By Matthew Rodriguez
Pasadena Weekly Deputy Editor
Born and raised in Pasadena, Dennis Haywood, 53, knows better than to call the police if he needs help, especially in Northwest.
“I know people in this community don’t call the police about stuff like that because they know that the police come up here and kill. I wouldn’t call the police for help,” Haywood said. “If I had a problem, I would call the fire department because they’re not going to come with guns.”
For years, Haywood’s view of the police has become more and more jaded. His distrust of the police, specifically the Pasadena Police Department, grew from decades of seeing police abuse Black men in his neighborhood.
“I saw the Pasadena police shoot [a man] in 1986,” Haywood said. “I saw the Pasadena police shoot him and he was harmless… I grew up in Northwest Pasadena and I never had a good relationship with [the police].”
Throughout the United States, videos of police abusing protesters, minorities and their community have dominated the national conversation. Haywood claimed that the same brutality seen on TV screens has been happening in Pasadena.
Spurred by the death of George Floyd, Haywood decided to make a documentary called “Thorns on the Rose: Black Abuse, Corruption and the Pasadena Police.”
The film depicts decades of abuse by the Pasadena Police Department, including the beating of Christopher Bellew and the killings of Kendrec McDade and more recently Anthony McClain.
Haywood’s film uses footage from cellphones and body cameras to depict the incidents of police brutality. While editing the film, he watched the brutal beating of Bellew and the deaths of McDade and McClain repeatedly. The images and voices toiled with his emotions. At times Haywood found himself crying while editing the footage.
“I cried doing this,” Haywood said.
“Looking at the footage over and over and hearing the pain, especially when you get to Anthony McClain… it’s just hard to listen to over and over and over again.”
For Haywood, the goal of his film is to spur change in the police department, beginning with the termination of Police Chief John Perez and ending with a full revamp of the police department.
“Sometimes you got to destroy to rebuild,” Haywood said. “I just think that we have to tear this down.”
He specifically cited the McClain case and claimed Perez was a liar.
“He is a police (officer) and the police protect each other,” Haywood said. “Perez is a liar. He will lie to your face to protect his men.”
The McClain case garnered the attention of attorney Ben Crump, whose name has become synonymous with civil rights cases after overseeing the George Floyd, Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin lawsuits.
“We’re here to proclaim that America should also be saying Anthony McClain’s name,” Crump said during a press conference on March 22.
“His video is just as shocking as Jacob Blake Jr., and it underscores the fact that there seems to be a propensity for police in America to shoot Black men in the back — disproportionately to anything we’ve seen them do to our white brothers and sisters.”
Crump found similarities in the McClain and Blake cases where both men were shot in the back by police, both incidents happened days apart. Blake survived but was partially paralyzed.
Crump and Haywood both claim that McClain was unarmed but the police department disputes that.
After Crump’s March 22 press conference, the city released a statement on the McClain Case.
“The incident that took place last year that resulted in the tragic death of Anthony McClain continues to be reviewed by multiple agencies, including the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office’s review of the shooting, as well as the OIR Group, which has been retained by the city to conduct an independent review of the incident.
“The recent loss of Mr. McClain’s beloved grandmother has only added to the family’s pain and our thoughts are with them. As there is ongoing litigation regarding the matter, we are unable to comment publicly on the claims made earlier today by attorney Ben Crump, although the fact is that a handgun was found, and Mr. McClain’s DNA was found on the handgun. Gun access and violence is a far broader problem than this incident, and we all need to address it as a society, no matter where we stand on other issues. We look forward to sharing facts and findings of the incident, as developed within the legal proceedings.”
“Thorns on the Rose: Black Abuse, Corruption and the Pasadena Police” will be released on Thursday, April 8.