October 26, 2022

Justice, Peace, and the Future of the Police: Monica Hunter-Alexander

No one in the Washington State Patrol believed that my next guest, an African American single mother, will be a state trooper for very long. She proved them wrong, using their doubt as fuel and knowing that one day she would share her story, the tale of truth and change in law enforcement, and in life. 

What’s up, everybody? Welcome back to the Author Hour Podcast. I’m your host Hussein Al-Baiaty. Today, I’m honored to be going on a journey with author Monica Hunter-Alexander, to talk about her gift to the world. Her new book is called Justice, Peace, and the Future of the Police. Let’s dive in.

All right, everyone. We are in for a treat today. My next guest, Monica Hunter-Alexander is going to be someone that I feel like I’m going to know for the rest of my life. This is just how this is going to go. Monica, it is an honor and a privilege to just have you on the show today, to tell us about your stories, and your experiences. I think ultimately, we will walk away from this episode, just feeling like better humans. Let’s start by giving our listeners an idea of your personal background.

Monica Hunter-Alexander: Well, first of all, thank you so much. Thanks for having me on to talk about this really important issue and or issues. My personal background is that I grew up in Southern California, born and raised in Pasadena. I have experienced a few careers. I feel that’s a blessing, not a curse. I always moved on to something different, because I wanted to make a difference, but I also wanted to grow in my own space. I went to college and didn’t have enough money to finish. I’m a college dropout, but also a college graduate. Then I went on to become a cosmetologist. Operated a hair salon for a while and absolutely loved it, but I wanted to see the world. 

I remember reading in an Essence magazine one time that the best form of education is travel. Well, if I traveled and didn’t do hair, I wouldn’t have money, so I had to figure that out. I saw an ad again, in Essence — I read a lot of Essence magazine. I saw an ad for United Airlines and I go, “I’m going to try this.” I did. I got hired. I sold my business. I became a flight attendant for seven years. Then Rodney King happened. I was flying in and out of Los Angeles International Airport as a flight attendant, and LA was on fire. I really paid attention. I mean, because of course I grew up in Southern California. I knew the potential after seeing Rodney King. I knew what could happen if verdicts went one way or the other. Then I decided I’m doing law enforcement and everybody was like, I must have been out of my mind.

Hussein Al-Baiaty: Oh, my God. Especially, at that moment in time. 

Monica Hunter-Alexander: Yeah. Everybody’s running from law enforcement at that time, not running to. I thought it was important for me as a Black woman with some life experience, and some education, to join and try to make a difference. That was my goal, which was to make a difference.

Hussein Al-Baiaty: I just get chills down my spine, because when I hear, you hear heroic stories — I mean, if you turn on a Disney Channel, it’s all about the hero stories, but sadly, look, I grew up a Muslim-American. I came from a refugee camp. My name is Hussein. A lot of my peers, pretty much all my peers were either Latino or African American. So that became me, my culture, how I spoke, I was relatable to the world, but I always saw, let’s be honest, the despair I grew up in Beaverton, Oregon, across the street from Nike, right? 

I got this unique perspective on life by coming from a refugee camp. There’s this gap of seeing despair and in green grass growing up in the desert, in the middle of the desert, the grass was like, I’m like people just spraying grass out here like it’s nothing. Water is the most, you know. But for me, it was always about like, how can I in a way talk about these things with my friends, so that they can appreciate them and have a grateful mentality towards them? When you say, I’m running towards this, it means that you have this built-in courage. That’s how I’m seeing you right now and how you’re telling your story. What I’m excited about is, this is like when you’re, I feel your hero’s journey began, and the things leading up to that we’re training you for it. What happened next? You decide to join the force and make a difference. Tell me more.

Monica Hunter-Alexander: Well, I looked around. I looked at different organizations to see what the right fit was and because I was a flight attendant, I could do ride-alongs in different locations. So I rolled with Las Vegas Metro, and had a lot of fun, and thought this is a good agency, but it didn’t feel like the right fit. Rode along with Seattle Police Department and another good agency, but it didn’t feel like this isn’t exactly what I’m looking for. I did one, eight-hour ride with the Washington State Patrol. I knew that was my agency. You can just feel it. It’s like a marriage, just like a relationship. You feel like, “Hey, this is the fit for me.” People started telling me that I should not join the Washington State Patrol. They told me two things. They said they are racist and do not like women. I go, “Well, where do I sign up?” 

Hussein Al-Baiaty: Wow.

Monica Hunter-Alexander: They’re going to have to tell me, no. Because when I look at their benefits package, I’m thinking this place is a good place to work. I mean, I looked at — they gave you a take-home car, they paid for your uniforms, and they gave you amazing training and from the moment you were hired, that time went towards your retirement, so all of your training and everything went towards your retirement. All of that was important to me because I didn’t join as a child. I was already 34 years old. So most people join law enforcement in their early 20s, for good reason, but that’s not what I was doing. I was joining a bunch of 20-year-olds at 34. 

What my retirement look like really meant something to me, as how quickly I could retire. When I first joined the cut-off, you had to retire at 60, which meant, I barely get my full 25 in. I was thinking about all these things. I wasn’t thinking about what people were saying. They don’t like women, and they don’t like Blacks. That’s their problem. That was not my problem. In my mind, in my naive mind, there are laws that protect people. There are processes, and I’m just going to get in here and see if they don’t like Blacks and they don’t like women.

