When Ernie accepted the assignment to work with Moses, the first Afro-American patrolman, he did not concern himself with what other White officers thought of him. He knew there were officers who had refused but he felt, as one of the older officers, that he could lead by example. Ernie imagined if Moses did well there would be other Afro-American patrolmen and he honestly felt that integration was the best thing for the entire police force.
But Ernie knew Moses long before they became partners. Ernie used to see Moses at the station each morning before he went out. When his veteran partner announced his retirement and Moses was promoted he honestly looked forward to getting to know someone of the opposite race. He’d spoken to Afro-Americans before but with Moses as his partner he would have to place his life and his trust in Moses’s hand.
Ernie felt a bit at ease because he believed that Moses could handle any physical altercation he could handle. From a physical perspective Moses and Ernie were equals. Both were over six feet tall, two hundred pounds with thinning hair and a prominent nose.
When they walked through East New York together people could tell they were partners from a far distance. That’s why Ernie didn’t understand why so many of the Afro-Americans who lived in East New York questioned Moses’s authority. He thought the people in the community would have been happy to have someone who looked like them in authority but the attitude he received while walking with Moses was much worse than the attitude he ever received when he was with his former White partner.
He picked up on the attitude after his first day walking the beat with Moses. A couple of weeks had passed and he hadn’t said anything to Moses. But as the mid-day August heat built up around Ernie and Moses making their uniforms feel a bit heavier shortly after searching two young Afro-American boys, one of whom had called Moses an Uncle Tom, Ernie knew they had to learn to communicate better.
They sat in the squad car eating their lunches – lunchmeat and biscuits for Moses and ham and cheese on wheat for Ernie. Typically they sat in a comfortable silence but that day the tension filled the car like the heat coming in from the windows.
“What do you think they did with the wallet?” Moses turned his head to face Ernie and Ernie turned his head to the passenger side so that he could look Moses in the eye.
“I’m not quite sure.” Moses turned away from Ernie’s gaze and looked in front of him. “Maybe I didn’t see things right. It might not have been a wallet.” Ernie turned away and did not look at Moses, as he did not want to make Moses fell uncomfortable.
“It’s ok. I just want us to understand. If you tell me you saw something I’ll believe ya and if you tell me ya might have made a mistake I’ll believe that too. But let’s work on that – telling each other what we’re thinking. I think that’ll make this easier. Don’t you?” Ernie wanted to reach a point when he didn’t have to wonder what Moses was thinking. That was the point he was at with his old partner. It would take time and trial and error but they had to think like a unit or one of them would definitely get hurt.
“I’d like that.” Moses still didn’t look Ernie in the eye. He didn’t want Ernie to see the desperation in his face. He needed this partnership to work out because he did not want to go back to working behind a desk.
“Why don’t you and Nessa come over to the house for dinner? You’ve been in Manhattan right.” This surprised Moses. It was then that he knew Ernie wanted things to work out as well.
“Yes, I’ve been in Manhattan.” He knew he’d never been in the part of Manhattan where Ernie lived but he knew of it. The North was an acceptable place for Afro-Americans but it still wasn’t safe for Afro-Americans in some all White neighborhoods. All he could think about was how not to embarrass himself but he knew Nessa would be perfect.
“Candy will cook dinner.” Candace, Ernie’s wife, wanted to meet Moses. She said she’d feel less stressed if she looked Moses in the eye and knew that he would protect Ernie at all costs.
“When?” Moses knew he would be there no matter what day he was told.
“Next Friday. Can you make it?” Candy would be happy he actually invited them because at first he said he didn’t think it was a good idea.
“We’ll be there.” Moses knew Nessa would be nervous but excited to go into the city.
Both Ernie and Moses knew the dinner would make or break their relationship but it was necessary.
They finished their food in silence, got out of the car, and began to walk their beat again. In the week they would work together before their dinner Moses would be more hesitant about the things he mentioned to Ernie and Ernie would try to come up with small talk to keep them going while hoping their wives could fill in the silence during the dinner.