How a Black Police Officer Who Experienced Racism as a Teen Hopes to 'Effect Internal Change'

Winston Ross
·4-min read
How a Black Police Officer Who Experienced Racism as a Teen Hopes to 'Effect Internal Change'
How a Black Police Officer Who Experienced Racism as a Teen Hopes to 'Effect Internal Change'

How a Black Police Officer Who Experienced Racism as a Teen Hopes to 'Effect Internal Change'

"There's systemic racism in this country, for sure," says Portland police officer Daniel Trummer

Daniel Trummer was 14, on the bus home from school in Frankfurt, Germany, when he noticed the frail looking woman mumbling something in his direction that sounded like a racial epithet.

Trummer asked the woman what she was saying.

“And all of a sudden she just exploded” with a slew of more epithets, telling him to go back where he’d come from, he tells PEOPLE.

Trummer was furious. If a classmate hadn’t pulled him away, he’s not sure what would have happened.

It wasn’t the last time Trummer, now a 35-year-old Portland police officer, experienced racism in his native Germany or in the U.S. after he immigrated.

He met his now-wife, Camille, after she called Trummer’s friend for a ride so she could escape what she describes as harassment by police officers in Seattle after a pizza shop owner accused her and her friends of dining and dashing.

Nils Ericson Daniel Trummer

Nils Ericson Daniel Trummer and family

Trummer's experiences with racism have impacted his outlook on the world. Not long after his encounter with the elderly woman, a classmate at a train stop called him a racial epithet. “I blacked out and picked him up and dropped him on his head,” he says. “That was interesting, because I looked like the bad guy.”

His parents were called into school for a conference. “My mom was furious. She was like ‘These two kids called my kid the N-word. What he did to them was totally appropriate.'”

That word hurts more when he hears it in the U.S., Trummer says, because it’s loaded with the baggage of America’s history of slavery. He says doesn’t hear it from fellow officers on the force. Rather, he says he hears it sometimes from suspects he has arrested.

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But he knows racism exists in policing.

“As far as racism, it’s a contributing factor, because some white officers in Black neighborhoods see similar behaviors over and over again,” he says. “So certain stereotypes get reinforced, and you create a bias towards a certain demographic… There’s systemic racism in this country, for sure, because this country was built when Black lives didn’t mean anything. They were animals, right? So if you continue building a country with that mindset, you’re not going to prioritize those folks. In that sense, I really do support reform.”

On the beat, people often scream at Trummer to quit his job. But he believes he can make a positive change by staying on the force and setting a good example.

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A key to deescalating encounters between police and citizens, he says, is "getting to know the people. If you don’t know the people in that car you’re stopping, your fear level is going to be much higher than when you know Johnny, and you know he’s with maybe two other guys you don’t know, and it’s three in the morning ... but you know Johnny’s a good kid, just hanging out with people he shouldn’t. So you can go to him and say, ‘Johnny, man, I’m getting a bad vibe… who are those guys in the back?’"

He adds: "You have to address crime, but you also have to get to know people and grow a relationship with these folks."

To help combat systemic racism, consider learning from or donating to these organizations:

• Campaign Zero (joincampaignzero.org) which works to end police brutality in America through research-proven strategies.

ColorofChange.org works to make government more responsive to racial disparities.

• National Cares Mentoring Movement (caresmentoring.org) provides social and academic support to help Black youth succeed in college and beyond.