A traveler asks directions to Riviera Beach. The clerk at an Exxon station responds: "Go up I-95 till you hit Blue Heron Boulevard. Then put on some body armor."
Wedged in between the bigger and better-known towns of West Palm Beach and Palm Beach Gardens, the port city of Riviera Beach is a place of dividing lines and contrasts. To the west an old stone wall runs for half a mile past several of Riviera's 60 churches. Not so long ago it marked the border between black and white neighborhoods, and hopping "The Wall" after nightfall could bring on dog bites, beatings, or worse; according to elderly residents, it was the site of lynchings, though this may be more legend than fact.
Today The Wall is overgrown with vines, and the social borderline has moved east. Cross the high, fixed-span bridge over the Intracoastal Waterway, and Riviera Beach suddenly becomes a pleasant enclave of oceanfront condominiums and million-dollar winter homes.
"Over here a domestic dispute means you show up at a house and the wife points to her husband and says, 'He's not talking to me,'" a black police officer says. "Out west, across the bridge, it means the husband hit the wife with a whiskey bottle and the wife hit him back with an ax handle, and, if the guy's not dead, you calm things down and say, 'OK, no big deal.'"
What lies to the west is, in the words of another cop, "a flat, hot, concrete hell." The median income of Rivierans hovers near the poverty line at $14,674. The town is numerically a small one -- 27,782 residents -- but its crime and drug problems are big-city. According to the current police chief, cops in Riviera answer more calls per capita than anywhere else in Palm Beach County, and more than a few of those calls could qualify as hair-raising. In recent months a dance at a gymnasium erupted into a melee in which combatants took to throwing a vendor's pickle jars at one another, and police had to fight their way out of the brawl in hand-to-hand combat.
The Land of Oz bar, poetically located at the corner of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Dixie Highway, was recently boarded up by a federal task force. Before that it was allegedly a combination bordello, crack house, and saloon so notorious that weekend nights occasionally required West Palm police officers or sheriff's deputies to fight their way in and rescue the local cops. Within half an hour of a first visit to Riviera, one can easily stumble over a homicide scene, perhaps the robbery-murder of a motel manager mere blocks from the police station. "Low-level, hard-core," is how another veteran officer defines the beat.
In the spring of 1982, Zedrick Dwayne Barber came home to Riviera Beach to become, like his father, a cop. His larger ambition was a career in the FBI. His hometown hot spot, he thought, would provide an excellent law-enforcement baptism by fire, if not gunfire. In retrospect his reasoning proved correct in unpredictable ways.
Unlike most of Riviera's 90 sworn officers, the 23-year-old Barber had a college degree, and the degree wasn't from just any college. Barber majored in sociology and minored in criminal justice at Morehouse College in Atlanta, the Harvard of black men's universities. One recent notable Morehouse graduate, filmmaker Spike Lee, was a class ahead of Barber. The two didn't mix much. "Kind of a weasel-y guy," Barber says of Lee. "I was playing wide receiver on the football team. I didn't hang out with weasels."
Barber and Lee had at least two things in common, though. Both wanted to be members of Omega Psi Phi, an intensely loyal, intensely traditional elite black fraternity. Barber made the cut; today his upper right arm bears the Greek letter omega as a painful memento of the fraternity's branding ritual; Lee washed out, and later made a painful film, School Daze, about the pledge process.
Barber and Lee also shared an enduring preoccupation with race. For Barber the preoccupation began early on, hearing stories about The Wall, watching his father lead a black policemen's walkout at the West Palm Beach Police Department in the early '60s, and attending a Catholic high school where the full force of his minority status came home to him. The preoccupation flowered in Atlanta, the intellectual breeding ground of America's black upper class. What Smith College is to feminist theory, Morehouse is to racial studies -- an unofficial think tank founded on African-American identity. "It's brainwashing, I'll be the first to tell you," Barber says. "Morehouse teaches you that you're the epitome of black manhood. It's the place where we get together to figure out how to fight injustice in this country."
In Riviera Beach, in his early years on the force, Barber's formal education continued. On his own time and at his own expense, he attended 400 hours of training at the International Academy of Polygraph and set up the police department's lie detector operation. Again on his own, at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Glynco, Georgia, he completed lengthy courses in undercover technique, media relations, advanced fingerprint analysis, and police management. From Palm Beach Junior College he received a Florida teacher's certificate in criminal justice. At the Southern Police Institute at the University of Louisville, Kentucky, he studied homicide investigation.