Hussein Al-Baiaty: Right. I’ll deal with that later. Let me just get my stuff together, my benefits, my health.

Monica Hunter-Alexander: Because if you look at it, I mean, if I’m going into an organization that is full of white males, which is what society says takes care of home. So men get paid more because they have to take care of the family. If I look at that, I’m like, “There must be some good benefits in there.” I’ve got my son. I’m about to be a single mother. So I’m like, “I need their benefits, what they got.” Overall — and I also knew that the Washington State Patrol was a very well-respected organization and respected because they were very disciplined, they had some strict rules, policies and guidelines. I thought, “You know what, this sounds these people are treating people fairly. I’m going with them.” I signed up and the rest is history.

Hussein Al-Baiaty: Wow. I mean, I think that’s such an important thing to put out there in the world, right? When we all look at job opportunities, sometimes we got to make the sacrifices necessary, especially when we have our kids involved, or families involved. Then you’re right, you’re at the age of like, wow, I got to think about what this means for the next 25, 30 years for me. What this looks like? What I’m going to be earning? If I’m going to dedicate literally my life to this, what does it mean for me and my family? I appreciate that perspective because it’s pure. Then you get into law enforcement. The underlying cause is, I want to make a difference. I also want it to take care of my family. Then what happens? You get in there, you start training, and you start working on this purpose and unfolding it. Tell me more. 

Taking The Opportunity

Monica Hunter-Alexander: At every turn, I realized even through the hiring process, I was reminded that I was the only African American female that was going to be commissioned, meaning you carry a gun and a badge and have police authority. I was the only African American female. They kept asking me how I felt about it. What I’ve realized is, it was about how they felt about it because I had already been an African American female for 34 years. How would I feel about it? I feel great. I love the skin that I’m in, right? But it was highlighted multiple times even in my background, and my psychological, and I noticed how they danced around it. It wasn’t just a straight-out question like, “Hey, you’re going to be the only African American female. How do you feel?” 

“I want to bring this forward. I want to say this. You’re going to be — if you’re hired, you’re going to be the only African American female. How do you feel about that?” I was like, I would to have this job. If I get hired, I’m going to be very excited to have this job. So that’s how I feel about it. I feel excited. No one is ever excited to be the only and I will own right now, I was a little naive at the time. I had been a flight attendant. I had flown internationally and domestically, and there were days, I’d go six, or seven days and not see another Black person, because my crew was all white, or Asian, and I’m in an Asian country. I’m in these different places and spaces, where there isn’t anybody, there’s no one that looks like me. 

I used to wear my hair and braids and individual, long individual braids, sometimes and all I would know is that people were staring at my head constantly. It was before the movement on Black women’s hair, “Hey, let us have our hair the way we want.” I was always pretty bold about my hair because I was a hairdresser, right? I do what I want. Within reason, because you neither –

Hussein Al-Baiaty: Also you got style and like, this is what you got to do. 

Monica Hunter-Alexander: Exactly. This is what my people are doing, whether I’m around my people or not, this is what we’re doing. I was used to being the only one. It was different. I didn’t realize and they realized some things I didn’t. That is being in an organization with mostly white males, there were only 20 – When I joined the State Patrol, there were about 24 African Americans out of 1,100. That’s a small number. There were no African American females. So I was fine, but I did realize, I started realizing, you’re not as fine as you think you are, because there are things that are coming your way. You’re an army of one. That’s what you have. 

I will say, though, that the African American men, even when I was in the academy, would come to me and say, “Hey, let us know if you have any problems. Don’t let things get to bed before you tell us.” Later, I started wondering, well, what were they going to do? What were they going to do? But I appreciated the sentiment. Even when we were in the academy, the State Patrol is a very paramilitary organization, so we had room inspections and uniform inspections all the time. My bed did not get turned. Meaning that if somebody didn’t have the hospital corners in real tight, and your rooms didn’t always match. They would go in or attack — what we call our attack officers, which are like drill instructors. 

They would go in and they would take everything in your room and everything in everybody’s room. There are 50 of us in our class and throw it in the hallway. You have 10, 15 minutes to put it back together. My bed, yeah, right, my bed did not get tossed. People say, “Well, they aren’t tossing your bed, because you’re a Black female.” I said, “They’re not tossing my bed, because I know how to make a bed.”

Hussein Al-Baiaty: Yes. I’m taking pride in that work. 

Monica Hunter-Alexander: Right. 

Hussein Al-Baiaty: I don’t want to get my bed tossed like that. I don’t have time for that.

Monica Hunter-Alexander: My mother made us make our beds with hospital corners. I’ve been doing this all my life. I was like, “This is the one thing I’m really great at. Shut up. Let me have this.”

Hussein Al-Baiaty: Yes, right. The one time this matters. This is it. 

Monica Hunter-Alexander: Right. 

Hussein Al-Baiaty: I’m doing a damn good job. 

Monica Hunter-Alexander: This will never matter again. Nobody will ever inspect my hospital corners again.

