note from Doni: Please join me in welcoming John Ryan to ANC. He and I worked together at the same newspaper some years back, and when I saw this esssy he’d posted on his Facebook page over the weekend, I asked for and was granted permission by John to re-post in here on ANC.


In 2017, I organized voter turnout for Planned Parenthood in Southern Virginia. This was just weeks after the protest/riots in Richmond where white supremacists killed and maimed peaceful protesters.

Most of the canvassers in my outfit were black. Most of the neighborhoods we organized in were majority black communities. One day we got a call from a team leader. She had canvassed in a middle-class white neighborhood that afternoon. Through her tears, she explained that while on shift, a white teenage guy had let his German Shepherds loose on her when she knocked on his door and asked for his mom. The dogs nipped at the canvasser, broke the skin on her hands, and she literally ran up a tree for safety. While she was in the tree, the boy stood in the yard and laughed while the dogs snapped at her from bellow. She said it was minutes of humiliation, degradation, and fear.

I called and reported the incident to police and left at once. I met the canvasser at a safe location. We sat and visited and I bought her a milkshake at the Micky D’s on the corner. As we waited for police, I tried to talk her into giving the police a report. She didn’t want to talk to the cops because she didn’t believe they’d do anything. To her, that would be just as trying and defeating an exercise as being cornered by a racist teenage fuck. I tried to reassure her that this was silly, that she was the victim of an assault, and that she could trust law enforcement. Unfortunately, she believed my naive, privileged ass. Unfortunately, I talked her into believing that law enforcement would be as outraged and alarmed as the rest of us.

After the two white cops arrived, she explained what happened. Virginia Beach’s finest just shrugged. “She was on his property, there’s not much we can do,” they replied. On her behalf, I felt helpless, and violated, and small. I explained that the canvasser has a right to knock on a front door and absent a locked gate or other posting, she was not a trespasser. I further explained that even then, the canvasser wasn’t subject to having dogs held on her to the point that she was terrified and captive.

The police officers, again, just shrugged. My canvasser scoffed and shook her head. That’s when the older cop, the one who hadn’t done any talking to this point, stepped forward and said to the canvasser, a mother of two, “do we have a problem here, girl?” I cut between the two and replied “hold up, remember that WE called YOU.”

We were told to stay out of trouble and the officers left without filing a report, or even taking a recorded statement from the victim.

Now, I know “not all cops …” which is very true. I work with great law enforcement personnel here in Yellowstone County every day. But that’s not the point. The takeaway here is: there are people in this country who do not believe that the system, and especially the part of the system with badges and guns, gives a shit about them. Time and time and time again, the system reminds them that these feelings are rooted in truth. Not understanding this is a form of privilege and ignorance. Having this privilege and ignorance does not make you a bad person. It does not make you a racist. It’s what you do next that counts. When you’re feeling small, and maybe a little challenged, do you seek to understand what it’s like for our fellow sisters and brothers? Or, do you get defensive and avoid the hard, introspective look?

That’s what counts.

TL/DR: Black lives matter.

John Ryan was raised in Redding and graduated from Enterprise High School. He worked as a reporter for the Record Searchlight for seven years before he left to finish his degree in government and economics at Sacramento State. He earned a law degree from the University of Minnesota and worked as a political organizer in five states. John lives with his wife and two children in Billings, Montana, where he prosecutes criminal cases as a Deputy County Attorney.


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18 Responses

  1. Avatar Chad Magnuson says:

    John writes of the all to common mentality of so many so called Americans, and the failure of LE to represent all people equally.
    While I support LE, I detest this form of policing.
    Support the Blue does not mean support of the large percentage of racist cops.
    I support the blue who support all people, who react with indifference to a persons plea for help regardless of ethnicity.
    Very cop should be legally required to wear a functioning body cam, and be fired if they turn it off.

  2. Avatar Annelise Pierce says:

    Thank you for being an ally and for speaking up. These are the stories we need to hear.

  3. Thank you, John, for sharing this gut-wrenching story that illustrates the ongoing inequity that still exists, and for the opportunity for us to face and examine our own privilege and ignorance.

  4. Steve Towers Steve Towers says:

    Yesterday someone on ANC—let’s call him “Doug”— said that he regularly asks his LE friends how many cops out there shouldn’t be in the profession. He claimed that over the years it’s run 20-25% bad apples. That’s what COPS think.

    Okay—let’s start there. Get rid of those guys. And I say this as a pro-union guy, but it would require de-fanging the unions of their ability to protect bad cops. I don’t know exactly how you do that—I assume there are collective bargaining agreements in place—but so be it.

    One other thing: Let’s stop pretending that when the local police department kills someone, the investigation by the local sheriff’s department is anything other than a whitewash. There needs to be an independent investigative body that solely performs that task.

