In contemplation of various recent events, and especially in watching Dallas police chief David O. Brown steadfastly command through horrific tragedy, another police chief of much shorter tenure comes to mind. Derwin Brown was a 23-year veteran police officer in DeKalb County, Georgia. In 2000, he was elected Sheriff, unseating the incumbent in an "anti-corruption"-themed campaign. He was the first black Sheriff of that county, an electoral milestone in a Southern US state. And he was promptly assassinated, in the driveway of his own home, shot eleven times by white deputies of his own department, at the direction of the defeated former Sheriff.

The assassins and their mastermind now rot in US federal prisons, where they will remain for the remainder of their lives. A lawsuit against them by the family yielded a verdict in the hundreds of millions, of which not a penny has ever been collected, or likely ever will be.

I bring this up as a microcosm of the struggle for a just society. The killers in this case were perhaps not motivated as much by racial animus as by a fear that their past corruption would be brought to light. But neither, it turned out, was race absent from the thoughts of the killers. This reminds us how the difficulties of race relations in the US are exacerbated by the high barriers minorities face when seeking to join law enforcement and rise through its ranks in many cities. Both David O. Brown and Derwin Brown are remarkable exceptions to this rule; Derwin Brown died in part because of it.


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