Hussein Al-Baiaty: Wow, wow. You have such a beautiful way of just showing that world. For me, I’m like, no way, at 34 is somebody flipping my bed. Like I just can’t fathom what that must have been like, just to train and get into that mindset of, okay I’m here to do this job, to serve my community and all these beautiful things. But there’s also a whole other layer of yes, do you have a problem with being a Black woman here? Then there’s another — these are the strict guidelines in which we train these officers and all these things. It’s a very regimented line of work. You can almost see why a lot of people are, like you said, running away from it, as opposed to going towards it. That’s what differentiates you from a lot of people. Tell me more. You go a little bit deeper into a new society. You’re working in the communities. What starts to happen? How do you change?

Monica Hunter-Alexander: I saw that I love the work I had an opportunity to do. I work, and I had a lot of different positions, but when I was in college I was a Communications major. I said I really want to be the spokesperson for the agency. I was really highly criticized for that, but I always had a method to my madness. I didn’t want to just be the spokesperson so that I could be on TV or whatever. I wanted to be the spokesperson so that I could learn more about the agency because I had a plan. My plan was to promote, so that my voice could be heard because as a line officer, nobody really asked what you think about anything, right? They just tell you what to do. 

Again, I was older than the people that were supervising me. I was older than some of the people that were high up in the ranks because I started a little bit later and most of them started again at that 21, or 22 age. They didn’t think I was older than them. They thought I was — I don’t know what they thought — but I know that they thought that they were older than me. I knew early on that I was going to try and promote and move forward in the ranks, because I saw not, yeah, okay, I’m being critical, but I saw some deficiencies in leadership. I thought I’m a leader. I owned my own business, and I’ve made money, lots of it as owning a hair salon, there’s a lot of money in that business. 

I thought I could use these leadership skills here. I could help them learn how to communicate better with people. I could help them understand what customer service really looks like and while we might not think — not only to like use the word “customer” only because when you call the police, you don’t have a choice. When you go to Nordstrom, you do have a choice. So it’s your customer, but not really, because whatever police jurisdiction you live in, whether you like them or not, that’s what you get when you call, but I still apply by customer service skills to that business. I’d always try and talk to people with respect, even people I needed to arrest, I really want to show them respect, because I didn’t want to get into a fight. I didn’t want to roll around on the ground, everybody loses with that. 

I wanted to leave people with their dignity, even if I had to arrest them. I didn’t want them to think it was the end of the world. I always told them that I go, “This is not the end of the world. There are so many different opportunities for you to fix this, but this is what we have to do right now.” Consequently, I went 23 years with never ever fighting anyone. That was my goal. I did not want to fight anyone. I didn’t want to humiliate people. Yes, I talk sternly to people sometimes, but only to get their attention, right? I’m like, “I’m trying to get your attention. Listen to me.”

Anyway, I did that for four and a half years and in the State Patrol, you could take the sergeant’s exam once you have five years on. So when I was eligible, my first time eligible, I decided to take the sergeant’s exam. What I didn’t understand, I didn’t think people were going to be as angry with me as they were. Troopers and the people I competed with, were so angry with me for taking that sergeant’s exam and really taking it seriously. I was shocked, but I was not deterred. I was like, “Okay, I’m in shock, but I’m still doing this.” 

One of the traditions is the way we do it, people have all these study groups. That’s how they study together. I mean, there were multiple study groups. I was invited to none. I was like, “Oh, I’m on my own on this.” People were talking really badly about me. They were taking bets on where I would land on the list. They said some real horrible mean things [and it] would get back to me. So at about 210 people, there are two halves to the test, and you got to pass the first half to get to the second half. The first half is a written exam, and only 70 people out of 210 get past that first cut. It’s a cut-off at 70. If you’re not in the top 70, you’re not going any further. 

I remember the list came off the fax machine. I happened to be walking past the fax machine and the list came out and my name was on that list. I was a happy camper because I studied so hard. I didn’t want to do it again. I felt like, if I could get past the written part, I could get to the next. I could get through and promotable range in the next half. I was going for number one. I want to be number one on that list, no matter what, but I would have been happy being in the top 10. So people really started criticizing me and saying things about me after the first half of the list came out, because first of all, they were counting me out, thinking I wouldn’t make it and I was a fool for even trying this early in my career. I had no idea how to be a leader. 

I just shut out all the crowd noise. I didn’t hear anything. I just heard what I needed to do and keep in mind I was the mother of a young son. My son was going to see me work hard to meet my goal. I would get up so early in the morning before I’d go to work. I would be up at four o’clock in the morning. I couldn’t sleep. I still get up at four o’clock in the morning, by the way. But I couldn’t sleep, because I was so determined. The more they talked, the more determined I was. I’m like, “Oh, I’mma kick your ass.” There’s nothing like fighting with knowledge, right? 

The next half of the test came. I felt really good. It was weird, because we were in this holding in the gym and they would call us into the test, two or three at a time. One person will go in and test, the other person will be filling out some paperwork, and the other person will be waiting. So they would do that. Well, everybody was grouped together and they were standing in these groups, but I was by myself, again. It was really funny because I didn’t mind being by myself. I was listening to the things they were talking about. I was getting nervous because I saw things differently than they did. I decided to stay with what I knew. I go, don’t listen. Don’t listen to listen. When I walked out of the test, I went straight to my car, and I called a friend of mine and I went over my answers with her. She was super smart. I told her what I said. She said, “I think you nailed it.” I said, “I don’t know. I was listening to these other guys talking. Their answers were completely opposite of mine.” She goes, “I think you nailed it.” Long story short. I ended up number one on that test. 