Over the years Barber served as a firearms instructor, training officer, and public affairs spokesman; he was promoted to sergeant and then detective; he received commendations and satisfactory to excellent employee evaluations. He managed to fire his sidearm only once -- over the head of a fleeing murder suspect whom he then arrested. He spoke in churches, founded the local Police Athletic League, and wrote public-service announcements for radio designed to promote better relations between cops and the Riviera Beach populace.
While all of this might seem to point toward the fulfillment of Barber's earlier ambition -- advancement to the priesthood of American law enforcement via the FBI Academy at Quantico, Virginia -- that dream is long gone. A few years after Barber's resume started filling up with notable achievements, a parallel universe of darker accomplishments developed, complete with its own paper trail. Barber's private and public lives bled into one another, nothing unusual for a cop, but both lives became messy and, finally, alarming.
"A maniac with a badge," says West Palm Beach lawyer Tracy Sharpe, whose client claims Barber beat him badly enough to cause permanent spinal injury. Sharpe is seeking for his client at least $850,000 in damages from the city of Riviera Beach.
"Capable of anything," says Bettye King, an attorney representing Barber's ex-wife. Both women declined to be interviewed about Barber, citing fears for their physical safety.
"Horrendous," says a former deputy police chief with the Los Angeles Police Department, who reviewed Barber's internal-affairs paper trail. He found it to be "one of the worst negative disciplinary histories I have ever reviewed."
Lt. Steven Wiesen, one of three fellow cops or supervisors who claim Barber threatened to kill them: "When he is under a great deal of stress, he loses all perspective and control."
Tracy Sharpe is getting ready to take his sailboat to the Bahamas on vacation, and from time to time he glances out the window of his law-office conference room toward the water 14 stories below. But he keeps talking, keeps stabbing a document with his finger. This document is a road map to 10,000 pages of transcripts, legal briefs, medical records, and police incident reports. It's titled "Chronological History" and sums up why Sharpe thinks Zedrick Barber is Florida's loose cannon nonpareil.
Whatever else it is, the eight-page synopsis looks like a reporter's dream, freighted as it is with apparent abuses of public trust and holding out the opportunity to expose wrongdoing. Not oblivious to this, a friend at Baldrica Advertising & Marketing, a Palm Beach County public relations firm, offered to help Sharpe promote the story. The firm faxed information on Barber to a newspaper editor along with a note stating, "I think this is a great story about a rogue cop."
This is not the first time Barber has been the subject of a news story. "Officer On Duty Despite 20 Challenges," reads one headline from the Palm Beach Post. "Riviera Woman Accuses Officer of Hitting Her," says another.
Nearly all modern police departments have some form of internal-affairs division, a system by which complaints against police officers are investigated. Typically a detective assigned to internal affairs considers the complaint, interviews witnesses, and suggests where the truth lies and what to do about it. In Riviera Beach, as elsewhere, the final say-so rests with the chief of police.
The potential flaw in the system, of course, is that cops within the same department are put in the position of investigating each other. Analyses of internal-affairs practices -- including an award-winning 1996 report by Miami New Times -- have suggested that, while some police officers receive numerous complaints about their conduct during the course of a career, it's comparatively rare for internal-affairs investigators to rule even a single complaint sustained. In Riviera Beach, in the case of Zedrick Barber, the reverse is true: A master computer log of internal investigations shows that the department found him at fault or partly at fault at least 16 times in incidents between 1983 and 1998.
Along the way Barber received several reprimands and suspensions for falling asleep in his patrol car, missing court appearances, and getting in traffic accidents. On several occasions West Palm Beach police responded to his home to quell family disturbances in which his wife -- or, later, girlfriends -- accused him of assault.
"Barber gets involved in confrontation with Mangonia Park police officers and threatens to 'blow one of the officers' heads off,' and had to be restrained by several people," reads an entry in Sharpe's chronological history, dated May 17, 1987. "While working an overtime detail, Barber starts politicking and interfering with a union meeting," reads another, tagged February 24, 1988.
In August 1988, facing termination, Barber resigned. In January 1989 he began working as an adult case-manager at the South County Mental Health Center. After being accused of assaulting a patient, he quit and took another job as a child-abuse investigator for the Florida Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services. In February 1991 he again resigned after being placed on administrative leave for threatening a supervisor.
And then, in October of that year, Barber was rehired as a cop by the City of Riviera Beach.
