Black History Month: Highlighting the perspective of a local police officer of color
SOUTH BEND, Ind. — ABC57’s Black History Month series continues—highlighting the past, the present, and the path forward here in Michiana—taking a look at the relationship between the police and the community.
It’s a relationship that has gotten much more complex following the death of George Floyd, a black man at the hands of Minneapolis Police last year.
Floyd’s death, among several others sparking protests across the country and calls to defund the police, but a perspective that hasn’t always been a part of that conversation is that of black law enforcement professionals.
Tamir Rice, age 12. George Floyd, age 46. Breonna Taylor, age 26. Eric Logan, age 54.
All of them dying after interactions with the police, intensifying distrust with law enforcement and the community here at home and across the country.
But one South Bend police officer is working to change that narrative—and he has a pretty inspiring story.
“It’s funny I saw my first black police officer when I was 10 years old," said Samuel Diggins, of the South Bend Police Department, "It shocked me because I had never seen a black police officer. And I can remember exactly where I was at when I saw him and he stopped his car and he looked at me like ‘what’s the matter?’ And I said ‘You’re a policeman,’ and he said, ‘yes,’ ‘but you’re black.’ And he said ‘yes.’ And I said ‘well, I wanna be a policeman,’ and he said ‘you can do whatever you want.’” “It’s just been in my head ever since.”
Samuel Diggins of the South Bend Police Department will be 31 years on the force for him in 2021.
In his decades of service—he’s heard a lot of different opinions about his career choice as an officer of color.
“Why would you want to do that? You might get killed in the line of duty. You’re portrayed as being like a snitch being on the wrong side the other side which I never let any of that get to me," stated Sgt. Diggins, "Police work is police work. I go about it as I treat people the way I would want to be treated so I treat people with respect. A lot of times our officers don’t get respect in return but that’s just the job.”
And when the distrust between the police and the communities they serve got even more apparent in 2020, Diggins says he felt those effects.
He understands the distrust but for police but he sees both sides because he lives this life every day.
“I’m not going to say we don’t have bad police officers, we don’t have any police officers, but not every police officer is a bad police officer. So the way the media portrayed it was like every call that we went to we were put into that situation where we were the bad guys," said Sgt Diggins.
What has never changed over the years for Diggins is knowing police work is his calling.
Since seeing his first black police officer in South Bend at the age of 10, he recognizes there’s still work to be done, but also that we’ve come a long way.
“I was told back in the 50s, 40s that black police officers when they first got on this department they couldn’t even arrest white people. I mean so look how far we’ve come you know," recalled Sgt. Diggins, "I was fortunate to be promoted but the first black police chief here in South Bend, Darryl Boykins. I was here to see the first black female captain promoted, Mattie Taylor. That’s what inspires me.”