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Deputy Massey Looks Back

AVA: How about a little personal background?

Massey: I was born in Rock Hill, South Carolina. My parents signed for me to go into the military so I went in at a fairly young age. I stayed in the Marines for almost 22 years and got out of the Marines in 1994 as a master sergeant.

When I first went into the Marines it was a very rough era. Very tough. Boot Camp was tough. Almost a third of my platoon didn't even make it through. You are kicked and beaten and set to ridiculous tasks and you really had to perform. Some of the guys in my platoon were in the Marines because otherwise they would have gone to jail. I've always been a physical person, born and raised in the woods, ran around a lot. So it wasn't as difficult for me as some of the others. But there were certainly times when I said to myself, this is the most tired I have ever been in my life, on the verge of collapsing. But then you find that one little breath to keep going. The obstacle course. The confidence course. The mud, the ropes, the crawling under the boards and the wires, up and down, people shouting ‘Move! Move! Move!’ We also had to fight other guys with pugil sticks and in hand-to-hand combat. Basically how to kill people. After boot camp I received an assignment to aviation, but after a year of that I was transferred to Embassy security duty with the Department of State. I did that for almost twenty years. I was promoted then ran my own security details at several overseas embassies.

Toward the end of that duty I was in Saudi Arabia and Helsinki, Finland. That got me started in police work and security matters. Helsinki was very cold, not much sunshine. Whereas in Saudi Arabia it could get up to 115 degrees. It was a definite culture shock moving from Saudi Arabia to Helsinki.

I remember there was a significant black market in liquor in Saudi Arabia which I stayed away from because it was strictly prohibited. The Saudi's sometimes made their own homebrew called sidiki. But they risked the police coming into their house at any time, searching for contraband. You could get into some serious trouble if any liquor was found. They have religious police who roam around and enforce the religious laws. They still have beheadings and they still cut people's hands off for stealing. We had to go through cultural training to avoid getting into trouble there. I had a good deal of contact with Saudi people. Money is a big factor in how people are treated there. Poor people are looked down on. It's a pretty rich country and you will see people living in tents but who have a brand-new Mercedes parked in front. I was visiting somebody's house once and the jewelry and art and wealth was just mind-boggling. The area might look rundown outside, but inside it was amazing. Tile, marble, expensive furnishings… I was visiting a man who had a large bag of pearls in a box. He took one out and showed it to me, I thought he was going to give it to me. He said this one pearl was worth about $80,000 and he had a large bag of them. But he never gave me one. [Laughs] He had two wives and several Mercedes-Benzes. Showing off his wealth. You had to be careful with American customs which could be easily misinterpreted there and get you into trouble. Women cannot drive on a public street, they cannot sit with you in a public place. If the religious police pick you up it's quite a process to get released even for things you might think are very minor. There was an Army guy who came into the country on a military plane with some pornographic magazines. Customs found them and they threw him in jail and it became a big international incident. He was in jail for a while and nothing was moving. They said he was going to prison for a long time. They finally agreed to release him back to the Army and the Army flew him out of the country in a mailbag! Because they had promised to put them in the brig, but it was just a girlie magazine so they just got him out of there. He could easily have been in jail for a long time for that. American TV shows are edited to remove anything they don't like. They don't want any Western influence, they're pretty extreme.

My last assignment in the Marines was in Helsinki, Finland where I was treated pretty well, didn't experience much racism there. Growing up in South Carolina I was a little suspicious of how I would be perceived in Finland. I probably saw two or three black people the entire time I was there. At first I thought it would be like South Carolina. People would stare and look at my funny. But I soon found that it had nothing to do with racism. I was a curiosity I guess. I dated a girl there who took me out to the countryside where there were literally no other black people. Many of those Fins had never seen a black person in person before. She took me to a fairly fancy hotel dining room. When we walked in the hostess was almost in shock just staring at me. Her English was pretty good and she showed us to our table. When we first walked in I heard the usual background restaurant noise, chatter, silverware, etc. But as we started back to our table, all of a sudden— Silence! Total silence. It was chilly in there but I was sweating. It seemed like it took forever to make that walk to our table. Everyone was staring. Spoons were frozen in mid-sip. The girl had never even realized that people would act like that. That was very memorable. Not particularly bad, but memorable.

After I retired from the Marines, their job placement assistance people steered me toward law enforcement because of my experience. At first I went to work for the INS in Long Beach but I didn't like that very much. Then I applied for a probation officer job in Yolo County. Then I saw that there was an opening for a better position in Mendocino’s Probation Department and took that job. Not long after that Tom Allman suggested I apply to the Sheriff’s department.

There wasn't much racism in the military, it didn't come up much. But when I got here I saw quickly that it was much like South Carolina where I grew up.

I think that the Jackie Robinson story in a way is similar to the way I was treated when I started in the Sheriff’s Department. Decisions were being made based upon me as just one person. You have to do this, don't do that. You're just a regular employee, but everyone is focusing on you because of your race.

AVA: Dodgers owner Branch Rickey told Jackie Robinson that he had to take it. He couldn’t fight back. No matter the provocation.

Massey: That is also very similar to my situation. I have to be careful in my reactions to law enforcement situations. Another analogy — on a much smaller scale of course — is the situation President Obama was in. Everyone focuses on your race, and you can't get anything done, obstacles are everywhere. They called him arrogant. They called him stupid.

There are still people who think that black people are somehow inferior. There may be some truth to that in a way. But as I read in a book called ‘Minority-Majority Relations’ once, if a certain group of people are kept in balls and chains, they naturally will have trouble keeping up with the people who don't have those weights. You can take off the ball and chain but now you're way behind. And it's not likely you will catch up.

The school I went to in South Carolina was obviously inferior to the mainstream schools, the teachers were not as good, everything was set at a lower standard. So of course test scores were lower and then people would say, See, I told you so. A self-fulfilling prophecy. It’s just unfair. Black people as a race still have not caught up and still have a long way to go.

One Comment

  1. Ernest Jones March 1, 2017

    It is too bad I didn’t know you were a former Marine when I was teaching at River Community School. I think I could have more effectively dissuaded my students from having such a bad attitude about you. Semper Fi.

    Dr. Ernest Jones (USMC 1968-1971)

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