Family of first African-American police officer of Oxnard retells what life was like during time of racial division

Former+Police+Commander+Randy+Latimer+describes+the+accomplishments+and+lasting+legacy+of+his+father%2C+James+Latimer%2C+during+an+event+celebrating+Black+History+Month+in+the+campus+center+conference+room%2C+on+Tuesday%2C+Feb.+12%2C+2019.+Photo+credit%3A+Evan+Reinhardt
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Family of first African-American police officer of Oxnard retells what life was like during time of racial division

Former Police Commander Randy Latimer describes the accomplishments and lasting legacy of his father, James Latimer, during an event celebrating Black History Month in the campus center conference room, on Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2019. Photo credit: Evan Reinhardt

Former Police Commander Randy Latimer describes the accomplishments and lasting legacy of his father, James Latimer, during an event celebrating Black History Month in the campus center conference room, on Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2019. Photo credit: Evan Reinhardt

Former Police Commander Randy Latimer describes the accomplishments and lasting legacy of his father, James Latimer, during an event celebrating Black History Month in the campus center conference room, on Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2019. Photo credit: Evan Reinhardt

Former Police Commander Randy Latimer describes the accomplishments and lasting legacy of his father, James Latimer, during an event celebrating Black History Month in the campus center conference room, on Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2019. Photo credit: Evan Reinhardt

By Ulises Koyoc

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In life, few individuals get the opportunity of being the first at something. For James A. Latimer, it was becoming the first African-American to serve as a police officer for the Oxnard Police Department.

Latimer passed away nine years ago. His son, Randy, and his wife, Pollie spoke about his life and career during a time of racial division.

Moorpark College hosted an event dedicated to James Latimer in accordance with Black History Month. Throughout the entire month of February, the college will be hosting events that celebrate the accomplishments of African-Americans.

Tim Lumas, a criminal justice professor, believes Black History Month is a time to educate people on the achievements of people of color.

“We brought these speakers to talk about the efforts and accomplishments [which] typically go unrecognized,” Lumas said.

During the event, Randy Latimer asked his mother questions regarding his father in a “talk show” like setting. Laughing and reminiscing on old times, he learned new information about his dad.

“What was life like in Oxnard during the ’60s?” Randy Latimer asked his mother.

“Well, we thought we was as good as anybody,” Pollie Latimer answered. “We thought the people sitting next to us, no matter color, was our friends.”

“Were you ever scared for dad in his new job?” Randy Latimer asked.

“Not at all, but there was one incident where he left his bloody uniform to soak in cold water. He didn’t even leave a note. I called the department and turns out he cut his finger during a chase. He learned a lesson to leave notes after that,” Pollie Latimer answered.

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Pollie Latimer is interviewed by her son, Randy Latimer about her late husband and his career in law enforcement in the campus center conference room, on Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2019. Photo credit: Evan Reinhardt

After James Latimer was hired as an officer, the family lost many acquaintances who squandered their friendship due to James’ new profession. People would call them names like “Uncle Toms” or “sellouts,” according to both Randy and Pollie. Through their friends’ eyes, they were working for “the man.”

Randy Latimer and his mother said James Latimer’s reasoning behind becoming an officer was his desire to help his family.

Unfortunately, Latimer would not only have to face animosity from his own friends but from his new colleagues as well.

James Latimer told his son a compelling story about how he was belittled by his white colleagues.

Randy Latimer expressed that his father was in a meeting where partners were being assigned when his trainer asked the entire staff, “‘who wants to ride with the nigger?’”

Pollie Latimer remembers how her husband would sometimes come home after work and cry from the hatred he received.

Not only was James Latimer verbally abused by his colleagues, but he was also sued many times after receiving promotions.

According to Randy Latimer, at that time, Affirmative Action was being implemented as a form of bringing diversity into America’s workforce. However, some of James Latimer’s colleagues believed that he was taking advantage of the policy.

Randy Latimer believes that his father was promoted because he was the most qualified.

“Some people would tell my father, ‘you only got the job because you are black,’” Randy Latimer said.

Although James Latimer lived through difficult times, it was his character that cemented his legacy in the police department.

James Latimer was promoted Assistant Police Chief, won Officer of the Year in 1972 and worked as a narcotics detective. Also, with the help of his wife, Latimer worked to keep local youth in school and developed an “open door” policy at their home, where anyone was welcomed.

Although James Latimer was treated as an inferior, he chose to never quit the police force, wanting to prove to his colleagues that he was capable of succeeding.

“I am proud of his accomplishments, I am proud of who he was as a person,” Pollie Latimer said.

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Pollie Latimer, mother of Randy Latimer, describes her experience of being married to the first black policeman in Oxnard. Photo credit: Evan Reinhardt

For James Latimer, being the first African-American police officer proved to be a career filled with strife. He didn’t let injustices defy his destiny, but went beyond and opened the doors for minorities in the Oxnard Police Department.

In contemporary times, it is easy to look past the accomplishments of minority groups. Legacies like James Latimer’s personify the importance behind Black History Month and showcase our community members who have gone unnoticed.

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