    • Avatar Rubber Gun Squad says:

      Patrick “Rick” Hayes
      Charles Deshazer
      German Bosque
      Mike Denton
      Jennifer Strudl
      Makyla Mead
      Ryan McClarty
      MarySol Domenici
      Ronald Rodriguez
      William Berger
      Brandon Hraiz
      Craig Tanaka
      Josef Phillips
      Francisco Negrete
      Daniel Boegeman
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      Brian Miller
      Cordell Hendrex
      Jackie Dolinsky
      Eduardo Quintanar
      Travis Serafin
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      Devin Sparks
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      Donald Petraitis
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      Janir Sims
      Frank Marchione
      Steve Perry
      Kevin McGowan
      Anthony Kaiser
      Rick Bobblitt
      Shawn Morin
      Philip Brailsford
      Curt Beck
      Adley Shepherd

  5. Avatar Randy says:

    “She was on his property, there’s not much we can do,”. Don’t know about the laws in Virginia but I learned as a juror here in Shasta Co. that any private property, including your front porch, where delivery/postal service people have access is considered public space.

    • Steve Towers Steve Towers says:

      Had it been a white canvasser or delivery person at the front door of a black person’s house who allowed his guard dog to attack, I’d be willing to bet money and give odds that the outcome would have been different. And that what all the frustration and anger in the black community is about—it’s not solely about cops killing black people.

      It’s the whole shiteree.

      • Avatar SB says:

        I’m willing to bet that had it been a white canvasser, at this particular white person’s home, we wouldn’t be having this discussion at all, because the teenager most likely wouldn’t have sicced a growling animal on them…at all. They most likely would have been politely dismissed and sent on their way, the way that most of us react to door to door solicitations.

  6. Avatar Bill Vercammen says:

    “Okay—let’s start there. Get rid of those guys.”

    Easier said than done, isn’t it…?
    If it were easy, the Shasta County “Good Ol’ Boy” network would be disassembled with a simple say-so, and we all know that ain’t so. A bit of extensive candidate screening and profiling might produce results over time, but immediate efforts might be hindered by leadership in place and existing policy wrt enforcement. The process of instituting and changing law has weight of definition, the policy of enforcement is generally addressed by peer leadership, training methodology, and internal agreement. A grass roots effort is warranted, but may take more time to implement than we can recognize.
    The “birds of a feather” rules of flocking apply here, ain’t no denyin’…

  7. Avatar Anita Brady says:

    Seems that our law enforcement is actually open to shooting just about any skin color But in all other ways, White privilege is alive and well in Shasta County and certainly reinforced by law enforcement.

  8. Avatar Bill Vercammen says:

    “Let’s wait for the all the true facts before we hang anyone !”

    The current news that I am seeing suggests that the independent, family-requested autopsy has confirmed death by asphyxiation, despite notable systemic dosing of fentanyl and meth. These findings might actually add some wiggle room to Chauvin’s defense. The wording of the decedent medical review has changed a bit. In the meanwhile, they are still calling it a homocide. With the proof of current substance abuse, a good attorney can make a case for justifiable manslaughter, despite the video evidence.
    The most elucidative – and compelling – ingredient here…will be the testimonies of the civilian eyewitnesses, and the other officers.
    Unfortunately, we seldom have the opportunity to choose our assailants. It’s the primary reason I long ago traded my 9mm for a 41mag. It’ll stop ’em regardless of how heavily they are dosed.

    • Avatar Miguel says:

      The restraint went on for far, far too long. Which is what virtually every outside observation and opinion is pointing up .. and is what led directly to the charges. Even if Mr. Floyd was heavily intoxicated (drugged up), and resisting (more like uncooperative) there would appear to have been a reckless disregard for his health and safety while in custody. The final piece of the puzzle is that Officer Chauvin continued with the restraint through voiced concerns from other officers on the scene .. and on into a final 3 minutes AFTER the subject had become unresponsive (and a fellow officer was unable to find a pulse?). Regardless of the degree of cooperation or intoxication on the part of Mr. Floyd the people in uniform showed a wanton and reckless disregard for safety and human life.

  9. Avatar Jist Cuz says:

    Dude’s NOT a minority I guess we shouldn’t ask questions or be skeptical as the Sheriff investigates himself again +!+

  10. Avatar Gracious Palmer says:

    Thank you, Doni and John. Thank you for speaking up and speaking out.
    Once again I urge the Shasta County Board of Supervisors to appoint a Civilian Oversight Commission of Law Enforcement. See the National Association of Civilian Oversight Commission of Law Enforcement (NACOLE) for more information.

  11. Joanne Snyder Joanne Snyder says:

    Brilliant article. Thank you so much. I read years ago that the “limit of our empathy is the limit of our experience”. Thank you for sharing this experience. I would also say that there are images in our collective minds about people and things. When I lived in a black neighborhood in Pomona where people went to work and joined the PTA and sent their kids to school every day….I did wonder where the the crips and bloods fit into this picture. We have to be careful to understand that the pictures the news puts in our heads doesn’t reflect the real world, but only a small segment of it.

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