REVIEW: The Thin Black Line

True stories by African American law enforcement policing America's toughest streets.


Clay Vesser

Graphic by Clay Vesser

Clay Vesser, Tom Tom Staff

Hugh Holton was a thirty-year veteran and commander of the Chicago Police department.At the time of his passing, Holton was the highest-ranking active police officer writing novels in the US. And before his death he interviewed numerous African Americans who have and are still a part of the law enforcement system. These intense, emotional, and entirely true accounts have been combined to create “The Thin Black Line.” The stories are funny, inspirational, powerful, enlightening and sometimes sad.

Most of the men and women interviewed by Hugh Holton are retired or about to be. That makes them around 50 to 60 years old, and they served as officers in the mid 1900’s. During this time the African-American Civil Rights Movement was really achieving great things for the African American population, in America and other countries. But African Americans still faced racism and discrimination. And black police officers are no exception. “The Thin Black Line” gives an inside look at racism and discrimination within the justice system itself, towards fellow officers, and to the public. African American women that were interviewed show that they were often treated differently not only because they were black, but because they were women.

There were some women who had to do work that even a man couldn’t do, such as LaVerne Dunlap. Laverne is a retired police officer in a steel town just north of Gary, Indiana. She said, “When I was walking a beat and saw a fight in a bar, I would call for backup before I entered and broke up the fight. On the way in I’d see police cars just pulling up with cops sitting in them, just watching – just to see how I’d do, I guess, see if I’d come out.”

Hugh Holton has created a book filled with stories that will make you tear up with sadness and laughter. There is no doubt that after reading “The Thin Black Line,” your respect for African American law enforcement and law enforcement in general, will drastically increase.