The Carolinas Get Real: A Conversation with Black Officers

CHARLOTTE — Days after authorities Memphis, Tennessee released videos of a Black man being brutally beat by the police, we’re talking to a group of local officers about the need for a change in policing. We’re also discussing the deep -- sometimes tense -- relationship between the police and one’s race, which is a reality that people in front of and behind the badge face.

The Carolinas Get Real” -- as another death at the hands of police launches a more significant push for police reform.

“If you think that it’s bad, or there is corruption, the only way it changes once again is when you step inside and make those changes from within,” said former Gaston County Police Department Chief James Buie Jr.

There’s a long-held belief by many that when there is social unrest involving race, there’s a hard dividing line between protesters on one side and police on the other, regardless of race.

For many officers, particularly Black officers, that line is blurred.

“When you put the uniform on, it’s not that you’re Black or you’re white anymore. It’s just the uniform that people see,” former Trooper Walter Williamson said.

>> In the stories below, a few of those who serve and protect are opening up. They hope you’ll hear what they have to say and that it will help you to understand what it’s like to be in their shoes.

You can watch the special program in the video at the top of the page.

A note from the team behind “The Carolinas Get Real: A Conversation with Black Officers”:

Channel 9 started having these conversations in 2020 after the death of George Floyd. Alongside Reporter Ken Lemon, we made a commitment to not shy away from important issues.

We were working to bring our viewers this newest conversation when an incident in Memphis, Tennessee, brought the issue onto a national stage once again. On Friday, the City of Memphis released video of the police beating of 29-year-old Tyre Nichols. It’s shocking not just for what happened, but for who is accused: Five Black officers were seen on video beating Nichols, a Black man.

It’s a tragedy and another complication for Black men and women who serve. The need for understanding is even more urgent, and we hope “A Conversation with Black Officers” is a step in the right direction.

Meet the officers

Channel 9′s Ken Lemon sat down at Community Matters Café with officers who have served in and around the Charlotte area:

  • Monroe Police Lt. Monique Holt, who has been with the department for 19 years
  • Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Sgt. Candice Miles, who has been with the department for 12 years
  • Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s Deputy Beverly McCall, who has been with the department for eight years
  • Former Trooper Walter Williamson, who recently left law enforcement but remains closely connected to his former colleagues
  • Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Maj. Cecil Brisbon, who has been with the department for 29 years
  • Former Gaston County Police Department Chief James Buie Jr., who retired from law enforcement in 2015

Their journeys to law enforcement are powerful stories, considering the advice they all received early in life. Many Black people say they were taught as children that the thin blue line separates races.

“As children, we’re all taught if there is a problem, go to law enforcement. What’s the first time you remember seeing a law enforcement officer?” Ken Lemon asked all four officers.

Miles: “My first time, I was about eight years old.”

Sgt. Candice Miles grew up in an east Charlotte housing project. She said she saw a lot of aggression and verbal abuse from police officers.

Miles: “It just left a bad taste in my mouth. Is this how police officers are supposed to treat people, especially people of color? Because predominantly, it was just a Black neighborhood.”

Holt: “I was young, I don’t remember age. We lived in Anson County, Ansonville. And one of my brothers stayed in trouble. And he come up into the yard running from the police, and he jumped out the car ran into the porch, and the police come up to the door -- and we’re all outside. And he was asking where my brother was. My mom said, ‘He’s under the porch.’ And they went on there and got him took them out and arrested him. So that was my first encounter.”

Lemon: “What was that like? How did you feel about that?”

Holt: “I was shocked. Because first, I want to know why he’s running and why they’re chasing him. And then he come out and now he’s gone. And nothing was said. Nobody explained anything so and it was never talked about.”

McCall: “I vaguely remember any altercation with police growing up as a kid, I always was taught to respect them. Never had a bad interaction with them, actually looked up to them. Because I felt like that was something that I would want to possibly be one day. And then actually, when my dad got into law enforcement, it kind of gave me more expectation and more responsible thoughts of law enforcement, ‘cause I was like, ‘That’s my dad.’”

