Co-Founder of the African American Police League
Renault Robinson was born on September 8, 1942, in Chicago, Illinois—a city that would become the epicenter of not only his law enforcement career, but also his Civil Rights advocacy. Robinson joined the Chicago Police Department in 1964 and was one of the officers who provided police protection to the Civil Rights March on Cicero, Illinois, on September 4, 1966. But it was in 1968 that Robinson truly made his mark on the Chicago Police Department. He and fellow Chicago Police Officer Edward “Buzz” Palmer founded the Afro-American Patrolman’s League—now known as the African American Police League, or AAPL—in 1968 after witnessing the effects of Chicago Mayor Richard Daly’s “shoot to kill” order after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
AAPL sought to defend and protect the people in their local Black communities while also improving the relationship between Black communities and law enforcement personnel. To accomplish this goal, the organization worked hand-in-hand with the community to resolve issues, to take steps to change the poor image they portray to the community, and to create a symbiotic relationship between law enforcement and the community. A second significant goal of the League was to work to protect Black offenders from unjust punishment and conduct from the police. Thirdly, the organization sought to recruit more African Americans to the field of law enforcement. The creation of the League led to an increase in the hiring of minority officers, but it also brought a greater number of civil rights lawsuits against the Chicago Police Department for the discrimination of African American and Hispanic citizens.
Robinson was regarded as a model law enforcement officer in the city of Chicago—he is on record as achieving a 97% efficiency rating and upwards of 50 citations for exemplary police work. However, after the founding of AAPL, he and other members often found themselves suspended after minor infractions, reassigned to less-desirable positions, and threatened with dismissal from the force in departmental efforts to shut down the AAPL through intimidation. Despite these obvious obstacles, Robinson remained on the force and continued to speak out about institutional racism in the department. He took official stances against various events, including the raid that resulted in the murder of Black Panther Party member Fred Hampton, and the “dragnet” policing strategy used by infamous Chicago police commander Jon Burge which led to a near military-caliber occupation of Chicago’s South Side. Despite the many hardships he faced in the Chicago Police Department, Robinson was supported by Illinois State Representative Harold Washington, who would later become the city’s first Black mayor. Robinson served with the Chicago Police Department until 1983 when he resigned upon his appointment by Mayor Washington as the Chair of the Chicago Housing Authority.
While the Chicago Police Department may have felt threatened by Robinson’s creation of the AAPL, the organization was well received by the African American community it was created to support. The community especially appreciated the many classes and workshops hosted by the league which served to teach the community and its officers of all races how to build respect for each other and communicate more effectively with one another. Today, the AAPL continues to create stronger bonds between Black law enforcement officers and the communities they serve.
Black Trailblazers in Blue is created in partnership between the National Law Enforcement Museum and the National Black Police Association to celebrate the triumphs of African American leaders in Law Enforcement.