I just read a fascinating article about Sheriff Rick Hickman and his response to an emergency call in the neighborhood of Des Arc, Arkansas. Sheriff Hickman responded to the call by asking where the triple-shooting took place. When informed it was a particular apartment complex he responded, “Oh really, black people then.”
The upshot of the response is Sheriff Hickman is being called a racist. Sheriff Hickman claims the apartment in question is largely occupied by black people so his response was not racist, but natural. Now, it turns out the attacker and victims are all white but that is not relevant to the point I’d like to analyze today.
Is Sheriff Hickman a racist?
The Event and Aftermath
The event itself is a horrific example of the gun violence rampant across all sections of the United States, urban and rural, white and black. Three people died in the shooting. It’s horrible and my sympathies to all those who lost loved ones and those who respond to such events and see the horrors.
Sheriff Hickman and his Other Comments
Sheriff Hickman, now accused of being a racist, was asked if he ever used racial slurs before. He responded that he does not use the most egregious racist word often but has in the past and a lot of people around him do. He also thought his response when told about the location of the shooting was natural and not of racist implication. Black people live in that area so that’s what he assumed.
The case seems pretty open and shut but I think there is a great deal more nuance than people who view the world in simplistic, good and evil, terms will admit. Now, I don’t know Sheriff Hickman at all besides his few quotes so I’m merely stating an opinion here.
I found the response to the question of his own usage of racial slurs to be refreshingly honest. In this day and age where the standard law enforcement line generally includes something like: that sort of attitude has no place in our department. We never put up with it. I’ve never known a racist law enforcement officers. Blah blah blah blah blah. Bullshit.
I’ve lived in small towns. I know all about sheriffs, both good and bad. Fire marshals, both good and bad. Good old boys, both good and bad. The fact that Sheriff Hickman answered honestly about his own use of racial slurs when his brethren officers consistently lie in similar situations makes me like the man. It makes me think he’s one of the good guys.
I think if I sat down with Sheriff Hickman and asked: what do you think you’d say if the shootings took place in a predominantly white area? Would you have said, “Oh really, white people then.”? I suspect Sheriff Hickman might pause, look at me, thought about it, and replied, “You know what, Tom. You’re right. I wouldn’t have said that. Maybe I do have some unconscious racial biases and it affects the way I do my job and the way underlings look to my lead. I need to do something about that.”
Now, maybe I’m wrong. Maybe he wouldn’t reply that way. Maybe he’d remain in continual denial about a problem that isn’t just overt racism, hatred of all black people. It’s subtle, it has nuance, and it causes problems in many ways, both small and large.
I think it’s important to have conversations with men like Sheriff Hickman. Difficult conversations where I understand his point of view and he understands mine. I think that’s the way forward. This rush to judgement, to cancellation or whatever you want to call it, just widens the divide instead of helping to heal it.
What do you think?