Retired Police Chief, author, and international speaker Jesus “Eddie” Campa regularly travels the country and the world, giving speeches on leadership to audiences who appreciate his candor and wisdom. After 27 years in law enforcement and in the fight against racism, Campa is determined to use what he has learned to strengthen other leaders as well as younger generations. He is particularly passionate about bringing cultures together and ending racial hostilities in the United States. I had the opportunity to meet Campa after he spoke at the Fiscal Processing Department of the U.S. Treasury Department during Hispanic Heritage Month. I found him to be a deeply reflective man who believes that while racism is part of American society, there is reason to hope that it can be eliminated for good.
Chief Campa, can you tell the readers about why you decided to become a law enforcement official?
Well, honestly, when I was a kid, I wanted to be a Mexican wrestling star. I grew up watching Lucha Libre on TV, and it was incredibly exciting to me. The wrestlers were so athletic and strong, and like everyone else, I liked the costumes. I had my heart set on wrestling until my uncle, who wrestled as “The Mongolian,” told me how little it paid. He recommended that I go to school and get a degree, then join the workforce. So, that’s what I did: I went to college and was hired by the Sheriff’s Office.
Why law enforcement and not something else?
I had a passion for justice, I suppose. I believed deeply in right and wrong, and I wanted to help those who were harmed or taken advantage of by criminals. Going into law enforcement was a natural fit for me.
Have you seen racism in law enforcement?
Unfortunately, yes. First, let me say that many of the men and women I have worked with are wonderful people. They are courageous and very dedicated to protecting their communities. That said, I have witnessed racism and have even had it directed at me. It is just true that in some police departments, there are racist officers.
What, in your experience, have been some of the consequences of this?
First, it helps to remember that the police serve the community, of course. They are to protect and serve the public who depends on them so much. For policing to be fair and effective, there must be trust between the public and the police. When there is racism in the police force, especially when the community is diverse, you will see that trust break down, and that will lead to problems.
Can you give the readers an example of this?
I was the Police Chief of a small city in East Texas, and it was very racially divided. I wanted to help to change this because in the end, we’re all just human beings no matter what our skin color might be.
When I became the Police Chief, I was in charge of a department of white police officers, and it became clear very quickly that none of them were ready to accept the orders of a Hispanic Chief.
At the same time, I was going out into the community and meeting with different people to get their views on what was needed to solve the city’s racial issues. I wanted to implement the No Colors, No Labels Initiative so that everyone – resident or police officer – would look past skin color and simply see each other as people. The community was 100% supportive of this. The police officers, unfortunately, were not.
That must have been incredibly frustrating.
Yes, it was. I was disheartened by this, and ultimately when I left, they discontinued the program in the city and had a small celebration by the officers as they removed the stickers we had placed on the police units. What happened next, however, lifted my spirits and caused me to hope. Other departments across the country began contacting me and asking me to help them to initiate No Colors, No Labels in their own agencies after they heard me speak about it at a Police Chief Convention in 2019. It was enough to remind me that while this city had not succeeded, there was still room for possibilities elsewhere.
Do you think there is hope for race relations in America?
Honestly, I do. Things may be improving slowly, but they are improving. Look, for example, at children. More and more kids of different skin colors are going to school together and are growing up understanding that everyone is equal. They spend more time together instead of apart like in years past. Things are changing as more people become aware of the reality of racism in the United States. I admit that I wish it would all change faster, but if we keep the faith and go forward, the momentum towards lasting change will continue in that direction. We are all truly, in the end, equal, and time and the work of many people will eventually prevail.
To learn more about Jesus Eddie Campa, check out his book Unmasking Leadership: What They Don’t Tell You and visit www.LeadingThroughAdversity.com or jesuseddiecampa.com.