Hussein Al-Baiaty: Oh, my God. Nice to know.

Monica Hunter-Alexander: Yeah. I was like, “See, you should study with me, I’d help you out.”

Hussein Al-Baiaty: Yes. 

Taking the Lessons and Failures to Propel Towards Success

Monica Hunter-Alexander: I’m telling you that made them even angrier. The anger just kept coming, because they were like, she won’t stop. We’ve told her. We’ve talked about her. We’ve called her names. We’ve isolated her, and she won’t stop. But they didn’t understand I was not there for them. I was there for my community. I was there for them, even though they didn’t know that they needed someone like me to be there, somebody that wanted to interact with the community, somebody that wanted to get ahead of some of the things that I saw happening. So when I was getting ready to go to my first assignment, when you’re number one on the test, you get everything first. You get your car selection. You select your badge number. You get first to pick the crew you’re going to go to. 

Before I even got my assignment, they knew where I was going to go based on where I lived. They knew I wanted to stay in the King County area, which is the Seattle area. So they had one of the guys come to me and tell me that they were all going to transfer out of my crew because none of them wanted to work for me. They said, “We just don’t think that — it’s nothing personal. We just don’t think that you have what it takes to lead us.” I said, “Okay, tell me what I can —

Hussein Al-Baiaty: I just proved to y’all through the most rigorous test that you stood out.

Monica Hunter-Alexander:  Yeah. Yeah.

Hussein Al-Baiaty: Keep going. I’m in tune. Keep going.

Monica Hunter-Alexander: Anyway, they all said they were going to transfer out except for one person. I thought they were all going. When I got to the crew, they didn’t invite me to break. In police work, if you don’t get invited to break that’s a direct hit. That’s a very specific message. They never invited me to break. Then the youngest person, the newest person in the crew came by my office one night. I said, “Are you transferring out, too? Where do you want to go?” I just treated it like it was normal. He goes, “I’m not transferring.” I go, “Oh, you’re not?” He goes, “No, I’m not transferring.” 

That was a really bright moment for me when this one young Trooper who couldn’t have been more than 23 or 24 decided to go against the grain. For me, that’s what we need. We need people that will stand up for what’s right, even when it’s uncomfortable. This young Trooper did that. I thought this is really admirable. Every time I saw him after that. I just had such fond feelings for him. So we went forward and I went to my lieutenant and I told him that they were all transferred out and he basically said, “Boys will be boys.” Oh, okay, so I have no help. I see that, all right. 

When I went to pick up my brand-new car that I thought I was getting, they told me they didn’t have a car for me. They said that there was going to be a car for the people that were promoted after me, but not for me. You should have seen how excited I was because in the State Patrol your car is your car. You drive your car home. It’s yours to do maintenance on. It’s your car once they assign it to you. So I was just so excited. I was going to not be in a trooper car anymore. I was going to be in a sergeant’s car, and a sergeant’s car was colored. It didn’t have the lightning bolt on the side.

Hussein Al-Baiaty: Got the AC. Got all the power windows. No, I need power windows. Let’s go.

Monica Hunter-Alexander: But when you arrive on a scene everybody knows and respects the fact, “Oh, hey, the sergeant here.” 

Hussein Al-Baiaty: Right.

Monica Hunter-Alexander: For a year I had to drive my Trooper car. They told me to take the light bar off and put my new license plate on because our badge number is our license plate. So they told me to put my new Sergeant license plate on in my old car and take the light bar off. Then I’d have a sergeant’s car. That’s what I got for a year.

Hussein Al-Baiaty: Monica, you might have to be one of the most resilient — my book was about resilience and art, growing up, but you might be the most resilient person I have – because girl. If I don’t get my car after all that studying, you know.

Monica Hunter-Alexander: Yeah. No car for me.

Hussein Al-Baiaty: Or just the spec. I mean, we’ll go deep into it. I can’t imagine all these things are again, material things, right, that are set out in front of us so that we don’t get in these positions as far as people of color, right? Sadly, that’s the reality in which we live. Whether we practice a naiveté to it because I feel like growing up for me, I knew, but I practiced naiveté. It’s just like, I’m not going to let this get so deep in the Black. I studied architecture. My peers were mostly white and there were some like, “How did you get in?” It took me three years to get into the architecture program, which means two years of waiting and resubmitting my portfolio, and trying again. It’s a very prestigious white industry. Do you know what I’m saying? So there’s this barrier, right? 

Even when I got out of architecture there was this whole set of other barriers like, okay, you made it through school, but now it’s getting a job. I was never able to get it with the exception of my professor who gave me an internship for the summer because I was in his class, and I just worked day and night, and he saw that, but other than that, I just could not get into the field. I went ahead and just started my own business and all those guys — this is 2011. 

I get what you mean by what I’m going to [do is] just keep showing up, because your why, the reason why you are doing this, it wasn’t tuned into what they were saying. It was tuned into what you internally have been saying. I just feel this — I can feel it through the speakers, truly like your persistence came from somewhere so deep that no one else can tap into that, no one can take that away. It’s infinite, right? It’s just so beautiful to hear. You wrote about what it means to succeed, and what it means to fail. Can you share a little bit about that with us?

