‘I can’t go out in public anymore’: Black officer leaves Columbus PD after summer of unrest

Ohio

Harris agrees that things need to change in law enforcement, but things also need to change in the community

(Photo courtesy: Columbus Division of Police)
Sheldon Harris, center, poses for a photo when receiving “Badge of Honor” from the Columbus Civitan Club. The group was recognizing Harris for his work in community policing.

COLUMBUS (WCMH) — He was once recognized for his community policing work by the Columbus Civitan Club. The group presented him with the Badge of Honor in September 2018.

Now, his public servant career is history.

Sheldon Harris described his passion for serving others. That’s what led him to police work.

He worked third shift in the Linden area of Columbus for five years. Harris also worked as a pastor and always planned to eventually leave police work and become a full-time minister. That move came sooner than expected during this summer’s unrest and hostility toward police.

“You want to be out there and serve,” Harris said. “You want to be out there and protect. But you run the risk of even doing your job right and being ridiculed by the community.”

Harris explained even as he was having rocks, bricks and bottles of urine thrown at him, he understood the frustration and the anger of the protesters.

“One of the hardest times of my life being there, the stress of it,” Harris said. “You’re tired, you’re upset, you don’t agree with what happened to George Floyd and you’re with them, you want to protest with them. I was involved in the protests. I spoke in the protest as a Black man who happens to be a police officer and my heart is for people.”

Harris agrees that things need to change in law enforcement, but things also need to change in the community.

“I can’t go out in public anymore.”

“There’s nothing worse than wanting to come home at night to your family, but having to question, is me doing my job going to get me ridiculed to the point where I can’t get a job. I can’t go out in public anymore,” Harris said. “That’s kind of the culture that we live in.”

Harris’ identity as a Black police officer and his home address started circulating along with some threats on social media this summer.

“…that our family would be killed, that I would be killed…they found out where I worked on my special duty and they threatened my entire family to the point where we even had to leave for a couple of days until it was safe.”

Harris believes his resignation from the Columbus Division of Police will be part of a nationwide exodus of officers from the profession.

“Officers aren’t being supported by the community and they’re not being supported by people in city councils, mayors, all across the country, there’s not a lot of support,” Harris said. “They’re afraid to do their job and unfortunately that can risk the life of the officer. They’re hesitating doing their job because they’re afraid of the consequence of what may happen just from doing it right.”

“Everybody has their phone cameras out and if they catch that one snippet, that one piece of a video and they call it something and people take it and run with it – that’s just not a risk I’m willing to take.”

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