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Interview with Frederick Douglass Reynolds

He is a retired Black LA County Sheriff’s homicide sergeant. He was born in Rocky Mount, Virginia, and grew up in Detroit, Michigan where he became a petty criminal and was involved in gangs. He joined the US Marine Corps in 1979 to escape the life of crime that he seemed destined for. After a brief stint in Okinawa, Japan, he finished out his military career in southern California and ultimately became a police officer with the Compton police department. 

He worked there from 1985 until 2000 and then transferred to the sheriff’s department where he worked an additional seventeen years, retiring in 2017 with over seventy-five commendations. He lives in Southern California with his wife, Carolyn, their daughter Lauren and young son, Desmond. They have six other adult children and nine grandchildren.

Q.1 Tell us something about yourself not many people know?
I have a rather large Marvel comic book collection, and I am a very good artist.

Q.2 What inspired you to write Black, White, and Gray All Over?
I have always wanted to write a book. The topic of the book and genre has changed over the years, however. As got older and looked back on the things that I did as a teenager, I needed people to understand what motivated me to be a delinquent. Later, when I became a cop, I knew I had to share what it was like to be a Black cop. Especially after the George Floyd incident.

Q.3 Are we going to read more from you in the near future? Any new project you’re working on?
Yes. I am definitely going to write more books. I want to write fantasy and fact-based fiction. Right now, I am ghost-writing a book for a retired homicide detective.

Q.4 How long does it take you to write this memoir?
All told it took me about 25 years. Not 25 solid years, though. I would start and stop after a paragraph here or there, and not write again for months. I kept everything in a journal. I didn’t have a lot of time for writing then. I was supporting a family, working, and just trying to survive. 

When I finally retired in 2017, I started putting all the notes and paragraphs I had been writing over the years into a book format. I had a heart attack in 2020. As I lay in bed recovering, I realized that I had almost died before finishing the book. When I fully recovered, I finished it, editing and all, in a year.

Q.5 If you could tell your younger self anything, what would it be?
Ah, there is so much that I could tell myself, but then my life would have completely changed, and I would have never met the love of my life. With that in mind, I wouldn’t tell myself anything just to prevent any type of butterfly effect. All the pain and heartache that I endured over the course of my life was all worth it because without it I would have never met my wife.

Q.6 How did you deal with the book's emotional/sensitive impact (on yourself) while writing it?
Writing this book was therapeutic for me. I knew that I suffered from post-traumatic stress from seeing all the horrible things I saw during the course of my career as a cop, but I had no idea just how much I had suppressed the trauma I went through growing up. Writing about it all ultimately helped me heal. As I have said several times before, my keyboard became Sigmund Freud. I cried several times during the writing of this book.

Q.7 Your book received a lot of appreciation and awards. How does it make you feel?
It makes me feel overwhelmed. I just wanted to tell a story about what I went through, corruption in government, and the disbandment of a storied law enforcement agency after more than 100 years. 

I never dreamed that so many people would think what I wrote was worthy of an award. It makes me uncomfortable when my friends and family refer to me as a 'multi-award-winning author'. I see myself as just an old, retired cop who loves playing with his grandchildren.

Q.8 Is it vital to get exposure and target the right readers for your writing? Tell us about your marketing campaign?
Advertising and promotion are just as hard as writing a book, especially for Indie writers. If a huge publishing company publishes your book, they have invested in your product, and they will do everything possible to recoup that investment. Indie writers publish their books on a leap of faith. They must hustle and get the word out on their own, and it is not only time-consuming, but it is expensive as well. 

You can write the best book in the world, but what good is it if no one knows about it? I have read best-sellers that were heavily promoted and thought to myself, ‘This is only an average book, at best.’ Conversely, I have read obscure books and thought they were some of the most well-written books that I have ever read. 

Awards help Indie writers, but the contest costs money to enter and there is no guarantee that you will win everything. In essence, award contests are nothing more than another avenue for promoting your book. I have heard people say that authors who constantly flaunt their book awards are bragging. No. We are not. We are promoting.

Q.9 In your book, you said, “Through hard work and commitment, we have achieved the American dream despite our skin color.” What does the American dream mean (look like) to you?
When I wrote about the ‘American dream’, I was saying it relates to the Black experience in a nation that has not been historically kind to Blacks and other minorities. 

In my eyes, the American dream is the human dream; to live in peacefulness and harmony with people of all races, creeds, nationalities, and sexual preferences, to be free to choose to lie in whatever life you want and wherever you want to live. 

That dream was denied to people of color in the United States for a very long time. The mantra “Land of the Free and Home of the Brave” was a misnomer, it was unequal in concept.

