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Despite the prejudice, the second-class treatment, and the loathing the position often inspired among both blacks and whites, being a black police officer in Atlanta meant at least two things: steady pay and decent benefits.
Perhaps one of the most attractive of those benefits -- supposedly open to all cops -- was the Peace Officers' Annuity and Benefit Fund of Georgia.
The fund, started in 1950 by Gov. Herman Talmadge, required a nominal monthly fee -- today it's only $10 -- and assured a handsome payoff upon retirement. Portions of traffic ticket fines help fund the program.
A participating cop retiring today with just 10 years of service could expect a check for $236.90 per month. With a full 30 years of service, the plan tops out at $710.70 per month. The program has more than 11,000 members, and last year it paid out $11 million in benefits.
Today, a board of commissioners administers the $320 million fund. The governor appoints four, three of whom must be cops. One member represents the State Insurance Commissioner.
Baugh recalls that in 1955, he and Ernest Lyons, one of the original eight black cops hired by the city, both tried to join the fund. They were recruited for membership by a white supervisor and handed applications. They thought they were accepted when they received small badges from the Peace Officers' Association of Georgia, which at the time was closely associated with the fund. But about a month later, a supervisor came to collect the badges and return their money. Baugh says he was told the program was "not yet" accepting black officers.
By 1969, when Ray Whitaker joined Atlanta's police force fresh from a stint in Vietnam, black police officers were allowed to do most of the same jobs as their white counterparts, but the department was still largely segregated. Black cops couldn't patrol Buckhead, direct traffic or ride police motorcycles.
And the pension plan was still off-limits, Whitaker says.
Like Baugh, Whitaker, who retired this week, applied to the program because it looked like a good opportunity to secure his future.
"I received their response," says Whitaker, 55. "It said, 'We aren't accepting colored officers at this time.'"
Isaac Jenrette, who joined the APD in 1962, was also turned down. While the situation disturbed him, he says, "It wasn't so much different than what you experienced in everyday life." Jenrette is now a Fulton County Superior Court judge.
During the mid-1970s, Whitaker, who retired as a detective, says the fund was opened up to officers, black and white, who were either denied or failed to apply to the fund. However, Whitaker recalls that for him to "buy in," he'd have to fork over around $7,000 -- an amount that took into account back dues, interest and penalties. Whitaker thinks the exorbitantly high fees were meant to discourage new membership. What's more, an officer could "buy back" a maximum of five years of service. Meaning, if you had been on the force for 15 years, the program would only give you credit for five and that would affect your retirement benefits. Whitaker says he couldn't afford it.
Baugh recalls that when he was finally offered membership, he was asked to pay more than $6,000 up front. He chose not to join.
"There was overt discrimination," says state Rep. Tyrone Brooks, D-Atlanta, who has been working with the governor's office on behalf of the denied cops. "There's no doubt about that."
The question is, who did the discriminating?
Robert Carter, the fund's secretary/treasurer, says his group is still trying to figure out how black officers were excluded, but he guesses that it wasn't the state program. Instead, he thinks white police officers who belonged to the fund discouraged their black colleagues from joining.
Carter says he's found fund applications from the 1950s and 1960s, and "the question of race is not even on the applications." That, he argues, suggests that the program's administration was not discriminatory, just the cops in the individual department who belonged to it.
Whitaker thinks Atlanta's white cops never made any real efforts to tell black officers about the program. But, he wonders, if it was the city alone that did the discriminating, why isn't the fund able to point to black beneficiaries from other police departments?
And Richard Straut, an Atlanta cop and senior vice president for the Atlanta chapter of the Police Benevolent Association of Georgia, says that not one black Atlanta police officer of or nearing retirement age is a member of the program.
Anecdotal evidence seems to suggest that the discrimination was indeed on the state level. Some white cops encouraged black officers to join the program. Baugh says the white captain in charge of his watch encouraged him to join the pension fund. "He was a right guy," Baugh says. "He just said he wanted good men."
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