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Thursday, Feb. 3, 2005 02:07 am

Final chapter

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Imagine for a moment that you can’t breathe. You have asthma, but it’s been more than a year since your last real attack, so you’ve left your inhaler at home. You’re at the police academy, running a drill, learning all about discipline, integrity, teamwork, brotherhood in blue, yadda yadda, and, sure enough, when you suddenly start to cough up your guts, spew snot, wheeze and gulp for air, several of your fellow recruits try to help.

The commanders, however, wave them away, saying, “Leave her if she can’t keep up.”

So there you are, frantic for oxygen, and no one is allowed to render aid. Only after you croak out a request for medical assistance do you get a ride into town for an albuterol treatment.

Now, if that happened to you, would you be irate? I think I would be. But remember: Everything’s relative. And to Renatta Frazier, who survived this experience, it barely blipped her radar screen. In more than two years of frequent conversations, she never mentioned this incident to me. I heard about it from one of her academy classmates — a recruit who witnessed Frazier’s asthma attack firsthand and, to this day, is equal parts pissed and appalled (and no, this other recruit is not black).

It also didn’t make it into The Enemy in Blue — the book Frazier is selling at a Saturday book-signing — sharing her side of the scandal that made her the Springfield Police Department’s most famous ex-officer.

Yes, brace yourselves, citizens. Just when you thought that Frazier — the black rookie officer erroneously accused of “failing to prevent the rape of a fellow officer’s daughter” — had ridden off into the sunset with her fat settlement check from her race-discrimination lawsuit, she’s back from her new home in suburban Atlanta for a few days to peddle her tell-all book.

And I do mean “tell-all.” It’s tough to predict what will set more AM talk-show tongues a-waggin’ — the bitter accusations Frazier levels at SPD’s upper ranks, her sharp words for some members of the black community, or the soft porn that throbs through chapter one
(on second thought, I’ll put my money on chapter one).

Along with her son Kourtney Mitchell, Frazier wrote this book while waiting for the city of Springfield to settle her lawsuit. It is infused with the spirit of a willful woman forced to stew silently while people who never met her discussed and dissected her character as though she were as unfeeling as a piece of stone. Writing was the best therapy she could afford, and she worked at it religiously.

Still, anybody of a mind to criticize will have a field day with Frazier’s tome. Several legitimate publishing houses expressed interest in her manuscript, but she didn’t like their leisurely timetable. So she decided to press this book herself, and it reads like a promising rough draft in search of an editor. It could have benefited from a spell check, a grammar check, and, especially, a reality check. People she likes get special treatment (in her book, I’m young and skinny; in real life, I’m aged and gelatinous), and people she dislikes get body-slammed (Carl Madison left town just in time).

I know for a fact that Frazier got some of her facts wrong — most by accident but a few because of her belief that she was the victim of a grand conspiracy. For example, she insists that the mainstream media knew the truth long before Illinois Times discovered it, yet she provides no evidence to support that charge.

Still, it would be a shame for people to focus on the book’s flaws and miss the positive and poignant messages. The Enemy in Blue is a testament to the power of family — both Frazier’s family of origin and her husband and children — and suggests that she would have gladly sworn the same deep loyalty to SPD.

Instead, the career she had dreamed of almost tore her family apart, and she describes the poisonous ripple effects in excruciating detail.

It will be interesting to see whether this raw book quells the rumors or answers the questions that have been floating around here the past two years. The most persistent is the notion — occasionally posed as a query, usually stated as irrefutable fact — that “Frazier never should’ve been a cop.” Most people who say that never met Frazier, and most will admit there are at least a few white males on the department payroll who shouldn’t have badges or guns.

I don’t see how anybody can say for sure, though. What’s clear to me is this: No one ever gave Frazier a chance.

Renatta Frazier will be selling and signing her book from 2 to 4 p.m. Saturday at the Crowne Plaza.

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