Messer Lecture holds Book Symposium to share experience of police brutality and misconduct
The Baptist Student Union hosted the Joint Book Symposium with former St. Louis police officer, author, artist, minister and professor Terrell Carter, along with the guest author, retired Southeast professor and dean of the College of Health and Human Services Loretta Prater, on April 11 at Southeast Missouri State University.
This was the final event of the Messer Lecture, a three day, four-part series of lectures and conversation. The event consisted of Carter and Prater discussing their books, which consist of their personal experiences with police brutality and misconduct, followed by discussion and comments.
Prater, began to share the event that motivated her to write her book, “Excessive Use of Force.”
On January 2, 2004, her son, Leslie Vaughn Prater, was killed by four white police officers in Chattanooga, Tennessee. His death was ruled a homicide by positional asphyxia.
Chattanooga police reported he was 6 feet tall and weighed over 300 pounds, however, Leslie Prater was about 5’10 feet tall and weighed about 230 pounds. Although the family was told there was no trauma to the body, it was eventually revealed there were broken bones, a dislocated left arm, fractured left shoulder and numerous bruises and abrasions.
“They had done so many of these situations in Chattanooga over the years and they always just intimated the family and rolled over them, and they couldn’t roll over us,” Prater said.
Prater explained how she and her family were not intimidated by the police department’s aggressive, dismissive manner, lies told to cover up those police officers and their fight against City Hall.
When Prater was able to meet these officers face-to-face, she said her friends and family told her she could finally seek closure. However, Prater expressed it did not make her feel better about losing her son.
“When you lose a child, there is no closure… They could be in jail but that didn't bring my child back,” Prater said.
Prater expressed the unimportance the police department showed of her son’s death, noting the officers were only punished with a week off of work with pay.
“Do you want to have an extra vacation? Kill a Black man in Chattanooga, then you can get a week off with pay and go back to work,” Prater said.
Years after her son’s death she struggled to write her book saying, “The reason it took me 14 years to write, there would be days I start to write and it would be too overwhelming.”
Prater said although it took her 14 years, she was inspired to write the book for all the families that did not have to same resources they did, and she felt it was her responsibility to them.
“The pen is mightier than the sword,” Prater said.
Carter then took the podium and explained the meaning behind his two books, “Walking the Blue Line” and “Healing Racial Divides.” He also shared his experiences as a police officer in St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department.
“Policing is a storytelling process,” Carter said. “The person who has the power is the person who is telling the story.”
Carter said at the beginning of his academy experience he was told as a police officer he holds power over everyone else. Meaning that police officers appear more believable to the public even in times they may not be as truthful. This became the guiding principle for his experience as a police officer.
“Protect yourself, protect others” was the saying Carter heard from many of his fellow officers, emphasizing that helping others was never the main focus.
Over his five years, Carter said he had been witness to misuse of power, as officers would beat protestors, act aggressively to minorities and even hurt and kill fellow police officers.
Carter said many say these officers are just bad apples, but he believes it is the system that’s to blame.
“It’s the system because the problem is the citizens don't hear about the stuff that happens every single day,” Carter said.
These are the acts that Carter said often would occur behind-the-scenes, such as officers arresting individuals under false pretense to help build their police statistics and quotas.
Carter said he left the police department because of his partner purposely planting drugs in certain neighborhoods and stealing money from people so he could build his police statistics, and get promoted.
“He did it so he could make his life better, at the expense of other people,” Carter said.
Although the public does not hear stories like these often, it happens every single day, Carter said. Carter concluded the lecture by sharing his view on policing.
“Policing, in my experience, is not about protecting and serving the people,” Carter said. “It's about storytelling — in order to protect the system that exists, in order to help those who are in power within the system, and to enable others who are in power within the system.”
The discussion was then open to the audience.
A member of the audience asked what action needed to be made in the system in order to stop such events from occurring.
Carter said people need to understand their rights, use their right to film interactions with a police officer at a safe distance and vote people into power who have the ability to make police interaction better. Prater’s response was the level of education required to become police officers was not high enough, and they were lacking the critical thinking skill needed.
Mony Rathky, an international graduate student from Cambodia, said she came to the event because she has noticed racial tensions in America is a big issue and her home country is beginning to face the same challenge.
“I think that racism in the United States is a big issue and challenge that we don’t have effective measures to really counter that yet,” said Rathky.
Barbara Breedon, manager of the Southeast Bookstore, came to the event after attending a prior event of the Messer lecture and was interested to hear more.
Breedon said in the prior event it was interesting to hear a conversation with Carter, and hear different perspectives.
“The best thing said today was by Dr. Prater,” Breedon said.
In a diversity training, Prater was in years ago, an instructor said to think about how old you were and the situation you were in when you became aware of the fact that you were black.
Breedon said most people who were not black were confused by the question. She said it is because white is publicly the norm.
Prater said her relationship with God is what kept her going in the midst of the situation.
“I always felt like I was being helped in some way, and some power that was greater than me,” Prater said.