Q.10 Did you face any kind of backlash/threats from the police, politicians, or gangs because of your memoir?
Yes. I faced backlash by way of ostracism more than anything else. And it came from former co-workers, who didn’t take kindly to the way I depicted our former department and fellow employees. 

But I set out to portray an accurate depiction of what happened in the city of Compton and its police department from 1985 through 2000. I sought curry nor favor from anyone. And I am at peace with that. If anyone else has issues with it, I am not hiding.

Q.11 Racism still exists in the USA; according to you, what measures should authorities take to educate people about this issue, or do you think leaders need some lessons too?
We all need lessons. But what we must do first and foremost, is stop using racism as a crutch for everything. “If everything is racist, then nothing is.” Humans aren’t born racist. It is a learned behavior. It has become a political platform for those seeking power; a talking point whenever there is nothing else to talk about. 

Right now, it is being used to divide us as a nation. I live in a neighborhood where my next-door neighbors are White on one side and on the other side of me, they are Korean. The neighbors across the street are from Mexico, their neighbors are Chinese, their neighbors are Middle Eastern, and their neighbors are an interracial Black and White couple. This…this is my American dream.

Racism is not pervasive in this country. It once was, but not anymore. Now we have kids talking about how racist America is when they have never even experienced racism, just because they feel that’s what they need to do. Eventually, racists will become such pariahs in America that they will be shunned.

Until then, they can keep their opinions to themselves while the rest of us live that American dream. I don’t know if racism and jingoism will ever be completely erased in a lot of places, however. I highly doubt that as a Black man, I can go to China and be a high-ranking party official.

Q.12 You mentioned a lot of dates, names, events, and case numbers. How did you remember all of them?
I carried a journal for years. I would write significant things down after they happened. But when something traumatic happens to you, you never forget it. There are always triggers that take you back in time, like music. Certain songs will cause a cascade of memories to spring forth from the mind. 

As far as the names, dates, events, and case numbers, I kept a lot of copies of the reports documenting the incidents, so I had material for literally everything at my fingertips.

Q.13 What was one of the most surprising things you learned while writing this book?
I learned about myself. I learned that I had a lot of pent-up trauma and suppressed childhood issues. I learned that for a great deal of my life, I had not been a very nice person. The more I wrote, the more I discovered the root causes of the anger I had for myself and others.

Q.14 What is your favorite book from other authors and why?
I love Pale Blue Dot by Carl Sagan. I love it because he was a brilliant man and extraordinary writer with a gift for seeing possibilities that the rest of us couldn’t. He made me realize that we as humans are nothing more than specks of dust, or “motes of dust” as he termed it, in a universe so vast that it is incomprehensible.

Once we all realize just how insignificant humans are in the grand scheme of things, then perhaps we can work on loving each other and ridding ourselves of the warring tendencies we have lost ourselves to since the beginning of time.

Q.15 How do your family/friends feel about your book or writing venture?
My family had bitter-sweet feelings. I was brutally honest in a lot of different ways, but I was harder on no one more so than myself. I love my family and will do anything for them. But every family has issues. 

What makes a family strong is how they deal with those issues and overcome them. This book has also exposed who are truly my friends, and who were not. Some of them were a surprise. Others, not so much.

Q.16 What kind of impact would you like to make with your book?
I would like to leave a legacy for my family. I have often thought about how magnificent it would be to have a book, a journal, or anything written down by one of my enslaved ancestors regarding what they had to deal with as a human being viewed and treated as less than that. 

By writing a book, now my descendants will be able to read about my life, my pains, my joys, and my travels through life in by then what will be a long-forgotten time. I would also like for people to understand the struggles of a Black man in the United States who worked in one of the most hated professions there was.

Q.17 Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with good or bad ones?
Absolutely. Reviews can be hurtful, like gut-shots, or they can be uplifting, like riding on Cloud 9. The key is to learn how to take the gut shots without getting off your ride. I try to view them all constructively. 

Some people are vindictive, however. One person gave me a one star on Amazon, without writing anything to justify it. I knew right away who this person was had been depicted in the book in an unfavorable, yet truthful manner.

Q.18 Who designed your book cover? How did you select them?
My book cover was designed by Michael P. Corvin of corvin.prodesign. This guy is amazing! I told him the title of my book and he had a cover for me that I liked within two days.

Q.19 What was your most brutal scene to write?
When my friends were murdered, and I came upon their bodies while they were lying dead in the street. Unquestionably.

Q.20 Share the experience of your writing journey so far?
It has been quite a learning curve, for sure. I have discovered that there are a lot of shady people and businesses out there looking to advantage of novice writers. But I love to write, and what I love even more than that is getting a reaction from people based on something that I read.

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