“Most people, they don’t see us as regular people. They judge us before we even open our mouths. They have a preconception of how we are and how we are going to be.”

McCall says he goes to a playground at First Ward Park to break those negative images. He said he gravitates toward building relationships with kids. While at the park one day, he invited a few kids over to do some push-ups together.

McCall: “Like me, growing up, I’ve never seen like a police officer or a deputy in the community, working out, running, walking. Just actually spending time in their environment. This is where I live, so why wouldn’t I want to be in the community where I live and work?”

He goes to First Ward to work out with his younger brother. It’s more than just connecting with the community and breaking a sweat -- he said working out can be a release from the stress of carrying the heaviest weight: A badge.

Former trooper Walter Williamson grew up on North York Street in Gastonia.

Williamson: “Everybody knew everybody. It didn’t matter if it was a crackhead or a drug dealer. They knew who you were, everybody was respected. And nobody let anybody let anything happen to you.

“Trent Conard was one of my resource officers in middle school. And he probably had the biggest impact on me ever, as far as hoping to do something law enforcement. He was just like a superhero to me, him and Mike Watts. He’s a detective in Gastonia now, and I’ve always had pretty good encounters with the police.”

When asked what made Conard a superhero, Williamson described how he carried himself.

Williamson: “He just always spoke to me. He spoke to everybody, like he was nice. I just see him as a person, and I can see through all the hate and stuff that people wanted to throw to him.”

Good or bad, those first encounters all played some role in why these four became law enforcement officers.

‘They don’t see us as being Black. They see the uniform’

Below, the officers spoke about the treatment they often get from other Black people as they serve during a significant police crisis.

McCall patrols the north end of the county, but he can end up working in any area doing just about anything. He sees his work as a calling because, for him, law enforcement is a family business.

McCall: “My dad, he is a deputy in Polk County. He is actually about to retire. He has been trying to get me in law enforcement for years, and I finally did in 2014. My brother was also working for the Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s Office as well.

“It was challenging at first because I never thought I would get in law enforcement, but I think my journey in life prepared me for this, and I was meant to do this, and I love, I love my job. I love what I do.

“The only regret I have is I should have started earlier when my father pushed me. But I’m still in a great position. I still have that eager to want to work and do better and grow in the agency.”

His day can bring any type of call, most of which are unexpected.

McCall: “We do DV evicts. We do civil papers. We do traffic stops.”

According to a survey by The National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, those calls can be among the most dangerous for officers. Deputy McCall says he tries to bring a lot of positive energy to the job, but he doesn’t always get that back.

McCall: “It’s unfair actually, ‘cause ... we lay our lives on the line for these strangers. And this is what we sign up for and this is what we enjoy doing, but to be treated like that. That’s not fair. But at the end of the day, we still got to do our job. We do that without any judgement, any ill feelings, still stay professional.”

That can be a challenging task to reconcile. He described how some people, including some Black people, talk to him.

McCall: “I’ve worked in the jail, so we -- You get that?” McCall asked other officers if they had similar experiences. “Soon as you come in the door, you’re ‘Uncle Tom,’ you know, you’re doing what the man do when you look like me, you got tattoos on your arm, you look just like me, I probably don’t have nothing to do with anything.”

Holt: “I was going into one of our local restaurants and had an African-American lady walk up to me -- I know the lady very well, she was dressed very nice -- and she laid into me. She was just telling me how I shouldn’t be the police. Police don’t like Black people, and I stood there and I listened to her. And I finally told her, ‘Ma’am, with all respect, I’m sorry, you feel that way, but you have a great day, and I’m going to come when you call me.’ And I walked away from her.

“But I got in my car just like, ‘Oh my gosh, I can’t believe this.’ And it just kind of shocked me because we look alike. And that’s what you say to me. But so now it’s just like, oh, I get it all the time, the Uncle Tom, all kinds of stuff.”

Lemon: “So be clear. There wasn’t an interaction between you that led her to believe that, because you had a badge, you were going to do something?”

Holt: “She was going in the restaurant, and I was too. And I guess she just felt like it was her moment to chew me out.”

