A different cop story

Sam Smith – I first met Isaac Fulwood in 1967 when I did a feature for the Capitol East Gazette on neighborhood policing and went with Fulwood and his partner on their beat. The pair had been specifically assigned to deal with youth problems and community relations. Less than a year before the riots that would ruin much of our neighborhood, a few cops like Fulwood (along with the Rec Department’s roving leader program) were on the streets attempting to stop trouble before it happened. But like a lot of good things back then, it was too little and too late.

Fulwood had grown up in the ‘hood, gone to high school there, knew the places, the people and its problems. In the years that followed, our paths would cross – sometimes in odd ways such as attending a baptism preparation session together at St. Mark’s Church, being in a jury pool and once, during a major protest by the Capitol, running into now Deputy Chief of Police Fulwood and getting a big hug, not the sort of thing that usually happened to alternative journalists during demonstrations in those days.

Fulwood was no softie. After all, Mayor Marion Barry was arrested on his watch as chief of police.  Fulwood didn’t like crime not just because it was a violation of law but because of what it had done to communities like the ones he had lived in. Whenever things like the Ferguson or Garner incidents occur, I find myself thinking of Ike Fulwood and how he would have handled it, partly because he understood that there are all sort of opportunities to create a community that lessens the need for law enforcement. He said to me back in 1967 while we drove by some grim public housing jammed into a small site, “They never ask the police for their opinion when they build public housing.”

As I noted, “The police might have a few things to tell the planners about what happens when you crowd people into places like this. But the police come later, when the trouble starts.”

And of cops like Fulwood, I added, “If you spend any time with these men, you can’t help but believe – as they do – that their work is important and that it is fitting and proper for a policeman to aid in solving a community’s social problems as well as serving as its armed guard.”

Years later the Washington Post would write an article about the now former police chief in which it noted his efforts to organize African-American men as mentors for the city’s young men. According to the Post, eighty-two men had signed up to mentor, and 24 had been paired with a child. About 45 men had completed training and were waiting to be matched.

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