Amid scru­tiny, a ris­ing black voice in city’s po­lice union

Baltimore Sun - - FRONT PAGE - By Kevin Rec­tor

In the af­ter­math of last year’s civil un­rest in Bal­ti­more, one of the most force­ful de­fend­ers of the city’s po­lice of­fi­cers was a black lieu­tenant from Bal­ti­more who main­tained that most do their jobs with in­tegrity, even as he ac­knowl­edged a his­tory of racial dis­par­i­ties.

Lt. Kenny But­ler, the long­time pres­i­dent of the Van­guard Jus­tice So­ci­ety, an or­ga­ni­za­tion for black and other mi­nor­ity of­fi­cers, openly slammed then-Com­mis­sioner An- thony Batts, crit­ciz­ing or­ders that of­fi­cers “not en­gage” vi­o­lent protesters and Batts’ com­ment that cops “took a knee” in the months that fol­lowed. He joined a cho­rus of voices ques­tion­ing State’s At­tor­ney Mar­i­lyn J. Mosby’s de­ci­sion to charge six of­fi­cers in the ar­rest and death of Fred­die Gray.

Many in the Po­lice De­part­ment took note of But­ler’s out­spo­ken­ness, and last month elected him first vice pres­i­dent of the lo­cal Fra­ter­nal Or­der of Po­lice Lodge 3 — mak­ing him the high­est-rank­ing black of­fi­cer in the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s his­tory. He re­signed his

Van­guard po­si­tion to as­sume his new role dur­ing a swear­ing-in cer­e­mony Mon­day night.

“From what was told to me,” But­ler said, “a lot of peo­ple who voted for me said they just want some­one who will stand up for the rank-and-file mem­ber, be­cause they re­mem­bered what I did when Batts was here.”

The elec­tion of But­ler, 51, comes amid height­ened scru­tiny in Bal­ti­more and na­tion­wide of law en­force­ment and the role race plays in polic­ing, and chal­lenges the deeply rooted rep­u­ta­tion of the lo­cal FOP as an old-boys club dom­i­nated by white men.

It comes months after the U.S. Jus­tice De­part­ment found sys­temic dis­crim­i­na­tion within the Po­lice De­part­ment, and after But­ler’s pre­de­ces­sor was dis­ci­plined for send­ing an in­ter­nal email sug­gest­ing that protesters at a Mary­land Fra­ter­nal Or­der of Po­lice event were “thugs” in­volved in vi­o­lence.

But­ler said he wants to be “a voice for the voice­less, be­cause you have a lot of of­fi­cers who are just suf­fer­ing in si­lence who feel like they have no re­course, that they can’t get a prob­lem heard.”

He also wants it clearly un­der­stood that he now rep­re­sents all of­fi­cers, not just mi­nor­ity of­fi­cers.

Many who know But­ler well de­scribe him as a calm, mea­sured voice in city polic­ing.

“There is no doubt in my mind mov­ing for­ward that it’s go­ing to be good for the union,” said Lodge 3 Pres­i­dent Lt. Gene Ryan.

Ryan en­vi­sions But­ler help­ing him lobby leg­is­la­tors in An­napo­lis as the union con­tin­ues to fight ef­forts to change key pro­tec­tions for of­fi­cers who face dis­ci­plinary action.

“It does show that we are di­verse,” Ryan said. “We’re not the old white man’s club like some peo­ple would like to say.”

Com­mis­sioner Kevin Davis, who suc­ceeded Batts last year, said But­ler “just kicked open a door that’s been shut for far too long.”

Davis said he looks for­ward to work­ing with But­ler, in­clud­ing in im­ple­ment­ing re­forms that will be re­quired un­der the city’s pend­ing con­sent de­cree with the Jus­tice De­part­ment.

“Per­cep­tion is al­ways re­al­ity,” he said. “I think it’s good for cit­i­zens in this city to see that FOP lead­er­ship is fi­nally re­flect­ing the de­mo­graph­ics of the city.”

City Coun­cil­man Bran­don Scott, vice chair of the pub­lic safety com­mit­tee, said But­ler’s pres­ence will be a “big help to those of us who are try­ing to help the old guard un­der­stand the need for change” in polic­ing.

“To me, Kenny is break­ing through that glass ceil­ing,” Scott said. “And while peo­ple have th­ese con­cep­tions about all peo­ple in­volved in the FOP and the po­lice union, I know that at the end of the day, he loves his city.”

The Po­lice De­part­ment is 42 per­cent black, 7.5 per­cent His­panic and 2 per­cent Asian, ac­cord­ing to of­fi­cials.

Un­der union by­laws, the first vice pres­i­dent as­sists the pres­i­dent in the ad­min­is­tra­tion of the lodge, chairs its fi­nance com­mit­tee, shapes the lodge bud­get, and over­sees other com­mit­tees.

Lt. Vic­tor Gearhart, But­ler’s pre­de­ces­sor, said he en­cour­aged But­ler to run for the po­si­tion and is happy he won. “The FOP needed a lit­tle more di­ver­sity,” he said.