Williamson: “So one thing I learned -- and I’m pretty sure [the other officers] can all sign off on this -- as far as the Black community, if I was wearing a uniform, like everybody around me, they don’t see us as being Black, they see the uniform. So I think that’s the misconception that people don’t understand.

“When you put that uniform on, it’s not that you’re Black or you’re white anymore -- it’s just the uniform that people see.

“So the hate that they’re portraying to you, it’s to the uniform, it’s not you, but it’s hard to see it when you’re in the uniform at that time. I’ve been out for a few years now, so I can see it, but while I was wearing it, it would get under your skin a little bit sometimes.”

Holt: “That’s what I tell our new recruits when they come in, and they get all upset. And I tell them, ‘Hey, listen, it’s the uniform. They’re fussing that it’s not you because they don’t know you as a person. So just be a duck and let it roll off your back.’”

After Memphis: ‘Not again.’ ‘What can we do better?’

The year 2020 will forever be known for the onset of COVID-19, the quiet killer that reached every corner of the globe. It’s also the year police perceptions changed dramatically. The murders of three unarmed people at the hands of police and former officers made the distance between Black people and the badge, no matter who was wearing it, seem bigger than ever.

It caused a worldwide outcry, even within the ranks of those wearing badges.

And then, most recently, more frustration arose when five Black Memphis Police officers brutally beat a Black man who later died. It was tough for Maj. Brisbon, who has served 28 years with CMPD. He spoke to Lemon just hours before videos of the police encounter in Memphis were released to the public.

Brisbon: “When you see something negative like what happened in Memphis recently, you always take a deep breath and like, ‘Oh no, it happened again’. But as you think not again, you have to think also, ‘What can we do better where we are to make sure that’s not us? What can we do to make sure we are bringing the best trained, the best equipped and the employees with the best overall mental health, so to speak, into our organization so we can lessen the opportunity for that to be us?’”

He said when something like this happens anywhere, it seems to present problems for police everywhere. Positive relationships built so carefully with the community can suffer.

Brisbon: “I think the most important thing that needs to be said is just, most officers want to do the right thing and have a desire to help the community wherever they serve. Unfortunately, some officers don’t do that. Don’t judge all officers by the acts of a few, just as we shouldn’t judge the whole public by the acts of a few.”

Former Chief Buie was Gaston County’s first Black police chief. He said with every negative encounter, a wedge has grown between the police and the public.

Buie: “I believe that over time, policing has slowly lost its legitimacy.

“People have lost trust and faith in what law enforcement has done.”

He addresses that in his book “From the Ground Up: How To Refine American Policing Now,” along with the need for more national standards and drastically more training in policing.

Buie: “Some of the things that are the foundation of policing are the things that we are being basically pushed by society to go back and look at. For better or for worse, we are here, and it’s time to deal with it.”

Real change requires diversity in thinking, too

When we spoke with the men and women in this group, the video had not yet been released of Tyre Nichols’ beating. But they all saw the video of George Floyd’s murder in 2020. Their reactions were the same as those of many others without a badge.

McCall: “I was mad when I saw it. Because I was like, we were trained better than that. That was uncalled for, completely. And I don’t like to Monday night quarterback things, but that could have been avoided all the way. Like you said, how did he even get that far? If you have an encounter or interaction with a civilian and it’s not going the way it should go, I got it. That was uncalled for completely. I was mad.”

Holt: “It was just a lot of emotions, ‘cause you have that going on and then you have a lot of officers around. It was just a lot of emotions. Like, we all train, like all the time, on how to deal with certain situations and what to do and what not to do. You just always ask yourself, ‘How did it get that far? Where could it have been stopped? Where could the line have been drawn? Who all do you hold accountable for those things?’”

Miles: “For me, it felt like the pits of you-know-what. And I say that because we had the riots here, nonstop, 12-hour shifts. We’re tired ... you had masks on, you had all these variables that were in your way, and now we have to deal with all this racial tension.

“I don’t want to lose my job. But I want to do my job to the best of my ability. But I got people that look like me in the community and those that don’t look like me just call me all types of things up and down the street. So I was like, what do I do? I’m still nice, I’m still going to be respectful, of course, but there’s only so much people can take in.”