Monica Hunter-Alexander: Oh, yeah. Taking that sergeant’s exam was so fun for me because it was scary. It was a roller coaster, right, of emotions. Then when I was eligible to take the lieutenant’s exam, I took it. Whoa, I’m like, “Okay, this was not good.” I had a great showing with the oral. My presentation was always in the top two. We had to do an oral presentation and the lieutenant’s exam is reversed. It’s the oral first, and then the written second. This test revealed something to me that I never, I guess, didn’t have to think about, because most of what I did, I do a lot of speaking. I do a lot of oral presentations. I didn’t have to do a lot of written presentations. So I went through the first half and I felt really good. I even got a secret anonymous call about, you knocking it out of the park on this. This was great. Because you don’t get your scores until after you do the writing. So I’m like, okay. 

Then I went to do the written and the writing was in three parts. It was multiple choice. It was an essay. It was a letter, and it was what they call “clearing an inbox”. I didn’t do so hot on that, I will tell you. I thought, “Okay, someone has something to work on.” I started looking for ways to work on my writing skills, because of something that occurred, I did a lot while I was a sergeant, I was a sergeant for 10 years, and I loved being a sergeant. What I didn’t have to do as a sergeant was a lot of writing. I had to correct a lot of reports and things, but I didn’t have to do a lot of writing. I didn’t even realize those are two totally different skills. 

My son graduated from high school, I asked him, and said, “I want you to go to college, but I don’t want you to waste my time, or my money, or your time and my money. So what do you want to do?” He goes, “Mom, I don’t want to go to college.” I was sad. I wanted him to go. I wanted to pay for it because nobody paid for my college and I was going to do this for my son. When he said he didn’t want to go, I had to live with that. I go, “Okay, it’s not about my life is about yours. This is yours. You’re going into adulthood.” I go, “But you’re going to have to figure out what you want to do because you can’t just live here and live my life. So what are you doing?” 

I enrolled immediately. I enrolled in college. I also took a transfer into internal affairs, what they like to call the bad people over there, the red squad, the people that investigate cops. I had to write every single day. So the next — when the lieutenants’ exam came around the next time I was a little more prepared. I still didn’t have that same level of performance that I did on the sergeant’s exam, because it’s a different exam. I didn’t have a lot of opportunities to be what they call “an Acting Lieutenant.” I didn’t get a lot of that experience. It was a real new position for me. 

I finally got promoted to lieutenant and I was very, very happy about that, but dropping out of college was humiliating for me. I had to pack my bags and move back to California from Texas and my mom had moved away, so I didn’t even have any place to live. I couch-surfed, and I stayed with different friends for a different amounts of time, until I could get a job and get my place. It took some time. It really did. Those failures were hard. It just made me appreciate life so much. Now that I’ve earned my way to feel financially secure, I appreciate it from a different place, because I have been in a place where I had nothing.

Hussein Al-Baiaty: Wow, so powerful, Monica. Your story just resonates with me so deeply. I feel like when my buddies and I grew up and started driving and things like that, I just, I remember my encounters with police not being fun, or friendly, or it was always “License, registered.” It’s like I’m not human. Until I grew up, it’s funny, when I started building my business and my print shop I did a lot of speaking in the community and going into schools, talking to immigrant and refugee classrooms, and getting these kids inspired and motivated. Then I started working with the local police department, the Hillsboro Police Department, because they were working with the schools and stuff. This is pre-2020. 

I had worked with them for a couple of years because they would do events and all kinds of things that I thought were powerful in the sense of working with Latinos, young African, or even white kids — it was just a bunch of kids who if we don’t give them attention if we don’t help them out, make their life fun, they may turn into something. I understood that because the communities that [they’re] growing up, it’s their environment. Some of them didn’t have parents, some of them that — some of those men and women and they would bring these kids to my print shop, we would do like a T-shirt printing day. It was so much fun. I just saw the hearts of these men and women that helped these kids. It gave me a perspective, not all cops, right? Not all police officers, not everybody [is] bad.

It’s not what we constantly see here, right? These people are human. They’re beautiful. They have kids of their own. They have families of their own. They lose partners. They go through life, just like you and I do. They go through hardships, and they go through financial shit. All of these things, as I got older, of course, I’m mature to understand that it was finally when I would go do certain things, they would introduce themselves in a way that made me feel human and you say this, you say, “Hi, my name is Monica. What’s your name?” You have this phrase, as a rule. Can you tell me a little bit about that? Because like I said you were in business, you communicated. There were so many things in your life that overlapped and made you a better officer, serving our community.

For the Love of Protecting and Serving One’s Community

Monica Hunter-Alexander: I think I was never afraid to smile, either. People make me happy. They do. I really love people. I remember I was also proud to wear the uniform. I was proud to represent the agency. I pull people over. I didn’t want them to feel afraid of me. I wanted them to know that I could take care of business if I had to, but I wanted it to be a good interaction. So I would say, “Hi. The reason why I stopped you is to fill in the blank.” Then they might say, “Well, I’m in a hurry to do this or do that.” I go, “Okay, I get it. However, if you crash and hurt someone and hurt yourself, you’re never going to get to your destiny.” I just talked to people.

One of the things I loved is when people would just talk back to me like we were just talking, not like I was trying to make them feel less than, because everybody speeds. Everybody forgets to signal or the lane change, blah, blah, blah. This is not somebody who just kidnapped the Lindbergh baby. This is just this traffic. I will say, I used to tell people, to try to stump me. For every violation that we have — I’ve been to a fatal crash. You tell me one and I can tell you have a very horrific story. I don’t like seeing people die. I don’t like doing death notifications. I want everyone to get home safely. That’s why I do this work. 

