(Just as a neighborhood should not be judged by the actions of a few bad apples, neither should law enforcement agencies. In partnership with the new Community Police Relations Project, The New Tri-State Defender's "Good Blue" column spotlights law enforcement officers who do it right. This week's focus is on Sgt. John Garcia of the Shelby County Sheriff's Department.)
Sergeant John Garcia of the Shelby County Sheriff's Office (SCSO) has been serving the Memphis community for sixteen years. He is the first Latin American to achieve the rank of sergeant in the 150-year history of the SCSO and that makes him proud.
When you add Garcia's 21 years of service in the U.S. Navy, the fact that he is the Spanish training instructor for the SCSO, part-time criminal justice instructor at Remington College, Nonconnah Blvd, a certified hostage negotiator and has been a Little League baseball coach in the Bartlett-Ellendale community, well, then the entire community becomes proud.
Originally from Queens, New York, Garcia fills his spare time with "lots of stuff," but mostly spending time with his wife, two sons and daughter. Season ticket holders, it's a family of Grizz lovers.
"That's awesome, go Grizz," I said, pivoting toward my "Good Blue focus.
Kelvin Cowans: "What are you doing in the community?"
Sgt. John Garcia: "I'm an instructor at Remington College, I teach Criminal Justice. I feel that's one way I can give back to the community. We have students that are looking to go into law enforcement and with me currently being in law enforcement I think it's a good deal for them to have someone presently doing so to give them experienced teaching. Not only as an officer, but as a person as well."
KC: Being from the Latino community, what are your views as far as the community and police relations – good, bad, needs work?
Sgt. Garcia: I think it's right in line with all of the other demographics of our community. We are making strides with a little ways to go. I think that the Latino community is willing to come together and do what's best for everyone involved.
The only down fall I believe is that the Latino community doesn't come out in huge numbers when there are meetings around town to discuss very important matters. It's mainly in part because they believe that we are gathering to enforce deportation, but that's not true. Neither is that our job. Our job is to solve crime. In these meetings we come to record information to share information and the concerns of the community.
KC: What grade do you give law enforcement on their effort with the Latino Community – A,B,C,D,F?
Sgt. Garcia: I'm going to give it a "B" and here's why. There is a language barrier because every officer is not fluent in Spanish and not every citizen is fluent in English. so there is a miscommunication often times that is happening. So some officers can't give a hundred percent due to that.
KC: If you were asked, what would be the number one thing that you believe in your heart should be done to bridge the gap between the Latino community and law enforcement, what would it be?
Sgt. Garcia: If the world was mine?
KC: All yours, we just living in it King Garcia. What's on your scroll?
Sgt. Garcia: I think the goal should be the same across the board for all citizens. I wish I could snap my finger and end racism. We should treat each other with respect and dignity everyday. It is time for us to stop waiting on a tragic event for all of us to come together, pass a boot around, take up money, or deliver a bag of groceries. This is from my heart.
KC: Where did you get ideology? Is that police training, home training?
Sgt. Garcia: "I think I got that from home. We were raised to treat people right no matter if they are rich or poor and no matter their race. I think in our city we are always kind of gradually doing things and that's not good. We have got to move forward on many issues in our community. One of my favorite sayings is by a guy named Will Rogers. He said, "Even if you're on the right track you will get run over if you just stand there.
KC: Let's do a little word association, first thing off of your mind.
Sgt. Garcia: Successful.
Sgt. Garcia: Blessing
Sgt. Garcia: Promise.
KC: Memphis Community.
Sgt. Garcia: Hope!
NOTE: The next Community Police Relations Forum will be an all-Spanish-speaking session on Saturday (Nov. 16) from 1:30 p.m. to 4 p.m. (at El Mercadoto de Memphis at 3766 Ridgeway Rd.
(For questions about CPR Memphis, contact Melissa Monie of The Mid-South Peace and Justice center at 901-591-7776.)