Holt: “For me, I will ask myself, ‘Is it worth it?’

“Because here I am, putting my life on the line for you. And I don’t even know who you are.

“But this is what this is, how you treat me. So there was a lot of praying, a lot of praying. Just give me the strength to put on the uniform today and go out the door.”

For Lt. Monique Holt, a mother of Black sons, that was hard.

Holt: “I’m straddling the line because I wear the uniform, but then I got boys. And you see my boys, they’re good boys, very respectful. But I just sit down and talk to them, ‘Be careful who you hang out with. Be careful where you go,’ you know. We talk about traffic stops and what to do and what not to do.”

She says she has faith in law enforcement but she’s also realistic. She knows how things can go wrong, and she knows her sons won’t always be viewed as Lt. Holt’s children.

Holt: “Being in law enforcement, I see the good. I see the bad. I see the indifference.

“They are young Black men and you see a lot of things in the news. They see a lot of things in the news, and they have to know that everybody should be treated equally, but that’s not always the case.

The veteran officers told Lemon the incidents that give their profession a black eye can be avoided by seeing the job differently.

Buie: “They are always dealing with someone on their worst day.

“So the biggest word we can use more of in law enforcement is empathy. We need to talk about empathy and talk about where a person is, and having an understanding of where a person is, and how to communicate with them effectively so that we can solve their problem and move on.

“A lot of things go wrong when there is no empathy, and attitudes take over, and misunderstandings happen, and things escalate.

“It’s so important to have somebody else sit down and put things back in perspective and to remind you about being empathetic to the next person and where it stands and what it means. Badge or no badge, it has to work on both sides. And we are missing that.”

Brisbon: “All of those incidents are horrible, and we always want to think about what would we have done differently if we were in that situation, and how can we go back and change it? But one of the things communities have to understand is one of the ways to change the situation is to bring a more diverse workforce into this profession. And not coming into this profession creates an environment where things like that are more likely to happen.”

Maj. Brisbon said having Black officers is important, but the Memphis beating showed one thing: Real change requires diversity in thinking, too.

Brisbon: “If everybody thinks the exact same way, we never really have any progress. Because you are going to keep getting the same thing over and over again, so you have to have people who are going to see things differently so you can find gaps and find ways to change and make things better.”

When tragedy at work comes home with you

2020 might have been one of the toughest years in recent memory for officers collectively, but it certainly wasn’t the worst for them individually. Holt talked about a loss on the job that hit home for her in an unthinkable way.

Rarely do we see emotions from police on TV unless it hits home like it hit Holt when she spoke about the incident back in 2021. More than a year later, it still hurts -- 13-year-old Loyalti Allah was killed in a drive-by shooting in Monroe in July 2021.

To understand why the shooting affected Holt so differently, you have to understand that she believes in policing in ways that don’t always make headlines. On many Tuesdays, she knocks on doors with food and a smile instead of warrants and a gun. She also spends her time mentoring the youth in her community, and was heartbroken to learn she had mentored the suspects in the shooting that killed Allah.

Holt told Lemon the way people have responded to her to keep going.

Holt: “Oh gosh, their faces light up, and that makes me light up, so at the end of the day, I helped somebody.”

Her backup officers even stopped to show grace on the way to deliver food.

Holt: “They ran across a family that was broken down on the side of the road. They was able to find out that family was homeless and living out of their vehicle.”

They helped the family find help to get housing, food, and free repair work before coming to deliver food. Holt said that’s a different but common emergency response for them. She said every community touchpoint like that makes a tremendous difference.

Holt: “It sheds a light on people that we are not just enforcers. We are also people who can help you. I think that helps build that gap, that bridge, so they understand, ‘OK they are human beings just like us and they are willing to help us. They are not out here to hurt us or to lock us up.’”

And Loyalti Allah was an important part of Holt’s community service. She became a mentor to Allah, and the young girl often helped with food delivery.

Holt: “We go into the communities, and we give out food every Tuesday to that community. And that young lady particularly would come out and she will help us give out food. And we always start out with the prayer. And there’s times when she started those prayers -- she led the prayer for us. And I knew mom very well. So we just built that relation.

