For the past few years, MPD Sgt. Jesse Garcia and I have had an ongoing debate about stupid (my word) things police officers do.
In the last year, there have been endless opportunities for me to needle Garcia. We enjoyed honest, spirited debates about the police, race and pop culture. He was very thin-blue line, he loved policing, but he knew I wasn’t anti-cop. I’m anti-chucklehead police responses.
While the popular former Minneapolis police information specialist didn’t always enjoy my ribbing, he never got ticked off enough to stop sparring. Often Garcia would concede defeat by saying: “I always say, ‘If you treat everybody like your mother, you won’t have any problems.’”
Good advice for police everywhere.
I’m going to miss hearing that. Garcia died Thursday, five months after disclosing he had stomach cancer.
My heartfelt condolences to Garcia’s mom, Donna Collings; his sister Monica Garcia; her husband, Michael Gabriel, who has been JGar3’s steadfast companion in his final months; his teenage son Jesse Garcia IV and the rest of the family, including baby Vienna. She’ll have photos of herself being held by her proud daddy but sadly no memories of him.
When I learned Sunday that Garcia had accepted hospice, I knew he was getting ready to leave us. About two weeks before that, when Garcia didn’t get back to me I took that as a bad sign. I’d called to tweak him about the Metro Transit officer who used a wrestling type slam while arresting a young black guy who had not paid to ride the light rail. A member of Garcia’s inner circle had encouraged me to keep JGar3 fiesty by riling him up during phone calls.
He had been optimistic about being around for years in most phone calls. But during what may have been our last chat he made a “doing the best I can with the time I’m here” remark.
Back when Garcia was fighting well, he agreed to do a Sunday Q & A with me. I really wanted to get us going back and forth on video to show two very different people who like each other disagreeing without being nasty to each other. But the health crisis roller coaster was taking it out of him — I’m told one time he drove to visit someone and then was too weak to drive home — so he said it was OK for me to ask him questions over the phone.
I enjoyed his sense of humor and perspective.
He recently asked how I was doing. I told him I was doing fine and felt silly admitting that my inner-ear problems had flared up again.
“Trade you!” Garcia said.
Here’s a last Q & A with Garcia, culled from a series of phone calls, the time frame of which can be discerned by what police incident we are discussing. It feels incomplete because it is and because that’s how we feel about most people who only get 48 years.
We’ll have to argue in my dreams now, kiddo.
Q: You didn’t think that there was anything wrong with that police officer getting mace on a 10-year-old?
A: When I spray mosquito [repellent] on my arm there’s a chance of my spraying your arm, too. Unless it was directed, directed, at the kid, I don’t think there’s much of a complaint there. The thing is, CJ, black lives don’t just matter — all lives matter. All lives matter. And the second thing is these people who use the word racism. Racism is the wrong word. If someone says they are racist against Mexicans, that means you have to hate every single Mexican out there. You just can’t hate four Mexicans and be considered racist.
Q: So what is it?
A: It would be, ah, what’s the word? Help me out …
A: Why can’t I think of it? Prejudice. You’d be prejudiced. Racism means you hate the whole group of people. For them to say, “The cops are racist.” It’s bigger than that. You have to [include] the black cops, too, then. Everybody’s got prejudice in them.
Q: You said you question the judgment of the parents who would take a 10-year-old to a protest, because you don’t know who’s going to be there?
A: When you go to a protest, as nonviolent as you and your small group are, you don’t know who is going to show up there [who] may try to escalate, may try to make a scene; going to basically drag you into what’s going on. They are putting you in a bad circumstance. Walking down the middle of Hennepin Avenue at night is probably not the best decision for parents of a -year-old.
Q: Now the reason they say, Officer Garcia, that Black Lives Matter, is that because it looks like there has been open season on black folks. I think there’s some bad policing going on when you can’t subdue people without killing them. When you come up to a situation and see a 12-year-old (although the white cops in Cleveland said he looked 20) with a toy gun, why would cops come up and not try to assess the situation, hide behind their car? They pulled up and one cop just shot that kid.
A: CJ, you know what? I shot a kid with a toy gun one time. He opened his back door and put a toy gun 2 inches from my face. The gun happened to be a toy replica model like the one I used to carry for 12 years. And from 2 inches away, I couldn’t tell if it was real or fake.
Q: OK, if there is as kid with a gun 2 inches from your face, I don’t fault you for responding like that. But if you drive up to a park in your police car and you see a kid, 30, 40, 50 yards away, he’s far enough away …
A: Is that the one where there was a fence and the guy was video taping?
