Melissa McFadden was born and raised by her mom in the coal country of southern West Virginia, with a strong sense of justice. She always wanted to be an officer. She entered the US Air Force right out of high school to gain the training she thought would give her a shot at realizing her dream. Even as a trained military special police officer, the Black girl from the hillbilly state had to fight her way into the Columbus Police Academy in 1996.
She immediately saw discrimination and bigotry she had never experienced before. She didn’t know it wasn’t her job to fix it. But with her belief in God, her military training, and her love of learning she set out to right decades of wrongs perpetrated by Columbus police against the Black community, which as she quickly found out, included Black officers.
This memoir is the story of her journey through the bureaucracy, the trauma, and the endless confrontation with racism within the Columbus Division of Police. The culture is very practiced at retaliation against anyone who dares to tell this story. Melissa has endured that retaliation for twenty-four years. She is still standing. And now she is ready to share her truth so that other little Black girls everywhere can grow up in a safe world--and follow Melissa into policing if they dream, like she did, of helping to keep it safe.
There is one voice missing in our national outrage over police brutality: the Black officer. They walk a thin black line every time they put on their uniform. A tightrope, really. On one side is the Black community they strive to serve and protect from unjust treatment. On the other, a racist institution where they experience ongoing discrimination themselves.
Retaliation is swift when they dare to expose the motivation or execution of the many tactics used to brutalize citizens and intimidate minority officers. Retaliation against Melissa began before she was out of her field training and continued until, as the highest ranking Black female officer in Columbus, she was demoted to processing Kevlar vests in the property room--all for helping a fellow officer file an equal employment opportunity complaint.
This is a historic book documenting a perspective not widely known by the politicians, activists, faith leaders, and citizens searching for answers to the mistreatment of Black people by our police. The Black officer is often categorized as a turncoat, while at the same time lauded as the hope to solve the problem. Melissa knows one undeniable truth: police departments need to eliminate the internal discrimination against officers before the country can expect those oppressed officers to create a compassionate force for change.
Many minority officers remain silent. Many leave the profession. A few who have stayed are beginning to speak out and fight back. Melissa has always fought back, at her own expense and to her own detriment. Her mother taught her to never start a fight but never to walk away from one either. This fight began hundreds of years ago. Melissa is still in it and inviting you to join her.
In the field
Clergy members support Columbus police officers experiencing discriminatory retaliation. Learn more about Melissa’s effort to bring this culture to light in Chapter 13.
Melissa tells the story in Chapter 14 of trying to keep protesters safe at the George Floyd protests in Columbus.
Melissa was delighted to advocate for police reforms during the George Floyd protests in Columbus.
Excerpts from Walking The Thin Black Line
As a Black police officer, I love my community and have dedicated my life to keeping them safe. But my calls for justice, even combined with all the other officers of color in Columbus, are drowned out by the chain of command, the union, and the politicians who are invested in keeping things just the way they are.