Time for change

Time for change

The past shows how tough treatment of the poor erodes community trust in police

By Randy Jurado Ertll 10/06/2011

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There is a significant need to revise policies governing the use of lethal force by police departments. This issue has become even more relevant with the just-released report by the Police Assessment Resource Center (PARC).
     
The 30th semiannual report prepared by Special Counsel Merrick J. Bobb and PARC states that “61 percent of suspects in state of mind shootings turn out to be unarmed. What troubles us is that African American or Latino youth is more likely to be the subject of a mistaken perception of dangerousness that is a white or Asian person.” 
 
The report goes further by specifically finding that “Latinos appear to be significantly overrepresented in shooting incidents in comparison to their overall arrest rates, while white suspects are underrepresented.”
 
Regardless of race or ethnicity, police-related beatings and shootings need to be investigated and monitored more closely. On the heels of the brutal and fatal July 5 beating of Kelly Thomas (who was homeless and suffered from schizophrenia) by Fullerton Police Officers Manuel Ramos and Jay Cicinelli, cities around the country should grapple with this issue. Ramos has been charged with second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter. Cicinelli has been charged with involuntary manslaughter and excessive use of force.
 
The case will now go to trial, and the jury will have to decide whether or not the officers are guilty. Let us not forget that it is taxpayer money that pays police officers “To Protect and to Serve.” 
 
We must remind law enforcement to provide suitable services to create safety and trust, not just in affluent areas, but also in poor and middle-class neighborhoods. It is a tragedy and an injustice that occurred in Fullerton, a city in Orange County where we would expect that police officers would be more respectful of its citizens’ civil rights, since a majority of police abuse occurs in poor, neglected neighborhoods.  
 
The Fullerton mayor, City Council, and the chief of police have an obligation to establish an independent citizens’ commission that will oversee future police misconduct and monitor how the Fullerton Police Department treats its citizens.
   
Kelly Thomas’ case may have been ignored if he were not the son of Ron Thomas, a retired Orange County Sheriff’s deputy. Ron Thomas has led a citywide effort to bring justice to his murdered son. He is persistent and not afraid, especially because he has countless supporters and knows how our legal system favors the more affluent. 
 
Wealthy individuals and powerful bureaucracies can hire high-caliber criminal defense attorneys, while the poor usually get sentenced, since they are unable to afford seasoned, well-known and expensive attorneys. 
 
Police officers in departments around the country have used lethal force in many questionable circumstances.
Here are some of the most notorious examples from the last couple of decades — at least those that the public is aware of. Many cases go unnoticed or unreported, because the families of the victims are usually afraid to speak up or do not know how to access media attention and political support.
 
Back in 1991, a Salvadoran immigrant was shot by an African-American police officer and rioting occurred for two days in the Mount Pleasant area of Washington, DC. A lack of bilingual police officers, combined with cultural insensitivity, had built up into distrust and antagonism between the community and the police department. 
 
Of course, we cannot forget the savage beating of Rodney King that year by four white police officers. These officers were acquitted on April 29, 1992, and the community was so outraged that rioting erupted, lasting three days and resulting in many deaths and more than $1 billion in property damage.
 
City councils and police oversight commissions must devise clearer and more stringent policies for the use of lethal force.
Let’s just hope and pray that these types of shootings can be prevented in the future through the implementation of better tactics to subdue or disarm individuals who pose a clear and present danger to civilians and police officers. Further, police officers should be trained in ways of improving communication and treating individuals who have mental and physical challenges.
 
The Police Assessment Resource Center says that “the problems we describe can be resolved or substantially ameliorated by further training, strict accountability and focused attention.”
 
Otherwise, distrust of and disrespect toward police officers will only continue to rise, not just in poor communities, but also in middle-class areas.  
 
That’s the last thing we need. 

Randy Jurado Ertll, executive director of El Centro de Accion Social, is author of “Hope in Times of Darkness: A Salvadoran American Experience.” Visit randyjuradoertll.com or write to Ertll at randyertll@yahoo.com.

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Comments

Randy,

Thank you for starting a conversation on this topic it is definitely something that needs to be transparent to avoid any misleading speculation or ill-informed opinion. I do have to offer criticism in your presentation though. I believe as highlighted below your article is poorly crafted and lacks credibility.

I would like to address a couple of points you made in an effort to give your readers some additional clarity on what you are asserting.

First of all, let me say that the vast majority of police officers nationwide are in good, hardworking, law abiding, upstanding public servants. I believe that apart from the few bad or rogue officers who act outside their authority and shed a bad light on the entire profession, we as citizens are very fortunate to have the protection in place from city to city, county to county and state to state in this great nation.

I would encourage you and your readers to take that into account before painting every department and officer with the same brush.

Your title indicates this is an economic issue dealing with the treatment of the poor by police yet your article's introductory paragraph immediately asserts that lethal or deadly force is the principal topic. Additionally, the foundation you stand upon to bolster your claim is a watchdog report with an emphasis on ethnic not economic factors.

