Bloomington resident Lloyd Davis is originally from the south suburban city of Chicago Heights. The software developer spoke with Jon Norton for the WGLT series Living Black in Bloomington-Normal. Contact us if you'd like to be featured in the series.
You lived in the Chicago area most of your life. Now you live in Bloomington-Normal. What is the difference?
My family often asked me, “How do I like it down here?” Now I tell them the same thing I'm going to tell you. It is very quiet. It's very peaceful. Yeah, there's some shady parts of Bloomington-Normal, but that's true for pretty much anywhere you live. But overall it’s very peaceful. I don't mind it much at all.
What's it like compared to Chicago?
Chicago is … is a lot different. I can try to say it, but it's almost something you have to experience. There are places where depending on the time of day, you don't feel as comfortable going (there). There are places where you know that they have a reputation that you will not be as welcome there. But all-in-all, it’s different, especially right now. I mean, no matter what you have the police there and you always feel like you have a target on your back.
In Chicago now?
In Chicago, oh yeah. But that was even before what was happening … and the target on your back from just random violence … rampant gun violence … rampant violence in general, or from the police. And coming from someone who has police in their family, it's almost second nature. One of my first memories is my mom telling me how to respond to police officers. You're 4 or 5 years old, you shouldn't have to do that. But that's the reality where we live.
She was telling you at 4 and 5 years old?
Oh, yeah, yeah.
What would she tell you?
Yes, Officer, no, Officer just be very, very kind, very courteous. Always show your hands … don't make it seem like you're being shifty or doing something that they may perceive as dangerous.
Was she explicit in that you may be perceived … because you're Black … as dangerous?
Oh, yeah, that was a given. Even from besides what she said, just pretty much watching TV. Because let's be honest … TV in the 90s … they weren’t really holding back about what was going on in the world.
Are you referring to shows like "Cops"? Or what are you referring to?
There's anything … it could be "Cops," it could be daytime dramas, it could be anything. They always reference something about race no matter what. Remember, like in the 90s that was right around the Rodney King … the O.J. Simpson … those kind of events in American life. It was always referenced some kind of way.
So, when you say they referenced … it was referenced in a bad way or just race itself was referenced?
Oh, just race itself was referenced. It could be in a good way or bad way, but you can hear them reference things enough that you kind of get like, “OK, I get what's going on.” Even as a kid … like kids are a lot more receptive to their environment than a lot of people realize.
You're 4 or 5 years old and your mother is telling you these things. How does a 4 or 5-year-old brain process what your mother is trying to tell you?
I came from a single parent home. It was me and my mom most of my life. My father died before I turned 2. He was murdered. And that's part of the reason why I'm more a fan of not dismantling the police … but have major reform. Growing up just being around death and things like that … I guess my mind was actually perceiving it in a different way. I grew up where I was a lot more conscious of what was going on. I was a lot more receptive to my environment. I knew, OK, things aren’t sunshine and rainbows. It's a darker underlying feeling that people will get in their lives … they will understand that, but normally not at 4 or 5 years old.
You live in Bloomington-Normal. Now, you mentioned in Chicago, you always felt or often felt like you had a target on your back. How does that differ from living in Bloomington-Normal?
Well, in Chicago, you felt like you had target on your back from not just possibly the police … but other people in general … from the violence as I said. Bloomington-Normal is quiet. But the feeling of possible reactions from police is still there. My nerves aren't as high about it, but it's still there. I actually have a failsafe no matter what. People carry their cell phones with them no matter what. I always leave my location on my cell phone. Always.
Why do you do that?
In case something happens. Like I want I want there to be a record to show like OK, if I'm going missing … to me, this is a cornfield. They say Bloomington-Normal …they're saying they’re cities, but to me, this is a town because it's I'm so used to something bigger. But if something happens to me. I want there to be a record to show, okay, my cell phone was pinging from this tower or from this location. Something happened around here.
You mentioned law enforcement and you were involved with Crime Stoppers in Peoria. Still?
Even though you live in Bloomington-Normal?
OK. And you say you've got family … most of your family you say are in law enforcement in some respect or a lot of your family.
A lot of my family's in law. Yeah. And law enforcement or military, things like that.
How do you navigate that path as someone who has a history with law enforcement, as far as maybe a target on your back, but now you've got law enforcement in your family? What is it like to navigate that path?
Very delicately. Like a lot of people in the country … I'm involved with social media. And I'm involved with social media for the Crime Stoppers, I'm in charge of that as well. So, when I see a lot of my friends and family saying something for or against police, I just stay quiet. Because I know I'll be damned if I do, damned if I don't kind of thing if I say something. But I never really post on my own personal social media about anything politics. Or police or anything like that. And when I do post something for Crime Stoppers, it's not for or against. It's just: This is the facts. Someone's missing. There's a murder that's unsolved. We were looking for this person. I never explicitly point what I'm what my thoughts are.
Why are you involved in Crime Stoppers?
My father passed before I was 2. And I knew I could not become a police officer. I am more in tune with my emotions to become a police officer. That could be a good or bad thing. I just didn't want to discuss it. I just didn't want to try to go into that. But I felt that if I can help the community in any way I can … if I can prevent a child from feeling the pain that I felt growing up, that I feel like it's my responsibility to do that, because that's the pain no one wants to really feel. It's a hole that never really gets filled much. I mean, it's been almost 30 years and you still kind of … it still kind of messes with you. For me, at least for me.
