Editor’s note: This is the next in an occasional series by the Sun Newspapers telling the story of a Black person in our community and how he or she views the state of our country’s racial issues and in light of their own experiences.
Children at Westcoast Church in Englewood recently asked Deputy Craig Edwards if he saw the video of George Floyd’s death under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer. He told them he had.
“It hurts, because I see myself as George Floyd, being a Black male, and I also see myself — someone who looks like me — in a uniform,” he said. “I told them that’s not what a real cop would do. That situation was handled wrong, and there’s penalties for your actions.”
Edwards is a Road Patrol deputy at the Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office. As a cop and a Black man, he sometimes feels like he’s “between a rock and a hard place.”
“I have a lot of friends and even family who don’t know I do this job,” he said. “Seeing their thoughts about things, without knowing what I do, is very interesting.”
He hopes to foster better communication between police and the Black community and educate all of the public on what law enforcement actually does and why.
Edwards moved to Port Charlotte from New York when he was in fourth grade. He is a graduate of North Port High School, has coached football in Charlotte County and helped out with youth groups in the area. He was interested in law enforcement ever since a career event at his middle school brought out first responders like firefighters and law enforcement.
“They had the trucks and the cars and stuff,” he said. “It started from a young age from that event at school. I was always very interested in law enforcement and what they did.”
More recently, his stepfather also went into law enforcement as a trooper with the Florida Highway Patrol, letting Edwards have a close up view of the job.
“I got to see what he went through as far as the challenges of the job, the academy itself, and just what the job entails,” he said. “I’ve always been someone who wanted to give back to the community. I did personal training for years and always did stuff working with kids, so I felt taking this route would be something very beneficial.”
He currently works in Road Patrol but he’s interested in taking the path of a school resource officer, community policing, or perhaps the Traffic or Marine Unit. He enjoys the fact that it’s never routine, and he can be a positive influence.
But on the job, he’s gotten hate from the public for both his race and his occupation.
“During my PTO (Police Training Officer) training, I’ve been called the n-word, and my trainers always try to make sure I stay disciplined, which has never been an issue for me,” he said. “I’ve experienced it growing up, so it wasn’t something I wasn’t prepared for ... You can’t take everything to heart, especially knowing in this line of work we’re going to have people yell at us, kick us, scream, spit at us. A lot of times it’s just because you’re in uniform. They don’t necessarily mean everything they say.”
He’s also had fellow members of the Black community questioning his choice to join the field.
“There was a lot of people asking if I was sure this was what I wanted to do,” he said. “I’ve had people say, ‘You’re one of them.’ I’m like, ‘I’m trying to be part of the change.’”
In his own academy class, four of the seven students sponsored and hired by the Charlotte county Sheriff's Office were minorities.
The narrative of the police versus the Black community isn’t the whole picture, but Edward said law enforcement isn’t a career many young Black people flock to, given the history between police and the Black community. He’d like to see that change, for it to be seen as an acceptable career choice.
“It falls back on education with what law enforcement does, why they do the things that they do,” he said. “Most of the information’s out there, but I feel like it can be distributed better. That’s something I hope to be a part of.”
Growing up, Edwards said he had his own questionable interactions with police, but now as a law enforcement officer himself, he’s less quick to label something as racism.
“I remember being followed in Walmart by a cop in another town, and I’m like, I literally just left church with my family,” he said. “It just felt weird. It was in the sporting goods section of a Walmart. There were other kids around, but that cop kept following me. Looking back, I don’t know if loss prevention called him and said they think that I’m stealing. It could have been anything.”
He’s walked some of his friends through interactions they’ve had with police and broken down the law enforcement perspective. He hopes to continue to shed light on why officers do what they do and show that not everyone is bad.
“I will never deny the fact that there is racism, but not every situation that may seem like it is,” he said.
Edwards said he believes that criminal justice reform is necessary, but also that individual police departments and sheriff’s offices aren’t all the same.
“A lot of the root of the problem is the culture with that specific department or sheriff’s office,” he said. “It starts at the top down. Here we have leaders who won’t accept anything of that sort. If that tone is set and that culture is one that’s of integrity, then you don’t have those issues.”
In his training for CCSO, he said officers have to note cultural differences as part of their documentation, and the trainers were adamant about the fact that officers do not profile people.
“Everything’s based off of what you do,” he said. “It doesn’t matter what color or race you are, what gender. They definitely made a point that we have a standard. If you don’t uphold that standard, there’s definitely going to be an issue.”
Edwards said he’s been involved with conversations with the sheriff about what it might look like to provide more education to the public on what law enforcement does and bridge the gap.
“I’ve talked to the sheriff about putting together a small event with select people from the community to help them see what we see, whether it be a scenario-based situation to where they can see, ‘okay, that’s why they approach a car a certain way, that’s why they say show me your hands,’” he said. “It’s still up in the air, but we’re trying to put something together on the approach law enforcement takes to certain situations.”