James FitzGerald, police chief at the time, wrote to the city manager expressing concern:
After having reviewed the dozen or more founded complaints with this Department as well as the report from HRS outlining his work there, I would have serious problems with his re-employment as a City Police Officer. I am attaching copies of these reports for your review.
Considering the high liability risk we would be exposed to under negligent hiring/retention, I cannot recommend same in the best interests of the City. As you will note after reviewing the attached reports, Mr. Barber has physically threatened supervisors who still work for us as well as his supervisor at HRS with the use of deadly force.
(Despite his concerns, FitzGerald rehired Barber, partly because Barber threatened to sue the city for wrongful termination.)
Barber's rehiring, among other things, gave retired Los Angeles Deputy Police Chief Lou Reiter pause for thought. "It is as if Officer Barber were untouchable," Reiter wrote in an expert-witness affidavit, for which he was paid $4000. "There is no indication why such a protective shield would have been provided for Officer Barber. This form of historical neglect can only be described as a conscious decision to avoid any corrective action by supervisors and command personnel of the Riviera Beach Police Department."
Internal-affairs investigator Lt. Larry Kersey interviews witness Hyppolite Monfort under oath, August 22, 1994:
Kersey: The little guy... the officer grabbed ahold of him then?
Monfort: He hold him.
K: And what did he say? Did he tell him he was under arrest?
M: He say, "You under arrest." Then he keep say, he call the officer a monkey. "You is monkey. You is monkey." And he keep calling the officer monkey, monkey, monkey, monkey....
K: Mmm hmm.... Did you see the officer when he struck him at all?
M: Struck him?
K: Yeah, with his fist.
M: Pardon me?
K: Did the officer strike him with his fist?
M: Like punch him, stuff like that?
M: No. Officer doesn't do like that.
Four years ago on July 30, Hyppolite Monfort, a Haitian immigrant, went to Barney's Junkyard on the outskirts of Riviera Beach. He had been looking for a radiator for a 1980 Toyota Celica.
The problem was that, on at least three previous visits, the junkyard had given Monfort the wrong radiator, one that either was broken or didn't match the car he was fixing. Now Monfort wanted his money back, but a big sign over the counter read "No Refunds." An argument began. Monfort refused to leave without his $60. The junkyard manager called the cops.
Monfort's experience was nothing new. On many occasions Riviera Beach cops had responded to the junkyard to quell similar disputes. In previous incidents the police officers had always removed the customer, explained to him that he could sue the junkyard in small-claims court, and effectively washed their hands of the matter. But something new was about to happen.
Zedrick Barber showed up with another black cop, Alex Freeman. Instead of arresting Monfort, Barber told the junkyard manager he was going to arrest him if he didn't return Monfort's money. "I was sticking up for the little guy," Barber explained later. Other cops had treated the junkyard disputes as purely civil conflicts; Barber thought the junkyard was ripping off its mostly poor, mostly black customers through a classic bait-and-switch scam that fell under state criminal-fraud statutes.
The manager, Richard Whittemore, refused to return the money, and Barber began to handcuff him. As he did so, witnesses say the manager's brother-in-law, Randall Lamore, came from behind the shop counter and started toward Barber. All the while Lamore was spewing invective and racial epithets.
"It's a free country," Lamore told an internal-affairs investigator the next day. "I can say whatever I please. I didn't threaten the officer or anything else. I made the statement that you illiterate monkeys don't know what kind of a lawsuit you're in for."
But the question of whether Lamore threatened Barber is open to interpretation. What the athletic, 220-pound Barber saw at that moment was a scrawny, screaming, 128-pound stranger coming at him. Precisely because of the disparity in their sizes, Barber was alarmed. "I thought he had lost his mind," Barber says. "For all I knew, he had a shotgun up under the counter. I figured he must've had something on his side of the equation that I didn't know about, or he never would have done something like that. It was totally nuts."
Barber took the handcuff from around Whittemore's wrist and proceeded to arrest Lamore for obstruction. "You try to control the situation," Barber explains, citing a law-enforcement adage.
The arrest took Barber and his partner a few minutes. Lamore kicked and floundered, alternately cursing the cops and laughing, witnesses say. Later he would claim that Barber kicked him and "punched me very hard on the left side of my face." But snapshots taken within hours of the arrest don't appear to show any external damage to Lamore's face. Barber, who bench-presses weights upward of 350 pounds, must be a poor boxer.