“And when I was the SRO at the middle school, it wasn’t ‘Officer Holt,’ it was ‘Mama Holt’ or ‘Miss Officer Holt.’ Because you just build those relationships with a lot of the kids because they’re looking for someone to be that voice, to love them, to advocate for them. And that’s what I’ve done. That was my job.

“I started several mentoring programs with the babies to give them better options or better opportunities.”

The pain of pouring into a young life lost was amplified when she realized she also mentored the four suspects in the shooting.

Holt: “You got to be kidding me. You got to be kidding me! And it just hit again, and it hurt even more.

“They went to my school. Talk to them, they come in want snacks, I’ll have all kinds of conversations with them, know their parents very well. So it was just, it was hard.”

Holt and the rest of the officers told Lemon they understood the impact they have on their communities and the power of young Black people seeing people who look like them in uniform helping.

Holt: “We’re there a lot. One of my guys go in and he plays pickup basketball religiously with the kids, but he’s building that rapport. And it’s just a good feeling to know that you can help someone or know that people know they got someone that they can call.”

McCall: “I think it’s a continuous effort, to stay in a community -- community policing -- and even when you’re off. So they can always see that and build those relationships because that relationship might save somebody’s life.”

Miles: “Just have those conversations with people. And it doesn’t have to be about policing, it could just be about ‘how’s your day going? How are you doing in school?’ Those are more meaningful, in my opinion, than us talking about laws and things like that. And now we could go down that road later on, but just getting to know you, as a person, you get to know me as a person, you know, just to have some common ground.”

Williamson pointed to the case of Tamir Rice -- a 12-year-old boy in Cleveland, Ohio, who was shot and killed by police while playing with a toy gun.

Williamson: “This has always bothered me. Had a toy gun, pointed at the police officer, and he ended up shooting.

“If you talk to these kids long enough -- like if Trent Conard or Mike Watts would have came up to me if I had a toy gun and say, ‘Hey Walt, what you doing with that toy gun,’ or, ‘What you got.’ They could talk to me and it wouldn’t be automatically hostile. Community policing could have saved the kid’s life.

“I can’t Monday-morning quarterback that, but --

“If you could have community policing in that community or every community, it can probably save more lives than you ever imagined.”

Role-model mentorship and breaking barriers

Zippia, a national job placement group, says they used their database of 30 million profiles and estimated statistics for law enforcement. Their study indicated the following about all police officers:

  • 83% are men
  • 17% are women
  • 65% are white
  • 17% are Hispanic or Latino
  • 12% are Black

Miles: “I had a mentor, she was a Black female captain. She’s now retired. And her first conversation with me was, ‘You know you’ve got to work harder than anyone else.’ I’m like, ‘Girl, what do you mean?’ Well, at the time, it was just myself and another Black female in the division. She said, ‘Well, one, you are African-American, you are a female. So this is a male-dominated field. So you have to go out here, and you have to shine.’”

Holt: “I was the only Black female officer in the entire agency for a very long time.”

Lemon: “What was that like?”

Holt: “Like [the] sergeant was saying, I had to make sure I was on my A-game. And I always had to work hard because I’m, one, a female in a male-dominated world, I was Black, and I was educated. So that then scares people. So I had to make sure I’ve done everything right.”

Miles: “I’m working hard because I need my community, where I’m from, I need to shine for my people and the ones that are coming up underneath of me: Officers who want to be promoted, who want to do these things, who want an advocate. Because I have advocates, I still have mentors to this day, and they are within CMPD, and they’re just not just Black females, they’re all different races. But they’re advocates -- they advocated for me so I have to do the same.

“So I’m like, ‘OK, you think I got it because I’m Black?’ No, I got it because I’ve worked hard.”

The group told Lemon the badge also makes them accountable to represent those who don’t pledge to serve and protect.

Williamson: “There’s a big stigma against Black people going in to be in law enforcement. Because we, as Black people outside of uniform, we want to complain about being treated unfairly, not being treated right. I actually decided I wanted to be a police officer because I had a bad encounter ... and this is the craziest thing: it was by another Black officer. So I was 18, 19 years old and this man treated me so bad. I told my mom that day, I said, ‘I’m going to be a police officer so nobody has to worry about being treated that way.”