Gearhart is on sus­pen­sion from the de­part­ment for the “thugs” email.

“I speak my mind,” he said. “Kenny is more mea­sured in his response to peo­ple. He gets it. Things that I don’t get, he gets.”

Long­time lo­cal civil rights leader Marvin L. “Doc” Cheatham is op­ti­mistic that But­ler will bring about pos­i­tive change. But he pointed to But­ler’s ten­ure as Van­guard pres­i­dent since 2010 — a pe­riod when the Jus­tice De­part­ment in­ves­ti­ga­tors found po­lice in Bal­ti­more reg­u­larly used con­stitu- tion­ally ques­tion­able tac­tics, par­tic­u­larly in black neigh­bor­hoods — as a rea­son to be wary.

“I don’t want to give Kenny a pass,” Cheatham said. “I put some blame on him and Van­guard for not speak­ing out against the in­jus­tice in the past.”

But­ler, who is sin­gle and has a 17-year-old son, grew up in Bal­ti­more near the old Me­mo­rial Sta­dium.

He grad­u­ated from North­ern High School and fol­lowed his un­cle, Sgt. Lewis Tay­lor, into the po­lice force. But­ler’s fa­ther died of Hodgkin’s lym­phoma when But­ler was a small child. He says Tay­lor, who died this year, was like a fa­ther to him.

But­ler said Tay­lor told sto­ries about work­ing foot pa­trol in the 1950s — be­fore black of­fi­cers were al­lowed to drive pa­trol cars — and getting to know peo­ple on the beat. He hopes he can ap­ply les­sons from his un­cle, from grow­ing up in Bal­ti­more and from his own ca­reer on the force to his new union role. “Grow­ing up in Bal­ti­more, I may see some guys hang­ing on the cor­ner, but I can walk up and ap­proach them,” he said. “An­other of­fi­cer, who may not have come from Bal­ti­more, doesn’t know the cul­ture of Bal­ti­more, may come in a dif­fer­ent way, may be more ag­gres­sive. And that’s just not know­ing, or they may have their in­her­ent bi­ases. And it’s been said to me that I can bring some­thing dif­fer­ent to the FOP.”

But­ler, like Ryan, op­poses al­low­ing cit­i­zens to serve on the trial boards that hear claims of of­fi­cer mis­con­duct. He also ques­tions some of the find­ings of racial bias in the Jus­tice De­part­ment’s report. He be­lieves “race plays a role in our daily lives,” but thinks the pub­lic is too quick to con­clude that of­fi­cers who use force are racially mo­ti­vated.

“If an of­fi­cer uses force against an African-Amer­i­can, some may say, ‘Well, he did it be­cause the per­son is AfricanAmer­i­can,’” he said. “Well, maybe he didn’t. Maybe he just had to use force.”

Ed Jack­son, a re­tired Bal­ti­more po­lice colonel and for­mer board chair of Van­guard, has known But­ler since 1983, when he was a young of­fi­cer and But­ler, then 17, approached him in a 7-Eleven and told him he wanted to be a cop. He’s tracked But­ler’s ca­reer ever since, served as his di­rect su­per­viser for a time, and is cur­rently But­ler’s pro­fes­sor in an op­er­a­tional man­age­ment course at Bal­ti­more City Com­mu­nity Col­lege, where But­ler is pur­su­ing an as­so­ciate’s de­gree in crim­i­nal jus­tice.

After Gray’s death last year, Jack­son said, he told But­ler that he would never be able to please ev­ery­one, so he should fo­cus on mak­ing the de­part­ment “a bet­ter or­ga­ni­za­tion to ad­dress the con­cerns of the peo­ple it serves.”

“You’ll al­ways have your crit­ics who will say he’s the prover­bial Un­cle Tom, be­cause he’s not out there protest­ing along with the com­mu­nity in Sand­town-Winch­ester,” Jack­son said. “You’re go­ing to get some flak with this Fred­die Gray thing if you don’t come out with a raised fist like a Black Pan­ther ... but the quick­est way to si­lence your crit­ics is to know the is­sues, the sys­temic is­sues.”

There are plenty of prob­lems to point out in the Po­lice De­part­ment, Jack­son said, but “you can’t blame them for poverty, poor par­ent­ing, a lack of hous­ing, schools with­out books.”

But­ler, for his part, said he has al­ways approached life the same way.

“My style is this: You can bring prob­lems to me, but bring so­lu­tions also,” he said. “I’ll lis­ten to any­one, be­cause maybe I don’t know. I don’t know ev­ery­thing. Maybe the guy on the cor­ner may say, ‘Hey, look man, if you do A,B, C, this could help us out. This could help ev­ery­body.’

“I’m open to that.”

“Kenny is break­ing through that glass ceil­ing.” City Coun­cil­man Bran­don Scott

KIM HAIRSTON/BAL­TI­MORE SUN

Lt. Kenny But­ler was elected last month as first vice pres­i­dent of the lo­cal Fra­ter­nal Or­der of Po­lice, mak­ing him the high­est-rank­ing black of­fi­cer in the group’s his­tory.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.