Gregory Rogers is not one to shrink from a challenge. The veteran intelligence officer-turned-professor was working in Washington, D.C., when a plane struck the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001. When everybody else was fleeing the building, he was heading in.
"It looked like a Godzilla movie," he recalled.
Today, he teaches intelligence students and national security students -- in the department he founded at Point Park University -- to step up as well. "When everybody else is running from fire, my students are running into it."
Mr. Rogers spent the bulk of his intelligence, military and diplomatic career running into the fire. Sometimes those fires were literal. More often, he dealt with those who would fan the flames of racial division, experiences that have prepared him for his newest professional responsibility.
When Assistant Pittsburgh Police Chief Maurita Bryant was elevated to the post of national president of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives (NOBLE), Mr. Rogers replaced her as president of NOBLE's Pittsburgh chapter.
The chapter will host the group's 37th annual conference at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center in August. Mr. Rogers said he expects about 2,000 law enforcement executives from local, state and federal government -- "Secret Service, FBI, ICE, ATF, DEA, the whole alphabet soup" -- to come to town for the event.
The Pittsburgh chapter has about 40 members, including Pittsburgh police Chief Nathan Harper and Assistant Chief Bryant.
NOBLE's goals include fostering community-police relations, advocating the hiring and promotion of more black officers, and striving toward fairness in the administration of justice. A key goal of the group, which welcomes members of all backgrounds, is to remain cognizant that the law sometimes affects minorities more adversely.
"For instance, when police get a call that there's been a crime, 65 percent of the perpetrators are white," Mr. Rogers said, "but 55 percent of the people ultimately sent to prison are black or Hispanic. You can't tell me that 10 percent of the population is responsible for 55 percent of the crime. What happened in between there?
"By the time it's all said and done, I think a lot of prejudice has moved from the police officer in the street to the prosecutor. ... Prejudice is that 500-pound gorilla in the room. First, you acknowledge that and then you move on from there."
As he sees it, bias is usually not a conscious choice. Police officers end up reinforcing the prejudice they grew up with. "If they see a black kid do something wrong, they think, 'Let's get him in the system.' That 'getting him in the system' hurts us as a country."
Confronting prejudice is familiar turf for Mr. Rogers. His father represented the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in the South in the days of cross-burnings. During his boyhood in, Washington, D.C., Mr. Rogers, 62, recalls being directed to use the "colored" restroom and sit at the back of the bus. And when he joined the Air Force in the late '60s, his unit was deployed to Iceland, but he scarcely made it off the plane before he was sent back to the states.
Officials asked him point blank if he was Hispanic. He said that he was black.
"They kicked me out because they didn't allow blacks in Iceland." At the time, the U.S. military was in compliance with an Icelandic ban on stationing black troops at the American base. He went on to give 32 years in service of his country.
The Air Force sent him to Labrador and then, in 1968, worked in Special Operations in Indochina during the Vietnam War. He served as a Combat Control Team member, and subsequently joined the U.S. Army HQ S-2 Intelligence with the 11th Special Forces Airborne, also known as the Green Berets.
He went on to work for the Smithsonian Institution's Office of Protective Services, the U.S. Secret Service, the U.S. Treasury Security Force, the U.S. Marshal Service and U.S. Customs Service. He served as a diplomat with the European Union Sanctions Assistance Mission in Romania, Yugoslavia and Hungary during the war in Bosnia, aiding in enforcement of United Nations embargoes.
He helped coordinate counterfeit team for the Olympics in Atlanta in 1996. And he was a founding member of the Department of Homeland Security. And he somehow found time to earn a law degree along the way. He retired in 2003 from law enforcement, and began as a full-time faculty member at Point Park in 2005, teaching courses such as Introduction to Intelligence, Theories of Criminology, Federal Law Enforcement and the Ethics of Spying.
Looking back on his career through the prism of race, he said, "I've experienced road blocks, but never complete blockage."
After working around country and the world, he finds that Pittsburgh presents a unique challenge: "There's a lot of prejudiced people in the South but you know who they are. I've found in Pittsburgh it's almost like an art form. Because it will happen and you might not even realize it for two days. It's more than subtle."
He said among some colleagues and subordinates in the workplace, the unspoken judgment he perceives of himself as a black man is, "If you dress well, you're pompous; if you make a decision, you're arrogant; if you're well educated, you're trying to be white."
For example, he said, university peers have said things like: If the campus promotes more diversity in admissions, "we're going to have a different class of students."
"I think it's systemic and endemic in Pittsburgh. I don't think they woke up some day and said, 'I want to be mean to minorities.' It's how they grew up here. You are the mirror image of where you grew up."
As head of his department, Mr. Rogers said generally he reacts to these comments and his input is, generally, "not well received." But in the realm of law enforcement management, he said, NOBLE is in a good position to confront these sort of preconceptions head on and educate leaders about fairness in law enforcement.
He commended the Pittsburgh police overall on its professionalism, especially in the wake of the slaying of three city officers in a standoff in Stanton Heights in 2009. As a newcomer, he was particularly impressed with how they handled the two recent Super Bowl championship parades for the Steelers, the parade for the Penguins Stanley Cup victory, and the G-20 summit, when all the heads of state came to town in 2009.
He also thinks the local SWAT team does a fantastic job as well as the homicide investigation unit.
Beyond campus, he said, he has firsthand knowledge of how law enforcement operates: "I've been stopped a couple times by police here. They were at least polite."
Gabrielle Banks: firstname.lastname@example.org.