I would say it with a smile and not like I was their parent. I’m not their parent. People just want — yeah. People want to feel like they’re respected. That’s all they want, I feel. Sometimes people would disarm me, because I did traffic reporting for our ABC affiliate here for six years. So I would walk up to a car and people go, “Oh, Trooper Monica!” I go, “Okay. See, why did you do that? Now I can’t give you a ticket.” They would laugh. I go, “Look at you acting all like you’re fan stuff. Come on.” I go, “You did that on purpose.”

Hussein Al-Baiaty: A part of me wishes you were in a Black community, too. I can’t wait to get pulled over by Monica. I’m getting away with it this time. That’s the thing, though, right? It’s the love for protecting and serving. There’s this other part of the role, right, in my mind as a citizen that is happily paying taxes, and working hard. Again, I do want somebody out when I pick up the phone and I need help, for whatever reason. I want people to like you to show up and think of me as a human being, first and foremost. 

Monica Hunter-Alexander: Right. No matter what you’ve done, you’re still a human being. One of the things I’ve discovered just by looking at laws that have been passed, and the whole tough-on-crime thing and three strikes your out law, what happened was a lot of people that shouldn’t have been imprisoned for life, or 25 years, they got swept up in this law. I believe in individual thinking and decision-making and looking at people. Economics has so much to do with crime. I’m never going to say, “Yeah, crime is good. Crime is okay. You can steal if you’re poor.” That’s not what I’m saying. 

I do believe we have to look at people on an individual basis, and not just, “Hey, if you did this, this is what’s going to happen.” I read a story about a young man who got out of jail, and he was on a second strike. He lived in a rough neighborhood and he had to ride his bike. That was his only form of transportation. He got stopped on his bike for some little traffic, something he did on his bike. I don’t know. Something chippy, I’d say, but that’s me being judgmental. He happened to have a weapon on him, because he lived in this rough neighborhood and he was scared. He ended up going to jail for 25 years, because it was his third strike. He was on probation. He shouldn’t had a weapon. There it is. Bam, you got to go. Is that justice? 

I mean, we have to ask ourselves. The problem I have and I was told this by a sergeant, my very first couple of weeks out of the academy, she was very, very smart. She told me a couple of things. One, she said, “You might work five or six collisions a day, but every encounter with a police officer assume it’s their first and treated as such. Give them all that attention that they need and deserve.” 

I treated my entire career like that, like this might be the first time they are stopped by the police. This might be the first time they’ve ever been involved in a collision. Walk them through the process. Make them feel better. Make them feel cared about, because you do care about people. That’s why you say you’re here. The other thing that I learned was how to put myself in other people’s position. If I lived in a really difficult neighborhood and I was traveling at night on a bike by myself. Would I want to have a weapon? Probably. Probably.

Hussein Al-Baiaty: I mean, I walked by dog. I mean, I don’t strap or I got a big flashlight, though. 

Monica Hunter-Alexander: Oh, you’re going beat them down with a flashlight, anyway. 

Hussein Al-Baiaty: You know what I mean. It’s like human nature to –

Monica Hunter-Alexander: You want to protect your –

Hussein Al-Baiaty: Protect yourself, okay. We lived in this refugee camp for four years, okay. The military treated, because we were in Saudi Arabia. We were Iraqi, Shiites. We did an uprising. We were trying to get rid of Saddam back then and nobody helped out. So we ended up being literally in the middle of the desert, right? You couldn’t go anywhere. That wasn’t jail. I remember my dad — my brother came home when they need like a machete with him. Mind you, like when that whole war situation broke out there was a lot of prisoners that got out. There was a lot of, not so good people ended up in the refugee camp, too. It’s like, you got to protect yourself, because let’s be real like sadly, some of the military people that were “watching” us, they didn’t care if we killed each other. They didn’t care these. They had some racial stuff, too. 

Anyway, my dad was like, “No. You’re not going to carry a sword around.” You know what I mean? Like, come home earlier. Even then, you’re in an environment where most people around you are in the same position that you’re in. They’re terrified. It’s like human nature to want to have the ability to protect yourself. I mean, this is just one scenario. I can’t imagine the amount of scenarios that you can lay out, you could probably be on this call for another three days, right? See, this is the level of where you got to look at things from a human perspective and ask yourself, ask to understand, not to judge. 

That was my father’s biggest thing, to understand. Don’t sit there to wait to judge and then make an assumption, because that’s what judgments do, right? Based on that assumption then you react, but if you are asking to understand and you can respond, you can respond accordingly and not from a fearful perspective, but from a perspective of where it’s dangerous. I need to move away from this. It’s responding accordingly. 

I just appreciate what you do in the way you are, the way you approach what you do, as a human being on this earth has such a deep purpose, which is to work with other human beings in a dignified way. I think, whether you’re a business owner, a leader, a police, it doesn’t matter what you do, when you think about who you’re dealing with as another human being, and that we’re both in this together. It means there’s a positive outcome. Of course, you have to have a specific set of training to deal with the type of people that you could run into. Mostly you’re going to run into human being. That’s how you have to navigate that. 