Or perhaps the punch didn't happen. Two eyewitnesses, including an investigator with the public defender's office, say it never did. The investigator, like Monfort, happened to be at the junkyard trying to return a faulty radiator.
Years later, after a lengthy internal-affairs investigation, scrutiny by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, and several hearings, the Florida Criminal Justice Standards and Training Commission ruled that Barber had neither used excessive force nor made any false statement regarding the arrest. The commission did reprimand Barber for making a criminal matter out of what probably should have been left a civil dispute. It fell far short of taking away Barber's gun and badge.
But the matter is still far from finished. Lamore, through his attorney Sharpe, is now suing the City of Riviera Beach for negligent hiring and retention. "That's the way to the money," Sharpe explains, in discussing his legal strategy. Part of the strategy involves making Barber look as bad as possible. Voluminous medical records attest to the fact that Sharpe's client does suffer from painful spinal damage, which has already required surgery and may again in the future. Lamore says the spinal damage was incurred during his tussle with Barber, a charge Barber finds laughably improbable. The City of Riviera Beach has declined to settle the lawsuit.
For Sharpe the incident at Barney's Junkyard sums Barber up: an abusive cop prone to violent explosions. In fact, former Police Chief Lorenzo Brooks points out, Barber's many internal-affairs investigations show a distinct paucity of excessive-force complaints. Over the years there have been four, all found to be either unfounded or otherwise not sustained.
What does exist, Brooks notes, is a laundry list of complaints involving verbal altercations with other officers, allegations of domestic violence never clearly proven, and fairly minor infractions that might easily have been handled administratively rather than through the mechanism of internal-affairs investigations.
"Every time he stubbed his toe, there was an internal-affairs investigation," Brooks remembers. "But many of the complaints sustained against him were of a trivial nature, and some shouldn't have been investigated in the first place. When you look at the totality of it, it's nothing that I would call horrendous. It's a lot of little things that, when you pull the string and get to the end, there winds up not being much there at all.
"Anyone looking at that record and not knowing the circumstances would think he shouldn't be a police officer," Brooks adds. "But you have to look at the whole story, the big picture."
Former Assistant Police Chief Charley Napier, now retired, recalls a time in early 1987 when Barber drove a departmental sedan to Tallahassee to attend a training session. While there, he backed out of a parking lot in a sleet storm and managed to pull loose the gas line from the car's undercarriage when he collided with a mailbox.
Barber called his training captain, the assistant chief, and the chief of police. Napier instructed him to repair the gas line. It cost less than $100. Barber says he even tried to report the incident to Tallahassee police; but local police-reporting practices had recently changed, and cops in Tallahassee declined to fritter their time on such trivia. But in July 1988, the auto accident was brought up again as part of an argument for terminating Barber.
Sharpe's dire version of the mishap: "While in Tallahassee for educational training, Barber gets involved in accident with city vehicle (taken without proper authorization) and fails to report the accident to local police or the city...."
On another day, in December 1987, Barber was late to work and driving fast. He says he had his car stereo turned up loud and didn't notice the West Palm Beach cop trying to pull him over until he got to the Riviera Beach police station. It was this particular incident that inspires Sharpe to describe Barber as a "maniac," a flagrant flouter of the law. Another internal-affairs investigation resulted.
While embroiled in a custody battle with his ex-wife, Barber showed up at her house on Mother's Day in 1993. He had with him a collection of gift-wrapped boxes that he wanted to drop off for his kids, this being a family custom. His wife called the police -- three or four times. Various officers from the West Palm Beach police force showed up, including Barber's father, who happened to be on duty. The atmosphere was predictably heated. One officer noted that Barber's former spouse "...was loud, hollering." Why didn't Barber just leave? Two months later an internal-affairs investigator wrote: "Officer Barber says he waited for police so he could give his side [of the story] as well as get a visitation date."
Barber's ex-wife filed a complaint. Another internal-affairs inquiry launched itself, eventually concluding that Barber used poor judgment in showing up in the first place. Barber agrees.
What about Barber's unfortunate stints at HRS and the South County Mental Health Center? Because his personnel records have been sealed, the incidents are open to speculation. In the latter case, Barber says he tussled with a large patient -- after the patient began slapping his own mother. "I don't agree with people slapping their mothers," Barber says. At HRS, as he was about to be rehired at Riviera Beach, Barber claims his supervisor sent him out to the home of an alleged child-abuser -- without bothering to tell him that the man had called the office and threatened to "blow that nigger away with a shotgun if he comes near my house again."
