As the country works to heal race relations and create a more inclusive society, it’s well-worth taking a look at those who are on the front lines of racism and are working to combat it. This includes people like retired Police Chief Jesus “Eddie” Campa, who has spent decades trying to build bridges between police agencies and those communities they serve. Campa is the founder of the No Colors, No Labels Initiative, which works to make justice equal for everyone no matter their skin color. In his time spent trying to implement this initiative in a small East Texas City and helping other agencies across the country establish their own, Campa has seen both the best and the worst of people. We interviewed Campa to get his thoughts on racism and how individuals in our society can come together no matter their ethnicity.
“First, let me say that I believe in the goodness of people, including the police,” Campa says. “Law enforcement officers have an incredibly difficult job to do, and we do it very well. We risk our lives every day for our communities, and I have a lot of respect for them and their families for that very reason. I also think most officers want to do the right thing.”
Campa says that his admiration for the police is one reason why racism in departments pains him so much. “I see what they could be if they were willing to think differently. Thankfully, some mindsets are beginning to change. Unfortunately, however, in some places where I have worked, those mindsets remain closed, and that’s difficult to witness.”
In creating the No Colors, No Labels Initiative, Campa found strong support from the community. “I spoke with a lot of people and listened to their experiences with the police, and when I discussed the initiative with them, they were enthusiastic,” he relates. “They were very much in support of working with the police to create better relationships and to restore a climate of trust. Unfortunately, while a few officers on the force were open to it, most were not, and the initiative stalled.”
Part of the problem, he continues, is that he was a Hispanic Police Chief. “It was very much an issue of skin color. Most, if not all, officers were white, and that caused a lot of problems. The initiative could not go forward without the support of the police. Half of the equation – the public – was behind it, but the other half the police officer was not.”
When asked to give his thoughts on this, Campa sighs. “Racism is an infection of the mind,” he states. “You had these incredibly talented law enforcement officials who no doubt cared about their jobs and wanted to do them well. The issue was their mindsets and their hearts. They chose to not step forward and leave behind toxic ways of thinking. Racism is ultimately a poison that hurts society and limits everyone from reaching their full potential as human beings.”
While NCNL did not succeed in the small city where he was Police Chief, he is happy to say that it has spread across the country. “It wasn’t the right time for that police agency, but since then, I have had other departments across the country and even in other countries ask me to help them start their own version of No Colors, No Labels Initiative. It is gratifying to see that even though racism is still in this nation, there are people who are fighting it and are willing to think differently about themselves and other people.”
Campa is thoughtful as he thinks about how more people of different ethnicities can come together. “In my 27 years as a law enforcement official, I have seen again and again one truth: we are all human beings no matter what color our skin may be. There is no quick answer to racism, but it helps to be willing to talk to people. Sitting down with them and hearing their stories, reaching out to someone you ordinarily wouldn’t talk to, trying to set aside your own preconceptions – those are all ways to beat back this ignorance that is part of so many societies, including our own.”
It is especially important, he adds, that leaders be willing to lead by example. “True change starts at the top and filters down. The head of any police force must embrace the elimination of racism. When they do, that’s when you’ll start to see things improve. Until then, we must all do our part to remain open to other people who look differently from us.”
To learn more about Jesus “Eddie” Campa, check out his book Unmasking Leadership: What They Don’t Tell You and visit jesuseddiecampa.com.