Compton, California, is a city known for gangs, drugs, gangsta rap and, at one time a murder rate 10 times the national average. 

Black White and Gray All Over, a memoir by Frederick Douglass Reynolds and subtitled “A Black Man’s Odyssey in Life and Law Enforcement” is an insider’s view of Compton’s heartbeat — or lack thereof. 

Born in Virginia into a poor sharecropper family and named for the famous abolitionist, Reynolds grew up in Detroit. His father was an alcoholic, his mother was angry, and his uncle ran bootleg liquor. Although he did well in school, in his teenage years he became involved with gangs. After several arrests (one for stealing a paperboy’s bicycle) and a close call with death, he realized he was on a path to prison or the graveyard. 

A STORY OF COMING OF AGE AND REDEMPTION

His book is his coming-of-age-story, and ultimately a story of his redemption. He joined the Marines, got an honorable discharge, got married, and had children. In California, he was homeless while he worked dead-end jobs to support his family. Eventually hired as an armed security guard for the city of Compton, he was one step closer to becoming a police officer. He joined the force in 1985.

“I had been a most unlikely candidate to be a cop,” he writes. “But now that I was one, I vowed not to be one of those crooked or dirty cops who stole money, planted dope, and lied on reports. I remembered how little we thought of police who did shit like that while I was growing up and how much we respected the ones who did shit the right way, even if they beat our asses.”   

Most of Reynolds’ book details the day-to-day trauma of patrol in a city he calls an “abattoir” as Compton reels with gang violence and the crack epidemic. During a recent interview for “The Murder Memo” blog, he said, “Working gangs provided me with an opportunity to be in the streets, and forge relationships not only with gang members but citizens as well. Not all gang members are evil and violent. Some of them are caught up in neighborhood politics and are looking for ways out.”

He paints his fellow officers with a fine brush, often in shades of gray. He also details the killing of two well-liked fellow officers shot while responding to a traffic violation, whose deaths devastate the department. 

In parallel, the stress of the job affects his personal life. His struggles with divorce and estrangement from his children add even more humanity to his autobiography.

In the late 1990s, Reynolds follows the money as a detective investigating Compton’s corrupt city government, which he calls “beyond belief, The city politicians were thieves who stole the dreams of their constituents. They didn’t use guns, they used words, contracts, falsehoods and fragile ideals.” The city’s police department also comes under investigation for corruption.

AN UNFLINCHING LOOK AT THE HUMANITY OF POLICE WORK

After Compton disbanded its predominantly Black police department in 2000, Reynolds, joined the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department. Twice named California Policeman of the Year, he retired as a homicide detective in 2017 with a 10-page list of commendations and awards.  

And while he didn’t set out to focus on racism in criminal justice, the killing of George Floyd honed his focus as he finished his manuscript. “Although I do not believe that law enforcement is riddled with racism,” he writes, “I know for a fact that every law enforcement agency in America has at least one, if not dozens of Derek Chauvins in its ranks, and that goes for the Federal agencies as well. If you are a cop reading this, you will know that I am telling the truth. If you deny it, then you are part of the problem and an underlying reason why the George Floyd incident happened and why the subsequent fall-out was a societal nuclear explosion.”

In the book’s introduction, thriller author Ralph Pezzullo writes, “Fred’s story will remind you a lot of the TV series ‘The Wire,’ but real and more tragic because the blood that flowed wasn’t ketchup or prop blood. It was real and even today stains the concrete sidewalks…”

It’s an unflinching look at the reality of police work and gang violence, and a compelling account of a man who ended up on the right side of the law.

Buy this book!

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.