Good Cop, White Cop
Last February, Officer Ronnie Williams of the Denver Police Department observed Black History Month by holding a press conference in City Park in front of a statue of the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., at which he announced that he was forming a new organization to protect the rights of white cops.
At the time, Williams was a patrolman in the ganglands of north Denver.
One year later, Williams is answering phones at the department's District 5 substation. District 5 occupies the hinterlands between the old Stapleton Airport and Denver International Airport. Williams says he was reassigned shortly after last year's press conference.
"Ever since I raised the issue of equal rights for whites, they've been trying to get rid of me," he says. "They took me off patrol and put me way out here behind a desk. They won't come out and say, 'Oh, we're doing this to him because of his white officers' association. They're not that stupid. But that's what it is."
Although Williams says he held the 2001 press conference in front of the MLK statue to emphasize King's goal of equal rights for everyone, the event generated a fleeting storm of controversy. DPD chief Gerry Whitman persuaded Williams to change the name of his group from the Denver Police White Officers Association to the Denver Police Equal Rights Association at the last minute, but Williams's message remained the same: He claimed that department leaders subject white officers to reverse discrimination by promoting less-qualified minority candidates to sergeant and detective.
"My main objective was just to make them aware that, hey, the white guys are out here, too, and all these promotions aren't going unseen," Williams says, adding that there are associations within the department for black cops, Hispanic cops and gay cops. "It's hurt my career, but I think I brought out what needed to be brought out. I just had to be the cross-bearer."
Denver police didn't respond to repeated requests for comment from Westword. But at last year's press conference, police spokeswoman Virginia Lopez told reporters that "as long as this organization adheres to the strict guidelines when forming and practicing within this organization, there is no problem.... However, with any organization within the police department, there are personal biases that need to be put aside."
Williams says he decided to form the group a year before he announced his intentions and that he spoke several times with the founders of the Houston Police Department's White Officers Association. "The guys in Houston sent me out some materials on how to sort of get things together and promote our issues," he says.
The Houston group was founded in 1993 after that city's police department settled a discrimination lawsuit by agreeing to promote 106 minority officers over a five-year period. Though it dissolved last year, the Houston White Officers Association once claimed more than 500 members.
The Denver group never had an official membership of more than one.
"It never really got off the ground," says DPD spokesman Mike Anderson. "It got a lot of media coverage right after his press conference, which was understandable with his choice of location and everything -- but it then quickly became a non-issue as far as the department is concerned."
Williams calls it "more of an informal network. We did a poll to find out the concerns of white officers, but we never really had any meetings. I mean, guys are scared it will hurt their career, just like it's hurt mine. Everybody I've talked to has said, 'Hey, you made a stand,' but after seeing what happened to me, they're pretty reluctant to put their name on anything."
Williams says his persecution began last April following a verbal altercation with another white officer. He says he was overheard by a supervisor and unfairly disciplined. "They reassigned me, suspended me for ten days and gave me a $3,000 fine," he says. "I have fourteen years on the job, and that was the first disciplinary action taken against me. I knew right then they were out to get me, and they were just waiting for me to make one tiny slip. I mean, anybody else with a record similar to mine would have just gotten a verbal reprimand.... I had a faultless career record until I opened my mouth about equal rights, and if I get terminated, I'll make it a civil-services issue. I'll be suing them."
Williams says he is not a racist. "Some of my best friends on the force are black," he says. "And they think the Hispanics are targeted over them sometimes. So it's not just a white issue."
Michael Lemmons, president of the Denver Police Department's Black Police Officers Organization, did not return phone calls seeking comment.
"I don't know how much longer I'll have a job," Williams says. "You make your bed, you lie in it, I guess. I just wish we could do away with all the groups and just have one that was all about the color blue. But that's not reality.
"I'm sitting here at my desk right now, and there's a big notice in front of my face that the Hispanic group is about to have their annual organizational meeting soon. I guess they feel they need to have their group to stay a step ahead, and the blacks feel that way, too. And that's their prerogative. I just think it's wrong that they can have theirs, but if the whites feel like we need ours, it's not allowed. And I think that one of these years, another white cop is going to follow up what I did and start a big group for whites. It's just the way society's going."
Get the ICYMI: Today's Top Stories Newsletter Our daily newsletter delivers quick clicks to keep you in the know
Catch up on the day's news and stay informed with our daily digest of the most popular news, music, food and arts stories in Denver, delivered to your inbox Monday through Friday.