Miles’ voice now resonates at the Charlotte Police & Fire Training Academy. But in a quiet room with Lemon, she shared why she is so vocal and why she fights against the odds.

Miles: “Being an advocate for my community, being a voice. Being one of the ones that has my head on straight, and knowing right from wrong and doing the right thing.”

She said she saw heavy-handed patrolling growing up as a child in Charlotte’s Piedmont Courts community.

Miles: “It was drug, gang violence. It was in the ‘90s, we were there.”

She said the approach by primarily white cops in a Black community didn’t help at all.

Miles: “When police went in there, they came in heavy. It was a lot of cursing, yelling, some slurs. It was very shameful, I would say. Cause it’s like, why? Why are we being treated like this?”

While her voice rings with clarity in this group, she also takes time to make it heard in the community -- which is something she said she didn’t hear from police when she was younger.

Miles: “I really enjoy speaking with people that look like me. When you run into law enforcement it’s OK to speak. It is. They are not the bad guy, and -- I can speak for members in blue as well -- we are not the bad guy. We are humans just like you are. It’s OK to speak, it’s OK to have those tough conversations because, nine times out of 10, we want to have the tough conversations. Just breaking down that barrier.”

She still remembers the day in 2012 when she stepped onto a stage and became an officer.

Miles: “When my dad cracked that smile, I knew he was proud.”

Seven years later, she became a police training officer, helping other officers earn a badge just like she did.

Miles: “I took joy in that, knowing that, man, that was me. But now I get to train this person for six weeks to learn how to be a police officer. I get to pour into this person’s career. It’s crazy, it’s awesome.”

She got to help develop the next round of officers and now, she’s a sergeant. Lemon asked, considering how far she has come, what she would say to the little girl shocked by seeing police in Piedmont Courts.

Miles: “It’s OK, you don’t have to be scared. You don’t have to be nervous.”

As a sergeant, she now recruits the next class of cadets, looking for those who will make the next little girl encountering police for the first time feel safe.

Then, a tough question for the group:

Lemon: “Would you be okay with your children becoming law enforcement?”

McCall: “So with me, I will say no.”

Holt: “I say no.”

Miles: “I have nieces and nephews... My nephew, he wants to be a police officer, he said, so we have time to change his mind.

“I don’t want people who are close to me, and even those who aren’t close to me, to go through traumatic things that we see on our end. It’s a lot to deal with, it’s a lot to process.”

Holt: “You know your kids, and you know what they’ll be able to tolerate and what they won’t tolerate. And I know how my son is. So we’ll just leave him in the military.”

McCall: “They’re too soft, sensitive. In this profession, you got to have tough skin. Got to be able to take it -- spitting on you and cursing at you in your face -- you got to be able to take that without showing your emotions.”

Williamson: “I’ve tried to discourage it. But it gets to a point where everybody here has been in law enforcement or is in law enforcement. You encourage your kids not to, then it becomes who’s going to be in it. So that’s, that’s where you get torn. I highly recommend her not to. But if that’s what she decided to do, I would.”

Lemon: “Why would you recommend not?”

Williamson: “Just the things you see, it’s a lifetime of things that you go home with that people, you never unsee it.”

CMPD Maj. Cecil Brisbon said he learned the importance of reaching the next generation of potential officers early in his career.

Brisbon: “The kids I was used to dealing with were only used to seeing white police officers, and so there were very few Black male police officers that those kids had interactions with. So taking the time to talk to them had positive interactions, I realized that when they saw me, they could see themselves.”

Buie, Jr., the former Gaston chief, said anyone frustrated with policing shouldn’t avoid the job but run to it instead.

Buie: “When we talk about being Black and being an officer, I want to encourage more young Black men and women to get involved in law enforcement. And if you think that it’s bad or there is corruption, the only way it changes once again is when you step inside and make those changes from within, or you stop it from happening because your presence is there. You have to take a part, an active part, and sometimes that means you can’t stay on the outside.”

