Barry Saunders

Saunders: If Raleigh police don’t want to work the Beyoncé concert, send me

It only takes a minute or two for people around me to know they’re in the presence of a holy man. It’s either an aura I give off – or the fact that it takes that long for me to tell ’em I attended Bible college for a week back when I thought I’d heard a voice calling unto me from on high.

Turned out to be something I ate.

As police unions across the nation debate whether or not to provide security at concerts for Beyoncé because of her Super Bowl halftime paean to the Black Panthers, some of us are left to say – as the prophet Isaiah said – Here I am, Lord. Send me.

Yessiree, Bub. If police officers offended by her Super Bowl performance and the subsequent “Formation” video want to reject the big bucks and the free show that come with providing security for the callipygian countess, step aside. My buddies and I will gladly don black windbreakers with SECURITY writ large across the back in yellow letters and keep the traffic flowing.

Enforcing the law at concerts and anywhere else involves more than that, sure, but it’s unlikely all Raleigh Police Department officers will heed their union’s call and reject the chance to earn some extra scratch when Beyoncé comes to Carter-Finley Stadium in May.

Those that do work can teach us civilians the finer points of making sure ticketless fans don’t crash the gate and those inside don’t smoke that wacky terbacky or try to rush the stage to touch the hem of Queen Bey’s garment.

Members of the Raleigh Police Protective Association – which represents 80 percent of the department’s officers according to president Rick Armstrong – are scheduled to vote Tuesday on what steps to take. Armstrong said options available to officers are whether to work voluntarily or involuntarily directing traffic into and out of the venue and dealing with any other security issues that arise.

Armstrong said he has seen “portions” of the debated halftime performance. “What upset some officers is the depiction of the Black Panthers,” he said. “They feel the Panthers represented violence against police officers.

“Regardless of our decision,” he said, “some police officers will work. We’re clearly not going to not work” if commanded to do so. He said 50 to 100 officers would be assigned to make $35 an hour

Again, send me, Lord.

While Her Highness’s performance saluting the Black Panthers has made her persona non grata in cop shops nationwide, Gerald Horne and her fans think it was a crowning achievement for her career.

Horne, a former UNC professor who is now the John J. and Rebecca Moores Chair of History and African American Studies at the University of Houston, said, “I thought it was outstanding that someone of her stature would put herself out there like that.”

Beyoncé has for almost a decade been one of the biggest pop stars on the planet, yet the most political thing I recall her doing prior to this was singing “At Last” – not nearly as well as Etta James – at President Obama’s inauguration party.

What led her to suddenly become outspoken on the world stage that is Super Bowl halftime? I asked Horne.

“Perhaps,” he said, “it was a reacton to the stinging critique of her spouse and her by Harry Belafonte a few years ago. ... Whatever the case, I thought it was a gigantic step forward,” one which he said he hopes other performers will emulate.

Horne’s view of the Black Panthers couldn’t be more different from Armstrong’s and law enforcement officers nationally. While the Panthers did not eschew violence as an option, my buddies and I idolized them mainly for the free breakfast for school children program they started in the Oakland area during the 1960s.

You could look it up.

“I used to do legal work for the Panthers in the early 1970s when I was a law student at University of California, Berkeley during their heyday,” Horne said. “I have tremendous respect for the Panthers and what they endured at the hands of the state.”

Beyoncé’s performance was not anti-police, he said, but “an affirmation of black identity and a cry of protest against the spate of taped killings of young African Americans that has become a kind of visual pornography.”

However one feels about the Panthers, we need the police, we need to respect the police, we need the police to respect us.

We also, during what Horne called their heyday, needed the Panthers.