Shaken by George Floyd’s televised death at the hands of a problem cop in Minneapolis on May 25, the Pasadena City Council’s Public Safety Committee (PSC) agreed to consider civilian oversight of local police at it’s meeting today, June 4.
Possibly making that discussion somewhat awkward is both candidates for mayor in the November election, Mayor Terry Tornek, a member of the PSC, and Councilman Victor Gordo, both rejected ideas of having an appointed civilian police board, as proposed during the primary election by then-candidate Jason Hardin.
In fact, the idea of a civilian police oversight board was first broached in 1992, following the Los Angeles Riots sparked by the acquittal of the four LAPD cops who mercilessly beat Altadena’s Rodney King in Lakeview Terrace on March 3, 1991. The issue was made public by city Human Relations Commission members Meta McCullough, a well known community activist and former PW columnist who sadly has passed away, and Karen Hooks-Roon, who was married to a Pasadena PD officer.
Then-Police Chief Jerry Oliver, who is African American, opposed the proposal and initiated in its place a citizen police academy, which civilians could join to learn about being an officer. Today, the four City Council members on the PSC oversee the Police Department.
Starting Monday’s City Council meeting, Tornek led off, saying the council would adjourn in the memory of coronavirus victims, all victims of racism, and in commemoration of Gun Violence Week.
Councilman Tyron Hampton, who is African American and admitted to being scared when seeing cops in his rear view mirror, asked for the matter of civilian oversight be put on the PSC agenda, which City Manager Steve Mermell said would be done.
“I’m asking you tonight that the City Council try to understand where I am coming from as an African-American male, that every time I get pulled over by the police my stomach drops, I fear for my life. Whenever I say this, typically people think, oh, no, stop. You’re the vice mayor of the city of Pasadena. No one has ever asked me if I was the vice mayor of the city of Pasadena when they pulled me over.”
“We have to hold people accountable for mistreatment of African Americans, and people of color in general… What happened to Mr. Floyd happens regularly. It happens in Pasadena. So let’s not act and pretend like we are above that. We’re not,” Hampton said.
Councilman John Kennedy, who chairs the PSC, seconded Hampton’s sentiments, saying he supports his colleague, but did not elaborate. Hampton and Councilman Steve Madison are also PSC members.
“This is an opportunity for Pasadena to, with the rest of the country, heal,” said Gordo. “We need an opportunity to heal and we need an opportunity to make a strong statement that violence perpetrated against anybody is unacceptable, regardless of who the actor may be. What’s particularly troubling is if the violence is perpetrated by someone with authority. I do believe this City Council needs to take a very strong position that it is unacceptable for … anyone to be the subject of violence at the hands of anyone, particularly someone with authority.”