Q: No, that’s a different case with the fence. [Tamir Rice] was in a picnic area. I don’t know if he pointed at them or not. Let’s say he pointed at them. They pulled up, got out of car and one of them shot him. Bang. I think they were lying, they couldn’t possibly have thought that kid was 20. A lot of white people look at us and to them blacks look older than we are. We’re scarier. The problem is the police culture. Three of those cops in Baltimore [charged with the death of Freddie Gray] are black people.
A: What was the name of the guy who sang the national anthem for the Manny Pacquiao fight?
Q: Was that Jamie Foxx?
A: Jamie Foxx. Jamie Foxx always looks pissed off and angry.
Q: I don’t think he always looks ticked off and angry. Just because black people don’t walk around with a smile on their faces, you assume they are angry?
A: No. His eyebrows are always kind of [furrowed]. He has that kind of built-in angry look.
Q: Jamie Foxx is not angry, he’s ugly, OK? And he can’t sing.
A: You’re right there. But he looks like the angry black man.
Q: That’s the problem. The idea that somebody thinks somebody looks like an angry black man. You know, people say I’m an angry black woman.
A: No, you’re not.
Q: I should show you my e-mails. If I write something negative about a blonde, You’re an angry black woman who’s jealous you’re not a blonde.
A: Oh, really? [He’s surprised.] Here’s my shining example. Jamie Foxx always looks like an angry black man but probably has a great personality, and Michael Jordan always looks like a happy black man and is kind of a [jerk].
Q: All you have to do is know some of the stories about Jordan and you know he’s kind of a [jerk].
A: Yeah he is but that look on his face says he’s happy, you know what I mean?
Q: But we can’t go around shooting people because of the looks on their faces. Or just because we can’t interpret the looks on their faces. I remember once when a former editor was communicating something to me. I wasn’t in big trouble, I was in a little trouble and he didn’t want me to be in more trouble so, and he said to me: I can’t read your face. I said, “I’m listening to what you are saying. I’m processing it.” People look the way they look. I’m not a big smiler and people tell me to smile.
A: Every time I greet you with a smile, you’ve always smiled back.
Q: Yes, but I don’t go around smiling to everybody. You better not walk around these streets smiling because somebody will think they can take advantage of you. [We both laughed]. And very rarely do you hear a man say to another man Smile! But they think nothing of saying that to a woman.
A: Oh, I say it to guys at work all the time. “Smile more. Be nice to people. It costs you nothing.”
Q: I tell people, You don’t know what’s gone on in my life. I could have had a death in my family. You don’t know why I’m not smiling. And they’ll say, Oh, that’s a good point. There are reasons people don’t smile.
How are you holding up today?
A: Every day is a battle.
Q: [I’m calling to distract him with questions.] Sooo, did you see that police footage out of Texas? The pool party with video of a cop inexplicably doing a combat roll while chasing people?
A: [Laughing] Yeah, that guy went crazy.
Q: I am telling you, cops are fearful of black people. I think I could defuse a lot of situations a lot of cops don’t handle very well.
A: A lot of us could. That guy was running around telling people to get down. He had more people getting down than he had cuffs for.
Q: [Laughing] Good point. I hadn’t thought of it that way. What did he think? They had guns in their bathing suits!
A: I want to see the report he wrote, for taking those people to jail. Just glad it wasn’t me.
Q: You wouldn’t do things like that. What’s your rule again for police … Treat everybody like your mother and you won’t have any problems.
Q: Did you hear the U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch was taken to a Civil Rights protest on the shoulders of her daddy? So she had to be younger than 10 years old, I’m thinking.
A: I’m not following current news that close.
Q: The last time we were fighting, you were saying people shouldn’t have a 10 year old at a protest. Lynch gave an interview to “CBS This Morning” where she said that when she was a little girl, her daddy took her on his shoulders, to a Civil Rights protest.
A: Those were much more peaceful back then.
Q: Yeah, until the police started bringing out the dogs and hitting us with water.
Q: So what are you going to tell little Vienna about boys?
A: I don’t know yet.[He sounded sad.] I’ll have think that one through.
Q: A ladies’ man like you has got to have some advice for his daughter about boys?
A: Always demand respect. Make him respect you. The people I’ve dated, whatever, as long and you treat them well and respect them, you can’t go wrong.
Q: Do you think if you were coming out of school today you would still want to pursue a career in policing?
A: Yeah, possibly. You can foster change through yourself. You still have your own ideals.
Interviews are edited. To reach C.J. try firstname.lastname@example.org and to see her watch the FOX 9 “Buzz.”