Napier points out that what was happening to Barber while on the force has a lot to do with the fact that many cops in Riviera Beach wanted to get promoted, but only a handful could be.
Brooks: "It was known he was a college grad, he was smart, he was eligible for promotion. In Riviera Beach, like most departments, promotion is based on how you do on written and oral examinations, your conduct, and how you get along with people. There was or is a segment of the police department who knew all about the process, and part of their motive and conspiracy was to eliminate the competition. Zedrick Barber had been a sergeant, and they knew he could be again. He always did well on exams, and he was outspoken. He stood up for what he believed in, for himself and others. And he criticized things that were wrong in the department."
None of this was happening in a vacuum. For years the Riviera Beach political atmosphere has been tumultuous, both within and outside the police department. The combination of young, poorly trained, and overworked cops, coupled with a strong police union set against a backdrop of small-town politics and numerous lawsuits against the city has made for periodic, smoldering internecine warfare among various factions and cliques inside the department.
"The white power structure and the officers who had been there early on wanted to keep it that way," says Frederick Ford, Barber's attorney. "The union power structure is white and in my opinion racist. They weren't going to let the black officers get a majority on the command staff. For example, as late as '92 or '93, they had 13 sergeants, and only one of them was black."
As an illustration of just how tumultuous things have been, consider the byzantine history of police chiefs:
In 1983 William "Boone" Darden, Florida's first black police chief, left the post and was soon convicted of bribery and sent to a federal prison; enter Frank Walker, a black ex-FBI agent and Riviera Beach native. His tenure was brief and ended after a vicious fight with the city manager. Next came Lorenzo Brooks, who was fired after a citizen recall of virtually the entire city commission. The newly elected commission rehired Walker, then fired him again in 1991. (He later won a $100,000 lawsuit related to his second departure.) James FitzGerald took over, served for a few months, then resigned to go to work for neighboring Palm Beach Gardens. Brooks was rehired and then fired again in the face of a class-action suit by white officers claiming Brooks had passed them over for promotion. (Brooks joined the lawsuit factory and filed an action claiming unfair termination.) Since 1994, police chief Jerry Poreba has reigned. In addition to cleaning up various messes left by previous administrations, he's trying to address the fact that officers in Riviera Beach have twice as many of their criminal cases dismissed by prosecutors than any other city in the county because of insufficient evidence, illegal searches, and poor record-keeping.
Most of Zedrick Barber's internal-affairs problems either date from the time when Walker was chief or are based on earlier incidents dredged up years later by the Walker administration. Walker has publicly denied he formulated a "hit list" of officers targeted for dismissal, including Barber. At any rate things came to a head on the evening of May 5, 1988, when, according to Sharpe, Barber threatened to kill his own police chief.
The reality of what happened is considerably murkier. The setting was a public hearing of the civil-service board, at which Walker's administration was demoting Barber from sergeant to patrolman. "At that time there were people being fired left and right; there was a clear vendetta against people [Walker] thought were not supportive of him," Brooks recalls.
In the audience were Barber's mother and father. By the end of the hearing, Barber's parents were irate.
"It appeared that he was trying to avoid a confrontation, you know, and help his mom and father not have a confrontation with the chief," says Joe Lockhart, then a Riviera sergeant.
As the police chief was leaving the hearing, he heard Barber say something to his mother. "A comment was made by Officer Barber about putting a bullet in his brain," Walker says. "At that time I took it to mean me."
Barber: "At that point I told her, 'Mama, you can't talk to him, OK, you can't talk to him.' And she said something else, whatever. And I said, 'Mama, he's going to end up getting a bullet put in his head anyway.'"
Walker confronted Barber and asked him to repeat the statement.
Barber: "I said, 'Sir, it is my opinion that if you continue to treat people the way you do, somebody's going to put a bullet in your head.'"
To this day Barber is unapologetic about this comment and denies he has a fundamental problem with authority. "Basically I'm an individual who demands respect for myself, and I hold true to the things that I believe in," he says. "I didn't take all the time to go to college and do all this extra course work to become a renegade -- I prepared myself to work within the system. But the system changed the rules. And, in the face of that, I'm not going to roll over and play dead."
The incident recalls another one on May 17, 1987, that has been used as further ammunition by those who would see Barber as a dangerous character.
