Oliver Baines has a unique perspective on the issue of Black Lives Matter and law enforcement. Currently the only African-American on the Fresno City Council, Baines also served around 12 years as an officer with the Fresno Police Department. Speaking on Valley Public Radio’s Valley Edition Tuesday, Baines recalled his own experiences with racially biased policing, while pleading for calm and understanding in the wake of recent shootings and protests. Baines said the often heated rhetoric from people on both sides of the issue serves to distract from the goal of racial reconciliation.
“What I see evidence of in Fresno is that the vast majority of people I’m talking to are really raising the level of discourse to one that is thoughtful and seeking understanding, solutions and healing. . . This in my opinion is our generation’s time to deal with racial tension yet again in this country. We have to seize this opportunity. Those of us that want to have an enlightened discussion should find each other and we are,” said Baines.
This past weekend, Baines was part of a meeting with Mayor Ashley Swearengin, Police Chief Jerry Dyer, and members of the African-American community. He said before the city can heal racial divides, it’s important for elected officials and cops to listen to the legitimate concerns of minority communities who have been victimized by police, and vice versa.
“The pain that people are feeling is justified. No one should be delegitimizing anyone else’s pain. We should all understand,” said Baines. “I can understand how a police officer could be in pain and feel bad. I can understand how the families from some of these tragedies can feel bad. I can understand how some of these communities of color are seeing this and feel bad and are reliving things, like I am, things that happened that happened in [our] younger years.”
Baines said the recent deaths of black men at the hands of law enforcement have been painful to watch, not only for present situation, but also because they have brought back difficult childhood memories that he had blocked out for years.
“I grew up in Los Angeles and was almost victimized by the LAPD very regularly… I couldn’t look at the police when I was coming up. If we got pulled over we would automatically stick our hands out of the car. The number of times I’ve been with friends of mine and pulled over and handcuffed really for no reason and just walking down the street has been tremendous. I’ve seen people beaten right in front of me by the LAPD cops when I was 13-14 years old,” said Baines. “I almost have blocked and suppressed a lot of that trauma when I was a young man. As a lot of African Americans have to do in order to just kind of get along, especially if you’re going to be a professional in society.”
He said he eventually grew to fear police, and once had a close call with an officer with a gun.
“One time I was pulled over and an officer had his gun drawn on me as he approached the car. I didn’t know why the officer was approaching me that way, but he already had his gun out. So then we learned if you just stick your hands out the window then at least as they approach maybe they won’t have their gun pulled out. I had a lot of fear growing up in LA with the police,” said Baines.
Baines contrasted his experience in Los Angeles with that in Fresno. He says the Fresno Police Department does have work to do in order to gain the trust of the community, but relations with the African-American community are much better than when he was a young man in Southern California.
“My experience with law enforcement and LAPD is relatively traumatic as I’m recounting it. In Fresno officers are nothing like they are in LA so I want to distinguish that,” said Baines. “I was actually very afraid of police when I was a young man. I took a class at Fresno State – a criminology class called the theory of crime – and it intrigued me. Initially I wanted to move into law enforcement not as a police officer but almost on the federal side. But then I found out a lot about the Fresno Police Department and decided I wanted to join the PD.”