Fifty years ago, Birmingham Police Commissioner Eugene "Bull" Connor lived up to his name, leading an oppressive white police force that used brutal tactics against Civil Rights demonstrators.
Today, an African American leads the Birmingham Police Department. FOX6 News spoke with Chief A.C. Roper about how he is working to keep the Birmingham Police Department moving forward, far away from its past.
Roper was born in 1963, the same year that a bomb killed four girls attending church, the same year children became the targets of K-9s and hoses and the same year that Connor helmed the Birmingham police.
"The bottom line, during the 60s, in the Civil Rights struggle, the Birmingham Police Department was on the wrong side of history," Roper said.
Growing up in Birmingham, he rememebers stories from his grandmother about the movement that are burned into his memory.
He says they branded him to want better and to do better.
Now, 50 years after Connor, Roper stands as leader of the police department. He says even today his officers are still "police under the shadow".
"We're always policing under the shadow of the Civil Rights struggle. So whatever occurs in our department today, some people see it through the microscope of what occurred in the 60s. We have to be cognizant of that in everything from our training to our policies to our hiring practices," he said.
Roper also says he knows that means there is a greater spotlight on him as chief.
"I want to make sure I'm the anti-Bull Connor. I want to make sure when they look at this department, this chief's office, they see something totally different," Roper said.
What they'll see is the department's national accreditation.
Chief Roper often gets calls from other countries for him to speak about Birmingham's growth and diversity.
He says that diversity is reflected in the police department itself.
"I want the nation and our citizens and to look at this organization and see the change, the transformation, the quality of service and realize a new day has come to Birmingham," Roper said.
With the 50 Years Forward Empowerment Week beginning Wednesday, there are many dignitaries, celebrities and visitors expected to come to Birmingham from all over the country.
Roper says this is a chance for the department to show the world that change he's talking about, not only in the way the department looks but also in how it serves.
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