“If you want to make changes, it happens from within.

“If you feel police are not giving you what you want because of your race, then you need to feed them with your race. You need to put more on the inside to make sure whatever services are being rendered are done so fairly. And policed by people that represent you.”

The last call: ‘I kept blaming myself’

Williamson spoke while remembering a chilling experience, a career-ending moment that led to healing and a life-long bond.

Williamson was the first officer to answer the call when trooper Chris Wooten almost lost his life in a pursuit in Charlotte. That was also the call that ended his career.

From middle school, Williamson believed he would wear a badge. But he never imagined a day when he’d have to step away.

Williamson: “My last day was July of 2019. There was a trooper on a motorcycle, it was chasing the guy, and he ended up wrecking. It was right off of Freedom.

“It was a blur. I can recall the radio traffic from the very beginning. Radio communication went silent. So I backtracked everything he said, and I ended up finding them in a ditch. And when I found them, he was unresponsive -- he wasn’t breathing.”

Wooten, Williamson’s friend and colleague, developed quadriplegia as a result of that crash.

Williamson: “And I kept blaming myself. I felt like I could have got there faster. It was different, I wouldn’t wish that on anybody.

“But I knew that day I was done. I never put the uniform back on. And I promised myself I’d never put a uniform back on.”

Lemon: “You made up your mind?”

Williamson: “I kept it together. I got my car, wiped my tears off, conducted the investigation ‘til he told me to go home -- or go to the hospital and then go home. But I told them, I said I’d never put this uniform back on. When I went home that day, I stacked all my highway patrol stuff in a spare bedroom I had.

“In that moment, I wished I could have swapped places with him. Because it sounds ridiculous probably to you, but, I was a single man -- I didn’t have a family. He had kids, he had a wife. He had one year to retire. And if I could have swapped with him just to make sure he had life, I would have done it instantly.”

He said he was in anguish. His mental pain lingered long after he decided to step down.

Williamson: “I was going to the gym and I just broke down on the stair stepper one day and just started crying, and I called the highway patrol and I was like ‘Hey, you’re going have to get me some help,’ because I didn’t know what else I could do.

“And as a man, especially as a Black man, we don’t really ask for help. I guess it’s got to be pretty much back against the wall.”

That call to ask for help was pivotal. Chris Wooten told Lemon he has no memories of the crash.

Wooten: “I didn’t know that he was there until later. I was able to hear the communications from the chase, and I heard his voice, and it actually brought tears to my eyes ‘cause I could hear the worry in his voice.”

So Wooten decided to call his younger colleague.

Wooten: “To thank him and let him know how much it meant to me to know he was the one who was there first.”

Williamson: “I get a FaceTime, and it says ‘Chris Wooten,’ and I was like, OK. So I answered -- I’m driving. And that was the first time we talked that he’s like, ‘Man, you didn’t tell me that it was you.’ And he’d just heard the radio traffic. He said, ‘When I heard the radio traffic, I heard your voice -- you were calm. It just made me thankful that it was you.’ Man, I pulled over on the side of 85 and I just cried for like 15 minutes. Because I’d been holding that for so long.”

Wooten: “It made me feel good that it was him that was there.”

That connection has changed so much for Williamson. He now goes out of his way to spend time with the man he admits he used to avoid when he was racked with grief for his former coworker.

Williamson: “I’m thankful. Every time I drive by and I get to see him out, I try to blow the horn. If anything, I try to stop, come by and at least say hello. But it means the world to me.”

The two are friends and so much more. They are forever connected, feeding off of each other for inspiration.

Wooten: “I admire him. He’s one of my heroes.”

Williamson: “He’s been an inspiration to me. I said, if this man can keep fighting through all he is going through, I’ve got no excuse not to fight. So, he motivates me more than he’ll ever know it.”

Williamson said sitting with the other officers was difficult for him. He admitted to Lemon that he considered not showing up to their interview at all. The other officers welcomed him, but Williamson said he felt like he didn’t fit in because he is a former officer.

Williamson: “I don’t know how to explain it. It’s just a different feel when everybody’s in uniform and I just walk in in dress clothes.”

