Alexandria’s first African American police chief talks police reform, race relations

A former police department leader who has vast personal and professional experience with race relations spoke to WTOP about what’s needed to create systemic societal change and ways to revamp police departments.

Former Alexandria Police Chief Earl Cook, who became the first African American to lead the city’s law enforcement, was also part of T.C. Williams High School’s first integrated football team in 1971 depicted in the 2000 movie “Remember the Titans.”

Cook reflected on the lessons learned during that time as a teenager, admitting it was forced upon them but said they began to talk about the issues and real change with a common purpose and goal as a team.

“We first had to be people getting along together,” Cook told WTOP. “And our race was secondary.”

Looking over the past several decades, Cook said violence against African Americans, like the lynchings of the 1950s, “has lessened, but the fierceness of that violence … is the same”

As far as change for a better future, Cook senses the key is with young people

“[They] have a little bit less difficulty assimilating if they’re allowed to,” said Cooke. “The influence of adults is tremendous.”

Cook disagrees with calls to dismantle police departments but does favor reforms that should be led at the federal level.

One example has to do with chokeholds. Cook wonders how many African Americans have to die before the police tactic is universally outlawed.

“How many is too many?,” Cook said. “10? 50? Maybe 1,500.”

Cook weighed in on D.C.’s imposing and enforcing of a Districtwide curfew during the height of the protesting last week.

Cook said cops were “immediately overwhelmed” after the death of George Floyd and the subsequent protesting, getting “a little heavy-handed” but credits D.C. Police Chief Peter Newsham and Mayor Muriel Bowser for being flexible as the situation warranted.

D.C. eventually dropped the curfew after three days.

Cook believes the District realized this “has to be allowed to happen legally” calling it “good government and management”

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