You talk about so many beautiful things in your book. I encourage everyone, and we’ll talk about that at the end here to get out and get your book, but what does diversity mean to you in the future of policing? What’s in store for law enforcement, as far as new training protocols, and how those are implemented? I’m excited personally, because I feel like you’re a person that’s going into that movement of changing that perception, helping police stations, police officers, people who protecting service, look at things differently. How do you see that?

Monica Hunter-Alexander: Well, I see it so many different ways, but mostly, I see where it’s time for us to start. You said it, working together, working as a team, community and police. Everybody has to be a willing participant. I think there are some police that don’t really want to work with the community. They want to oversee the community. We’re not overseers. We’re public servants. We wear our name on our shirts. I don’t anymore, but I used to wear my name on my shirt. We are a public servant. That’s what I said I wanted to do. I want to serve my public. Now I can’t go back on the deal and go, “No, I just want to oversee. I’m going to tell him what to do. Listen, when I tell you what to do, that’s what you’re going to do.” 

I understand the importance of controlling a situation. I really do, because it is scary when you get into a situation and you don’t know if someone has a firearm or if you can’t see in the car, clearly. I have been in that situation where I was very nervous. I’ve pulled my gun one time and 23 years, I’ve pulled my gun on person. I did it, because we were in a very long pursuit and when I pulled him over, he went and reached under the seat. I could see that movement. That is never a good movement. I pulled my gun and told him to get out of the car, told me show me his hands, you know the whole thing you do and he yelled at me. He said, “You only pulled your gun on me because I’m Black.” I said, “Are you kidding me right now?” I said –

Hussein Al-Baiaty: Are you colorblind, because I’m Black, too. 

Monica Hunter-Alexander: I said, “I pull my gun on you, because you went underneath that seat.” I said, “And we just finished a very long pursuit.” Well, here’s the whole story. He was asleep. His girlfriend was driving. I knew he wasn’t the driver, but that doesn’t mean I don’t think he’s in on whatever’s happening. He was asleep. His girlfriend was driving. She wouldn’t stop for us. When he woke up, all he knows is people are yelling outside saying, “Open the door, get out of the car.” He goes to get his shoes to put his shoes on. He doesn’t know —

Hussein Al-Baiaty: You don’t know that. 

Monica Hunter-Alexander: I don’t know it. He doesn’t know what’s going on. We’re all in the dark. In the end, he and I shook hands after a really good conversation. I told him, I said, “I would never disrespect anyone.” I said, “But I was afraid. I will be honest with you, when you went under that seat. It scared me. I was going home tonight.” He said, “I get it. I get it.” He goes, “Baby, why’d you do that?” I’m like, “Yeah, baby. Why you do that?”

Hussein Al-Baiaty: What are you doing, baby? Yeah. Yeah.

Monica Hunter-Alexander: Those words have been said to me, but it doesn’t mean you can’t talk it out once you get control of the situation. Once I saw his hands, and he was sitting on the bumper of the car and not on the ground, on the bumper, on the front push bars of the car, my car. We could have that conversation. I could realize he wasn’t an enemy of mine, and I wasn’t an enemy of his. Now, that’s not always the outcome, but sometimes and what we’re teaching right now in Washington — I‘m the executive director of the Criminal Justice Training Commission — what we’re teaching is to try and slow those interactions down, so that no one has to use a firearm.

Create shielding or distance so that you can talk to a person without having to harm them or without getting harmed yourself. Everyone goes home that night. That’s what we’re teaching. I believe it’s part of the game changer. It’s not the whole thing. We also have to have more conversations with our community. Let them be at the table. Listen, it’s hard because we have a 21-person commission over the job that I do. Everybody has their own ideas of what policing looks like, but we also have to give them the reality of the danger of the job. It is dangerous. 

There are some mental health issues out there, there are people that have firearms that shouldn’t. Sometimes people think the police know more than they do like they’ve committed some crime and they think, “Well, I can’t let them catch me.” You don’t know what’s going to happen, but at the end of the day, we need to have the community sit at a table with us to help us get rid of the crime in communities, because no one wants to live around a high crime area. No one wants to feel like they can’t go out at night, or they can’t walk their dog or they can’t come home from their late-night job without being afraid. How do we fix that? How do we fix it? 

I will tell you, retail crime has gone through the roof, where these mobs of people are breaking into stores and stealing. Well, we all pay for that. In the end, somehow, in order to either the clothes stores are going to start having shorter hours, or they’re going to start increasing the amount that we have to pay for items that we already can’t afford. We have to fix that. Are there going to be food deserts in certain areas? Because no one will put a store there, I don’t think any of that is fair. I think we need community and community activists to help us solve those problems. We put our plan on the table and let them pick it apart and not be sensitive about it. Let’s stop being so sensitive. This isn’t personal. 

Now, if you come into my house and say, “I want to redecorate your home.” I’m going to say, “No, you may not do that.” But if you come —

Hussein Al-Baiaty: Yeah. We got a problem.

Monica Hunter-Alexander: Right? This is my house. But the community, it’s our community. It’s not the police’s community. It’s not the politician’s community. It’s our community, all of us. It’s everybody. It’s the politicians, it’s the police, it’s the community members, it’s the activists. There’s a lot of people that would use to be gang members that are no longer gang members, tap into them. Bring them into your conversations. Let them help you figure out how to help change. If we really want those changes, we can get them, but we have to really want it from the top to the bottom.

