I bring you one of the books from Rosie’s Book Review Team list, a non-fiction one this time, and it is a police memoir with a difference.
Black, White, and Gray All Over: A Black Man’s Odyssey in Life and Law Enforcement by Frederick Reynolds
From shootouts and robberies to riding in cars with pimps and prostitutes, Frederick Reynolds’ early manhood experiences in Detroit, Michigan in the 1960s foretold a future on the wrong side of the prison bars. Frederick grew up a creative and sensitive child but found himself lured down the same path as many Black youth in that era. No one would have guessed he would have a future as a cop in one of the most dangerous cities in America in the 1980s—Compton, California. From recruit to detective, Frederick experienced a successful career marked by commendations and awards. The traumatic and highly demanding nature of the work, however, took its toll on both his family and personal life—something Frederick was able to conquer but only after years of distress and regret.
“Black, White & Gray All Over not only recounts the stories of Frederick’s life and career but also the stories of his fellow officers. An honest, no-holds-barred history of the city of Compton’s gang violence, crack epidemic, and legacy of government corruption leaves readers of all backgrounds with a better understanding of race relations as well as the gray areas of policework in one of America’s most brutal cities.” -Zora Knauf
“If Fred Reynolds’s memoir Black, White and Gray All Over was just about being a cop in Compton, California, dealing with gangs, murders, officers killed in the line of duty, and the politics that drives it all, it would be worth the read. This book goes deeper, into what it means to be a man, more particularly a Black man, and to overcome every obstacle along the way to redemption. Don’t miss this one!” -#1 Bestselling Author J.J. Hebert
About the author:
Frederick Douglass Reynolds is a former Compton police officer and a retired LA County Sheriff’s Homicide Sergeant with a combined 32 years of experience working some of the worst areas of Los Angeles County. He retired in 2017 with over seventy-five commendations including a Chief’s Citation, five Chief’s commendations, one Exemplary Service Award, two Distinguished Service Awards, two Distinguished Service Medals, one city of Carson Certificate of Commendation, three City of Compton Certificate of Recognition, one city of Compton Public Service Hero award, one California State Assembly Certificate of Recognition, two State Senate Certificates of Recognition, a County of Los Angeles Certificate of Commendation, one Meritorious Service Award, two City of Compton Employee of the Year Awards, and two California Officer of the Year awards. He lives in Southern California with his wife, Carolyn, and their daughter Lauren and their young son, Desmond. They have six other adult children and nine grandchildren.
I write this review as a member of Rosie’s Book Review Team (author, check here if you are interested in getting your book reviewed) and thank her and the author for this opportunity.
This is a memoir, and as far from fiction as one could imagine. In fact, it is so full of facts and data that it can become overwhelming at times. The sheer number of events, of characters (well, not really characters, but real people: relatives, friends, neighbours, infantrymen, police officers, detectives, criminals, victims, local authorities, politicians…), of dates, of cases… make the book overflow with stories: sometimes those the author, Frederick Douglass Reynolds, participated directly in; others, stories providing background information to the situation or events being discussed or introducing some of the main players at the time of the action. I think anybody trying to recount even a small amount of what happens in the book would have a hard time of it, but anybody interested in the recent history of Compton law enforcement and local politics will find this book invaluable.
The author goes beyond the standard memoir, and although his life is the guiding thread of the book, he does not limit himself to talking in the first-person about his difficult childhood, his traumatic past, his petty criminal activities as a gang member in his youth, his time as a Marine Corps Infantryman, his less than stellar experience with personal relationships (until later in life), his allergy to compromise for many years (to the point of even refusing to get involved in the life of one of his children)… This well-read and self-taught man also offers readers the socio-historical-political context of the events, talking about the gangs, the rise of crack cocaine, the powerful figures moving the threads and holding authority (sometimes openly, and sometimes not so much), and he openly discusses the many cases of corruption, at all levels.
There is so much of everything in this book that I kept thinking this single book could become several books, either centring each one of them on a particular event, case, or investigation and its aftermath (for example. although Rodney King’s death didn’t take place in Compton, the description of how the riots affected the district makes readers realise that history keeps repeating itself unless something is done), or perhaps on a specific theme (as there is much about gangs, racism, corruption, the evolution of police roles and policing methods, violence in the streets, LA social changes and local politics, drugs…). Another option would be to focus on the author’s life and experiences growing up, on his personal life (his difficulties with relationships and alcohol, his PTSD…), and later his career, but perhaps mentioning only some of the highlights or some specific episodes, and with less background information about the place and its history (although some brief information could be added as an appendix or in an author’s note for those interested in knowing more).
This is a long book, dense and packed with a wealth of data that might go beyond the scope of most casual readers, but there are also scary moments (forget about TV police series. This is the real deal), heart-wrenching events (the deaths of locals, peers, colleagues, personal tragedies…), touching confessions (like the difficulties in his relationship with his son, becoming grandad to a boy with autism and what that has taught him), shared insights that most will find inspiring, and also some lighter and funny touches that make the human side of the book shine. Although Reynolds openly discusses his doubts, and never claims to be spotless, more upstanding, or better than anybody else, his determination to get recognition for his peers fallen in action, and his homage to those he worked with and who kept up the good fight clearly illustrate that his heart (and morals) are in the right place.
Most people thinking of reading this type of memoir are likely to know what to expect, but just in case there are any doubts, be warned that there is plenty of violence (sometimes extreme and explicit), use of alcohol, drugs, and pretty colourful language.
I recommend this book to anybody interested in the history of policing in LA (particularly in Compton) from the 1980s, gangs in the area, local politics, corruption, and any major criminal investigations in the area (deaths of rappers included). It is also a book for those looking for an inspiring story of self-improvement, of managing to escape the wrong path, and helping others do the same, and it is a book full of insights, inspiration, and hope.
I wonder if the author is planning to carry on writing, but it is clear that he has many stories to tell yet and I hope he does.
Thanks to the author for this book, thanks to Rosie and the members of her team for their ongoing support, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to keep smiling, to keep safe, and to share, like, comment if you wish. Big hugs!
Most of you probably know that I haven’t been promoting my books very much, but my friend, very talented blogger, fabulous writer, and wonderful artist, Teagan Geneviene (if you are not following her blog, here, what are you waiting for?) has created this wonderful image for my YA series Angelic Business, and I had to share it with you. If you are curious, you can always check the page I dedicate to My books (here), oh, and the first book in the series is free in most places. Just saying…