FERGUSON, Mo. – As a child, Dominica Fuller watched four of her uncles command respect as police officers in the greater St. Louis area. She knew one day she wanted to follow in their footsteps.
“I watched them enforce the law. I watched our people respect them. I watched how they would make sure old ladies got in the house when they brought their groceries in. I watched them come home and their wives – so happy to see them – and I just couldn’t wait,” said Fuller, who is one of just four female officers in the Ferguson Police Department’s 50-person force.
In May, Fuller was promoted to sergeant after starting her career with the city as a corrections officer in 1999. She is also one of only five black officers in a city that has been heavily criticized for racial disparities within the justice system after a white officer, Darren Wilson, shot and killed a black teenager, Mike Brown, during an altercation in August 2014.
“We don’t look at it as like being the only black,” she told America Tonight during a July interview. “We look at it like being a brother and sister. This is a family. This is another family outside of my family at home. We were a big family that stayed together and worked it out together.”
Brown’s death set off massive protests across the country and a Department of Justice civil rights investigation that found patterns of racial injustice within the department and the city court system.
Although she witnessed other black officers become targets of intense verbal attacks and threats at the height of the protests in the aftermath of the shooting, Fuller insists she did not personally feel that tension. She told America Tonight she had not seen a racial divide in her community.
“I have a very good aura about me, a good vibe; I am a little bit different. I approach things differently, but to see my fellow officers out there being taunted and abused by people … it just brought us closer together,” she said. “[The protesters] are not mad at us as a human being. They are mad at the uniform.”
As a self-described spiritual woman, she refuses to publicly express her feelings about the events that unfolded last year. She said the hardest part, however, was witnessing the aftermath of the shooting.
“Just being a part of it. Just seeing all of this. That was the hardest part,” she said. “But the fact that we were able to go home and the protesters were able to go home, and I was able to talk about it and pray about it, that’s what got me through it. That’s what got a lot of us through it. Prayer. Prayer. We had so many people in here praying for us.”
Fuller said she accepts that everyone is entitled to opinions based on his or her own experiences with police, but she wants people to know that she and her fellow officers are not perfect and only human – with a job to do.
“Every day you put this uniform on, you are a walking target. Every day. It doesn’t matter – you, your family, your friends – when you take on this job, you take on a career,” she said. “You are not guaranteed to come home.”
Now, she is focused on helping the city move forward. “Everyone is hurting. We are just ready to move forward. Going back only brings back a lot of pain, so I’m looking forward to the joy and the success,” she said, suggesting that community policing must be improved in the city.
She added: “In order to move forward, we have to move forward. We leave what happened in the past, and we focus on the positive of what Ferguson has in store.”