So, a lot of your family is in law enforcement. Do you talk to them about being in law enforcement and more specifically, what it's like to be Black and be in law enforcement?
Not particularly. I don't know if this is just a family thing or racial thing, but at least in my family, we don't really talk about our emotions much. Like my uncle, he's a sergeant in Chicago P.D. There's a lot of high-profile cases. I never asked him about it. Sometimes I am dying to know his thoughts and stuff. But you know what? He works 90 hours a week pretty much. Like you know what, you work a lot. I'm not going to bring homework for you.
Partly what I was getting at is what we learned in 2014 when Michael Brown got killed down in St. Louis … that there is a Black St. Louis police union and a white St. Louis police union. There are police departments that have problems within their own department with race. Others handle it very well. And I was wondering if your family ever talked to you about that part of dealing with law enforcement while they're in law enforcement.
They never explicitly said, but if they do, I would not be surprised. I really would not be surprised. My grandfather, my mother's father, before he passed, he was a police officer for Chicago. OK, his name was Garvis McGavock. Black man named Garvis McGavock. Those two things seemed like a conundrum, right? Doesn't seem like it fits. Well, the police union thought so as well, because the first day he was at the north end Chicago, a predominantly white part of Chicago. First day there, they thought he was lost. It's like, “No, I'm police officer Garvis McGavock.” The next week he was down (laughs) to Southside Chicago with the other predominately Black population … with other Black police officers. He wasn't even there long enough to actually give them an opinion of him.
So, I would imagine within the police ranks, the more desirable job is not on the south side.
Pretty much. As bad as it sounds, there’s a lot it's less crime as far as you can tell on the north side. It's a lot harder to look to find the crime. I'm not gonna say there is less crime there, there is no way to say that. There's probably a little bit more discreet and a lot less bad feelings about police than the south side. Overall, it's … it's a systematic racism thing. Black people in this country … we've been given the short end of the stick on everything, Short stick on humanity. We've been treated like second class humans since we've been here. Short end of the stick with jobs. There are people who have a name that people will perceive as ethnic and they will not get be given the job just because of the name. They could be just as good as anybody else, but they'd be given the short stick because of their name.
From slavery we've been given … like the bad parts of food and we made our own. And that ended up giving us high cholesterol … high blood … our health is bad because of the food that we've been given and have grown up with because we’ve been given the short end of the stick. And now we're in the parts of the city that we were more or less forced into … that have food deserts and have nothing but fast food. Our health is battling that. A lot of things that are systematic … that they may not say directly, “You're a second class person,” but in a way that they say things … and not say things. That's what we're given. That's our belief.
I want to go back to the law enforcement angle. What you hear a lot from police as a rebuttal to police violence, brutality or overreacting to things is that “if you just follow what we say, everything will be fine.” In your experience. Is that an accurate statement?
No. (laughs) No, it's … the fact that we were asked to comply in the first place … just seems off.
Comply in what ...
Say a police officer comes up right now, looks at you …. looks at me, what are we doing? We're sitting here having a conversation. If he comes up to me and asked me what am I doing here? Where's my ID? And only asking me and not you? Why is that? I am just a person … not doing anything, not making any movement, not even aggravating anybody. And I'm asked to explain myself. “What are you doing here?” We shouldn't have to be questioned for everything we do. If you don't get to be questioned for what you do, why should we? I'm acting just as inconspicuous as you are.
I remember this story a while ago. It was in a southern town. A woman and her son were at home. Someone knocked on the door. It was an angry mob. They thought that the Black teen was responsible for a kidnapping of a white child. They wanted them to come out and explain themselves. Even in that crowd, there were police officers. This was … I saw this in the news … I think, like this year or late last year. Just because they were Black, they were automatically suspected of doing something. The policeman wanted to come in and try to talk to them, like, “I need to come in here and talk to you.” No. You have no right to do that you have no warrant; you have nothing to actually try to accuse us of. And we're treated like we're second class people. We shouldn't have to walk around with a target on our backs, or at least the feeling of a target on our backs. We shouldn't have to tell children “this is how you act when there's a police officer around.” Four or five years old, it’s like, “Okay, look both ways crossing the street … something simple like that should be on your mind. Not “Yes, officer, No, officer.” You shouldn't have to be profiled because of who you are.
We seem to be having a conversation on race in this country. Different groups are pushing for that. And unlike in 2014, this seems to be sustained. Do you have optimism that the conversation will be sustained? And if you do, what does that conversation need to look or sound like?
I am very pessimistic when it comes to this. How many years have we seen something like this happen? Something has come up … there's a big push and then it just starts to fade out. I will admit, this is the longest push for something I've seen when it comes to race. I will admit to that. But I want things to change. I want things to happen. I want things to move in a positive light, and I hope I'm wrong when I say that. I feel nothing will change.
There's a quote from "Family Guy" that makes me laugh. It sounded like a joke, but actually it rings true. The Black character on there … Cleveland Brown … they were playing a different version of Monopoly. I think it’s called Black Monopoly. Every time they pull something from Community Chest or things like that, something bad happens. Peter Griffin looks at Cleveland and says, “Does anyone ever win at this game?” Cleveland looks and says, “You don't win, you just do a little better each time.” And I laughed because, yeah, a lot of times you don't win, you just do a little better each time … but you just got to keep going.
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