On that day Barber walked out of a Winn-Dixie in neighboring Mangonia Park and saw three men about to get in a fight. He walked across the parking lot and told them to stop. Two of the men got in a car and drove away. (The third threw a brick at his departing cohorts.) Barber drove away, but, as he was doing so, he noticed that the Mangonia Park police had pulled over the two would-be combatants in their car. Barber stopped to watch in his Mazda RX-7.
A rookie cop named James Carr looked across the median and saw Barber, in civilian clothes, blocking traffic in the far lane, peering at him.
"I became unprofessional myself, and I told him to move the fucking car, loud enough where I think half the neighborhood could hear me," Carr would say in testimony later, adding: "It's the only accurate definition. I shouldn't have cursed at anybody."
Carr walked over to Barber's Mazda. A shouting match ensued. Barber tried to get out of his car. Carr shoved the door back on him, crushing or not crushing Barber's foot, according to whose account you believe. Soon the two cops were standing chest to chest, screaming, Carr having removed his nightstick from his belt. Things calmed down after Barber finally identified himself as a fellow officer and flashed his badge. But not before he said, in his own recollection: "If you hit me with that baton and I'm not under arrest, I'm going to blow your brains out."
A few minutes later, Carr's supervisor showed up. Everyone walked over to a nearby McDonald's, hashed things out, and apologized to one another. "We didn't kiss and make up, but we made up," Barber says. "It was thought to be over." Dean Combs, Carr's partner: "It was basically just a good verbal confrontation. They were both acting pretty unprofessional."
Many years later Barber's purported death-threats against Carr and Walker, coupled with another one against a superior officer, found their way to the Florida Criminal Justice Standards and Training Commission. On December 28, 1995, a hearing officer for the commission, after lengthy consideration of various witnesses' testimonies, recommended dismissal of all the charges against Barber, calling them, in essence, tempests in teapots. But of course, during the intervening years, Barber was the subject of three internal investigations regarding this incident, which remain on his record today.
For the past eight months, Barber has been on paid administrative leave in connection with yet another, even more bizarre, incident. Last year he was set upon by a police dog that left several serious bite wounds to his legs. The attack occurred during a botched arrest of a car thief one night in the roughest part of town. Barber says he believes the attack was intentional on the part of fellow officers.
A few weeks after the event, Barber received a call from one of his superior officers -- one whom he had previously been accused of threatening during a verbal altercation not witnessed by anyone else. The lieutenant wanted assistance with an escaped bull that had wandered away from its pasture on the far western fringes of the city.
On the way to the call, Barber says, he started feeling dizzy and nauseous. He had trouble facing up to the task of corralling the bull, and wound up in a verbal confrontation with his supervisor. Today he accuses the department of foot-dragging in its investigation of the incident -- until the investigation is concluded, Barber can't demand a hearing; until he gets back to work, he can't earn the substantial overtime pay on which many cops rely. A psychologist recently declared that Barber has suffered from posttraumatic stress disorder related to the dog attack but is now fit for duty.
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Meanwhile he's staying busy coaching football and basketball and considering whether to join a class-action lawsuit his best friend has filed against the city and against the Police Benevolent Association. Both men were instrumental in leading a recent campaign to vote the union out of power and bring in a new union they believe will better represent them. The lawsuit alleges that the union and the city engaged in a pattern of harassment and intimidation against black officers, failed to adequately back them in disputes with the department, and helped undermine their promotion.
After living in West Palm Beach, Barber has moved back to Riviera to be nearer to his four children. He says he'll be back at work soon and has no plans for any career other than law enforcement. In five years, if he survives them, Barber will be eligible for retirement. He says other departments have declined to hire him based on a reputation for trouble that precedes him everywhere.
"Basically I've dared to ask the question, 'What about us?'" Barber says. "When Italian-Americans stick up for themselves, they're Italian patriots. When Jewish-Americans rally to their own interests, they're Jewish patriots. But for some reason, we're militant or antiauthoritarian or stubborn, we're everything but positive when we stand up for ourselves."
Brooks, the ex-police chief, hopes Barber's future is smoother than his past but doubts it will be. "I've counseled him many times," Brooks says. "I've told him to walk away from some of the situations he's gotten himself into in the past, not to let people egg him on. But Zedrick is what he is. He's an excellent cop, and he happens to have very strong attitudes. The basic problem is that he is probably not as tolerant of what he feels is injustice as the average person. On the other hand, isn't that the way you want a police officer to be?