Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Diane Lunsford is talking with Frederick Douglass Reynolds, author of Black, White, and Gray All Over: A Black Man's Odyssey in Life and Law Enforcement.
FQ: I want to thank you for the pleasure of reading your memoir. I am in awe of how you set the tone in the very beginning in that while racism is a theme you intend to address throughout the story, it is not the defining premise. Were there moments when it was difficult not to go too deeply down the proverbial rabbit hole and if you found yourself heading there, how did you redirect?
REYNOLDS: Thank you for the kind words. There were indeed moments where I knew that if I went down that hole, it would take away from my story as a whole. I redirected myself by doing exactly what I have done my entire life: staying true to myself in the end. I wanted to tell my story as it happened, and although racism was certainly part of the story, it was not the centerpiece. As long as I kept that in mind, I knew that I would be able to stay on course.
FQ: It’s difficult for me to site one experience in your book because there are so many, and they cover a vast spectrum of situations. However, I was fascinated with your work on the narco investigation and the corruption within the division. How difficult was that on your home life while working this case?
REYNOLDS: It was extremely difficult. Because I knew that whoever was involved in the corruption would have access to all my personal information, such as address, phone number, wife’s employer, even where my children went to school. I received threatening phone calls, ostracism at work, and vandalism to my personal property. But my wife, being in Law Enforcement as well, knew the importance of what I was doing and also that all it takes for evil to triumph, is for good men to do nothing to stop it. I would like to give credit for that quote to Edmund Burke, but there is discussion as of late that it was falsely attributed to him. I really don’t care who said it. All I know is that it is true.
FQ: In line with my previous question, how difficult was it for your wife Carolyn to cope while you worked this case and was there a defining moment when the pressure valve blew, and you had the proverbial epiphany of: ‘no job is worth sacrificing this or that’ and what did you do to get back on a more balanced course?
REYNOLDS: It was difficult for us to cope. She saw the extreme amount of stress that I was under, but she supported me wholeheartedly. She also knew how stubborn I am when I think I am doing the right thing. If I was too afraid to stand up to evil and corruption, then I certainly had no right wearing the badge. And I had gone through too much to earn that right.
FQ: You brought tears to my eyes when you shared your feelings toward your son Desmond’s diagnosis of autism: ‘I looked up at her, no longer concerned with trying to hide my tears. I said, “I can’t help Desmond, Carolyn, I’m lost right now. I have spent my whole life helping others, but now I feel so helpless. What did he do to fucking deserve this?” This is so raw and honest, and your style and tone portray many sentiments like this throughout your memoir. Is there a scene you wish you would have left in your book, but opted to send it to the ‘cutting room floor’? If so, can you share now?
REYNOLDS: Yes, there were many instances where my father was drunk and I had to get him undressed and help him into bed. There were even times where he was too drunk to drive and I had to take the wheel even though I didn’t have a license. But he was the kindest, gentlest soul. And I miss him dearly, every day.
FQ: What is one of the most harrowing experiences you had while serving on the force in Compton and was there a fleeting moment when you thought that could be the moment your life ends? How did you cope with the aftermath of emotions?
REYNOLDS: There were numerous fleeting moments when I thought I was going to lose my life. But just as harrowing a thought was the possibly that I would be forced to take a life. I did not want to kill another human being. I knew that there could come a time at any moment when I might be forced to do that, but I did not relish that thought. The high-speed pursuits, the gang-fights where literally dozens and dozens of people were fighting and I had to enter the fray, the sniping at us during the riots, the face-offs with individuals under the influence of mind-altering drugs. It was never-ending. I would drink on occasion, but most-often I would engage in emotionless one-night-stands. It was only until years later that I realized I wasn’t picking up women for pleasure; I was picking them up to get my mind off what was going on in my life and at work.
FQ: You mentioned your father’s alcoholism and there were references to your own propensity to drink in excess throughout your book. Alcohol has many demonic traits. How do you keep the devil at bay?
REYNOLDS: Although I realize that alcoholism can be hereditary, I knew that I didn’t want to be an alcoholic so I fought hard against it. I knew that if I did allow myself to go down that path, I was going to let a lot of people down. I have a tremendous amount of self-control when I set my mind to it, even if I was sometimes self-destructive. After traumatic events, I would sometimes drink for days. And just as suddenly, I wouldn’t drink for weeks. In a strangely odd way, I found my balance in that way, rather than drink every single day.
FQ: Politics are a tenuous topic and there is an adage that one should never talk sex, religion, or politics in mixed company. I’ll touch the surface just the same. We are living in volatile times these past couple of years and it pains me to see the lines of division on many fronts drawn. You mentioned at one point that racism is a learned behavior, and I could not agree more. If you were in front of a group of young people today, what would be the message you would like to resonate with all of them when it comes to practicing harmony?
REYNOLDS: Treat everyone the way you would want to be treated. We are all the same. Children don’t see color, they see who they either like, or don’t like. Perhaps we as adults should take our cures on race-relations out of the mouths of babes.
FQ: What words of encouragement would you have for your fellow officers today given how they are often ostracized and disparaged?
REYNOLDS: Law Enforcement is a calling. It is more than just a job; it is more than just a paycheck. You have to truly believe in the job in order to do it correctly and with compassion. Community sentiment is fickle. After 9/11, cops were loved. After George Floyd, they are demonized. Community sentiment is largely driven by politics. But as long as a cop stays true to him or herself, at the end of your shift and you go home to hug your family, you will realize that just by your having been on the streets that day, you may have allowed someone that you will never meet to go home to theirs.
FQ: Now that you are retired, what is your favorite pastime?
REYNOLDS: I spend a lot of time with my wife and son Desmond. I also write, of course, and I love to draw. I’m pretty good at it, as is Desmond. We have actually collaborated on a work of art which is framed and on the wall in his room.
FQ: In line with my previous question, please tell me one of those ‘favorite pastimes’ is writing. If so, are you working on your next book and are you able to share?
REYNOLDS: Yes, one of favorite pastimes is writing. I am currently working on something. Fictional, this time.
FQ: I want to thank you again for your exceptional memoir. I am honored to have been the one to read and review it. I thank you for your time and most importantly, thank you for the years of service and placing yourself in harm’s way, and your inherent commitment ‘to serve and protect.’
REYNOLDS: Thank you so much. It was my pleasure. It was a thrill-filled 32-year ride, and despite the general sentiment toward law enforcement, I would do it again in a New York minute.