By Veronica Mackey
The epidemic of gun violence became more real last week when nine black mothers—most whose children were killed by police—addressed the Democratic National Convention. Awareness of the problem surfaced again last weekend when families of those killed in Orlando joined Ne-Yo and Jessica Alba onstage at the Teen Choice Awards at the Forum in Inglewood.
This issue isn’t likely to go away—nor should it. Whether it’s a mass shooting committed by a deranged assassin, an unprovoked killing by police, or someone seeking revenge against police, no one wins in this war. A proliferation of assault weapons does not belong on our streets. And, citizens who hold peaceful protests should not be met by officers with grenades and tear gas, dressed in full riot gear.
Inglewood Today talked with veteran Rudy Brookter about the mentality of police who kill unarmed black men and what needs to be done about it.
Brookter served in the military from 1977 to 1983. Now 56, he says he has observed 25 to 35 year-olds coming out of the armed forces and is disturbed by what he sees. “I watched these guys—some who graduated with my sons—and I wish they had more counseling. I know three of my son’s friends who went in and they came out screwed up,” he said.
One who had been stationed in Afghanistan for 4 years, and only out of the military for 2 months, went to work for The Brinks Company, transporting cash. He carried three weapons on various parts of his body, including a 357 magnum strapped to his leg. A homeless man who came up to ask for money, slipped and fell.
“He reached for Reggie’s leg to balance himself. That’s when he pulled his 9 millimeter out and shot him.”
In the decades since Brookter left the military, not a lot has happened to help veterans mentally adjust as civilians. “They come out of the military and the first thing the government does is hire them for the police department or fire department. Their mentality is not being checked by society, by psychologists, by those in the medical profession. They’re not ready to deal with race relations.”
Brookter recalled his own struggles with adjusting to civilian life:
“I had the same mentality when I came out. Here I was working at Memorex in a civilian job, and I’d be home, cleaning my weapons a couple times a week. Why? It took me three years to exhale. I had to balance my mentality and come down and realize that everyone is not the enemy.”
Brookter said military training holds clues as to why some officers can kill so easily. Veterans are taught to de-humanize. Emotions, he said, are not part of their training. “They don’t teach you to be angry. They teach you to kill. You have to suppress your emotions and they teach you how with a thousand and one different tapes we had to watch and tests we had to take.”
What needs to happen, he said, is to give newly released veterans more time to debrief, along with psychological testing and cultural sensitivity training.
“Some of these young guys have only been out of the military for 6 months. They haven’t had time to de-program. What helped me when I left the military and got hired at Memorex, was working around a lot of other veterans, so it was a blessing because we could talk. We could deflate. After a while we quit talking about it because we didn’t have to deal with it any longer.”
With regard to white officers using excessive force against blacks, Brookter said vets are programmed to see people of color as the enemy both domestically and abroad. “For about the last 17 years, the wars have been fought in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Kuwait, Iraq. All these people over there are dark. When those white vets come back over here, they are trained to see the darker ones as a big problem, so we’re seeing violence against young blacks on the street.”