Former police officer Ron Stallworth, whose infiltration of the Ku Klux Klan is portrayed in the Oscar award-winning Spike Lee film “BlacKkKlansman,” made an appearance at CU Denver on March 19 at an event presented by CU Denver Live! Stallworth, a police officer for over 30 years, discussed the film, his life and his memoir “Black Klansman” before a crowd of about 200 students, faculty and staff.
In 1979, the then-Colorado Springs detective responded to a newspaper ad recruiting members of the community to join the local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan. Stallworth began to call and partially befriend Grand Wizard David Duke while sending in an undercover white officer to pose as Ron Stallworth, the Klan member.
Stallworth’s investigation disrupted the Klan’s acts of terror and revealed members of the organization who were also high-ranking individuals at the Fort Carson military base.
‘You never stop being a black man’
Members of the audience had the opportunity to ask about Stallworth’s career as a police officer. Students engaged in discourse surrounding police culture while discussing the history of the American police force, asking Stallworth about his training in the police academy and his personal duality of being a black man and a black police officer.
“When I took that badge and uniform off, I was still a black man in America who had to deal with all of the other issues that every other black man, woman and child in America had to deal with,” said Stallworth. “You never stop being a black man in America, no matter what your job is.”
Being black in a world of ‘blue’
Stallworth shared insights on the dichotomy of being “too black for white people and too blue for black people” while pursuing his dream career in law enforcement.
During his undercover assignment, Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard David Duke made a visit to Colorado Springs. Stallworth’s commanding officer assigned him to Duke’s security detail. When meeting, Duke shook Stallworth’s hand using the Klan handshake, which Stallworth demonstrated to the crowd during his talk.
One student asked: “Do you think that it’s possible that the adversarial-ness that you felt as a police officer between communities of color and police can actually go away?” Stallworth responded that it would take effort and a dual approach to improving relations between communities and the police force.
Minority perspectives in film and literature
As a film, “BlacKkKlansman” has given Stallworth’s story a larger platform, allowing for audiences to consider the importance of portrayals of people of color in the media.
Through both his memoir and the film, Stallworth challenges police culture. He advocates for all people to do what is right with the power that they hold, whether that is through formal law enforcement or through the lens of a socially conscious citizen.
“The perspective of the minority growing (in film) is a good thing, because it shows a rise of equal power among all races and not just a single dominion of power,” said Isaiah Mancha, a Film Studies student.
Stallworth offered the audience some words of advice.
“To inspire change, get involved. Find what your passion is; then devote yourself to fulfilling that passion,” Stallworth said. “You have to recognize that you can’t accomplish anything unless you are prepared to meet the challenge when it comes your way.”