Hussein Al-Baiaty: Monica, like I said earlier, I was nervous going into this conversation, because I can’t do you justice speaking with you, you know what I’m saying? Like you just have this such an eloquent, beautiful way of just looking into our future. You have the resilience and the courage to go into places where you’re not there to represent just yourself, you’re there to represent human beings who seek justice, peace, and love in their communities. My father told me this about — like I said, I’m Muslim, so Prophet Muhammad will come into this picture and he was like Jesus and Buddha and I said, “Dad, you know what.” We’re in this refugee camp, right, like, “What does it mean to have a beautiful, peaceful town?” Because he would tell me the stories of the sage, right? He said it because we would be policed heavily. It was horrendous, so he said, “The day that humanity doesn’t require a police system is the day that humanity understands justice.” It was so powerful. Now that may perhaps be a utopia that we have to really work towards for another 1000 years. I don’t know, right? 

The idea that people like you, embody those ideas. For me, in my mind, when I think about what that looks like, is that we first need people who embody courage, that just think about human beings as human beings. You speak on that, but you also embody it because of the things that you had to go through and endure, were the things that you have to now go coach and teach on. It’s so interesting how those dots connect because I believe the Most High puts us along our purpose, but first, he puts us through the things that we need to understand, fully from an experiential before we go on to train and implement the changes that we seek to make.

I am just so grateful that you’re in a position that you’re in. I also know that you are passing down the torch to your amazing son. Again, we could talk about this for months, but writing a book is such a huge feat. I just want to say congratulations. Writing a book is not hard and you’re doing extremely hard things like, this is why I’ve just like, I don’t even know what to say to Monica. I don’t even know – can I please buy you coffee, forever? I don’t even know how to do it.

Monica Hunter-Alexander: I hope we get to meet and talk for a long time. I just talked to my niece this morning about book two. I said, I think I’m ready to get started, because of what you talked about. Where do we go from here? I really want to lay out that plan, because I see a lot of opposition, I see people that want things to stay the way they are or go backward and part of it is orchestrated so that things can stay the same. If we don’t know and haven’t learned yet, that things don’t stay the same. They change, and we have to be ready for the change and we can’t just let change happen. We have to be a part of it. I want to throw my voice in there on what the change should look like, so that we can do it in a way that is respectful to everyone. 

I don’t disrespect the police for crying out loud, right? I work with these guys every day. I also don’t want to disrespect the community and treat them like they’re dumb and like, “Well, they just don’t understand.” No, I get that. They don’t. They don’t know what it feels like to see some of the horrible things we’ve seen, but that’s not everyone. Everyone is not responsible for the horrible things we’ve seen and experienced. I really want to continue to be a part of this. So my niece that helped me get going on the first book is dialed in for the second one. We’re starting to map it out how we’re going to do this next part. I am very excited about the future because I believe that if enough of us stand up and speak up about our experiences.

I mean, the experiences that you’ve shared with me today are an absolute gift, because it’s a world that I don’t know and don’t even really understand, but I understand the similarities and being over-policed, being disrespected, and being fearful. Your dad just wants to protect his family and drop some wisdom on you. I always wanted to drop wisdom on my son, because I want him to be smarter than me, I want him to be better than me, I want him to have a more fulfilled life than I have. I feel like my life is darn good and I’m blessed. But I want him to have more because that’s the way it should be. He should want more for his children, but you have to work for that. I’m willing to work for it. I’m willing to work for my community. I will always never forget that I am a public servant. That doesn’t mean I’m a pushover. It just means I’m a public servant and that I want to do right by the public. If I don’t take the time to get to know them, I can’t do what’s right by them.

Hussein Al-Baiaty: I’m pretty sure your heart is made of gold. Monica, today I’ve been – you don’t need to drop, because you are wisdom. I grew up watching my father do all these things, pain, art, whatever. He lived from his wisdom and you are living from that. You display courage. You don’t need to teach me it, right? You speak from it. You don’t just talk about it, right? I strongly believe I know that your son taking on that torch will embody those things as well as the great poet speaks on. Khalil Gibran says, “You are the bow and your children are the arrow.” It’s how far you push us to take that world of whatever we’re working on to a better place. 

Thank you for your work. Thank you for your commitment to community service. I’m just honored to have had the pleasure of speaking to you for almost an hour now. I’m serious, I cannot wait for you to go out into the world and keep making the changes that you’ve been making. I learned so much today. The book is called, Justice, Peace and the Future of the Police: How to Dig Deep and Do What’s Right – from the Inside. Perfectly worded. Besides checking out the book, where can people find you?

Monica Hunter-Alexander: On my website at monicahunteralexander.com. I hope people will look up my book. I hope people will read it. I really, really appreciate this time to communicate with you. I felt like I was just talking to my old friend.

Hussein Al-Baiaty: Oh, Monica. I’m beyond grateful. I come up to the Northwest quite often.

Monica Hunter-Alexander: Call me.

Hussein Al-Baiaty: I’m going to be sure to reach out. Yes. I’ll be sure to reach out via LinkedIn then we’ll be connecting soon. 

Monica Hunter-Alexander: That sounds great.

Hussein Al-Baiaty: Thank you so much, Monica.

Monica Hunter-Alexander: Thank you.