But Wooten doesn’t see him as “former” at all.

Wooten: “I think ever since you put the uniform on, you are part of that brotherhood. And he will always be a part of it.”

While neither man will patrol the highways again, they both realize, they’ll always be troopers.

Williamson: “He’s going to feel the trooper brotherhood ‘til he dies, and I’m going to feel it ‘til I die.”

A commitment to serve

The officers said the badge they wear and have worn reflects the commitments they made to serve.

Holt: “Who wants to run towards bullets? Somebody shooting, a lot of people don’t want to do that. But that’s what we do. And we don’t mind doing that because that’s what we signed up for.”

They say beyond the badge, the gun and protective gear, they are mothers, fathers, sons, daughters -- and so much more. Miles, for example, is a Charlotte native and Army brat. Williamson grew up in Gastonia. Holt has 15 siblings.

The group said they can sense a change since tensions reached such high levels a few years ago after George Floyd’s death.

Lemon: “There was a study done last year that said that Black people -- particularly Black people -- in 2020, their trust in law enforcement was 19%. 2021 is 27%. Do you think that’s changing? Do you feel this changing beyond what the numbers are saying?”

Miles: “When the George Floyd incident was happening -- because the neighborhood my parents live in is predominantly Black -- Just going down there, I had a marked patrol car at the time. And the looks I would get was just like, ‘I don’t even know if I’m going to go to my parents.’ I was like, you know, like just uncomfortable.”

“But then I had to break that barrier. Like I had to go up to them like, ‘what’s up?’ [They would reply] ‘we ain’t know the police, why you coming down here?’ I’m like, ‘Well, since you asked’ -- This is why I’m coming down here, my parents live down here. You’re going to see more of me, I guarantee you that, And I’m not coming down here to be all in your business. What I am doing is letting you know the police in my neighborhood. It don’t have to be something bad when police in your neighborhood. I’m just coming to get a sandwich from my mama.

“So now, as of two days ago, when I went to my mom’s house, now I’m in an unmarked car, but you can still see the lights. So when I go down there, and I roll my windows down -- ‘cause I have tinted windows -- and I just roll by real slow, and I’m like, ‘What’s up y’all’ and they’re like, ‘what’s up Candace how you doing? Yeah we checked on your parents, you know they’re good.’ So I’m like OK, that’s what’s up. Keep doing that.”

Holt: “We do this program called Ball with a Cop. Before, it was to the point where we couldn’t get anybody to come out. Last Christmas, we done one called Hooping for the Holidays. Before midway through the game, you had guys that we had arrested, had done prison time, they are playing with the police, on the police team playing basketball. So I was like, ‘What? We are getting there!’

“It was just amazing. They took pictures with us, we posted them all on Facebook. They didn’t care, we didn’t either. I just think it’s a big thing, so I just think we are getting there.”

They think more people would understand if there were more opportunities like that.

McCall: “This needs to happen more often... All they see is this (gestures to badge.) That’s all they see. So you automatically judge soon as you put this on. But like they say we humans, we put our pants on the same way they put their pants on.”

Miles: “Be open-minded. Don’t judge a book by its cover, you never know. Any officer can relate -- we are relatable. Yes, a big family. We’re all in law enforcement. Like we’re all relatable in different things, ties to each other. People know that you have a wall. Granted, I would like to go kick the wall down and go, ‘hey, we here,’ but I can’t do that.”

McCall: “So now they can see a different light. ‘Hey, they seem pretty cool even though they wear uniforms. And they’re Black. Like they seem pretty cool.’ That’s what this is.

“It’s not rocket science... That person could be a great friend of yours for years to come. You just don’t know.”

Final thoughts and looking ahead

These officers clearly see reason to be more optimistic about the way people, especially Black people, see them. They hope and believe there will be a day when the line that too often divides will be wiped away.

This group told Lemon the burden of a badge on a Black officer is heavy, but they hope to encourage others out there to pick up the work when they are done because they believe inclusion is the fastest path to cohesion.

(WATCH BELOW: ‘It should never go’: Group fights to preserve historic Black school in Gaston County)