While I agree that the listed high percentage of mindset shootings on unarmed individuals appears inflammatory on the surface, there's too many factors missing to make a rash judgement for the totality of force policies nationwide. In these listed shootings in the PARC report, where did they occur? (crime rate, gang neighborhood, drug sales, etc.) what time of day was it? what was the nature of the contact between the officer and the individual? what are the other circumstances that happened prior to the shooting that led up to it? Without that information, the percentage is simply a factoid filled with opinion. That is very dangerous and often results in an erroneously negative perception by the general public.

Regarding the race issue, what cities or counties participated in the data collection process by PARC? what are the demographics of those cities? based on the demographic data, where are the higher crime rates and the majority of police calls for service generated? Pulling one sentence out of a comprehensive report can be very misleading out of its original context.

The Kelly Thomas incident is by all accounts a tragedy. For his family and the citizens who live in and around Fullerton. I wasn't there that night and I acknowledge the information coming out sounds awful. I believe all the facts surrounding the case will come out and justice will prevail. ...continued

posted by foremspero on 10/06/11 @ 12:15 p.m.

I also hope the city council, administrators and police department do whatever it takes to maintain the safety and protection of the citizens while repairing the damage that has been done to the relationship between them. Whether the police policies need to be rewritten or simply adhered to more appropriately by the officers is a question they will have to answer. My understanding is the use of force policies in most police agencies are the most scrutinized and carefully crafted policies they have. Obviously the need to apply force as necessary to make an arrest is balanced with a reverence for human life and the safety of everyone involved and surrounding an incident.

Officers have a tremendous amount of issues to contend with when confronted by a situation requiring the application of force at any level. While in this case the resulting injuries look horrific and Kelly's death is senseless, the mindset of the individual officers is at issue here, not the entire policy and department.

On a side note, Ron Thomas is not affluent and his son's death is being investigated regardless of wealth.

This sentence doesn't make sense: "It is a tragedy and an injustice that occurred in Fullerton, a city in Orange County where we would expect that police officers would be more respectful of its citizens’ civil rights, since a majority of police abuse occurs in poor, neglected neighborhoods."

Are you asserting that because there is a perception that Orange County is more affluent there should be a different mindset than in counties where there are higher poverty rates? For one thing, while there are very nice and affluent neighborhoods in Orange County and even Fullerton has some great ones, this is off base. Fullerton, Buena Park, Placentia, Anaheim, Garden Grove, Santa Ana Westminster all these cities are exceptionally diverse in their economic and ethnic make-up. Some of the most prolific and dangerous street gangs in California live in these cities. The crime rates in certain portions of each city are equal to and in many cases greater than similar neighborhoods in Los Angeles County.

Your assertion that Orange County is somehow different is just as absurd as me saying Pasadena has no crime. You and I both know that's not the case. ...continued

posted by foremspero on 10/06/11 @ 12:16 p.m.

Where do you come up with this? "Many cases go unnoticed or unreported, because the families of the victims are usually afraid to speak up or do not know how to access media attention and political support."

Cite your sources please. Otherwise it's just your opinion and not news. Every time an officer shoots someone, the case is investigated by the District Attorney as well as the agency with jurisdiction. This happens regardless of the family's desire or fear. In a large percentage of cases, the media gets there before the investigators do and often have full access to any non-involved family members who are there.

Your most "notorious" examples used to support this entire argument are 20 years old and did in fact chang the entire atmosphere of policing. Every force policy in the country was rewritten after the Rodney King case. You generalize your claim of questionable shootings across the country and yet offer no current cases to back it up.

Regarding the sentence, "...these types of shootings can be prevented in the future through the implementation of better tactics to subdue or disarm individuals who pose a clear and present danger to civilians and police officers."

Randy, I have to ask you. Are you going to approach and grab onto an armed and violent individual who you just said is an immediate threat to civilians and the police? I hope you don't realistically believe this is a reasonable solution.

I am of the opinion that a legitimate and bias free partnership between the media, community members and local government is the best solution to improving relations between officers and the public. Getting good, balanced and factual information into the hands of the public is key. Offering free public education seminars, neighborhood and town hall meetings with representatives from the various departments is a huge bridge builder. Education reduces and often eliminates fear. Fear breeds irrational thought and irresponsible action. We must educate ourselves and stand up with knowledge to fight any injustice we see, not emotion and unsupported opinion.

The final point I have is this, the cities and counties can do everything in their power to affect change in the communities they serve but without the support and active involvement of a significant percentage of the people who live, work and play there, the efforts will fall flat.

Have a brilliant and blessed day.

Forem Spero (Forever Hopeful)

posted by foremspero on 10/06/11 @ 12:16 p.m.

I have no doubt that the greater majority of Law Enforcers (REAL police officers, and NOT the rent-a-cops that are taking over many law-enforcement duties) are righteous and good people. Unfortunately, it is the institution itself that they belong to that is being subverted into an institutionally thieving, paramilitary force of public oppression.

Increasingly, as police forces are transformed into punitive tax-collection bureaus, the cops themselves reassess their own self-image, not as public protectors, but only as revenue-enhancers.

DanD

posted by DanD on 10/08/11 @ 09:40 p.m.
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