May 12, 2016 

By Matthew M. Johnson 

 

In September of 2015 I was appointed to the Police Commission by Mayor Eric Garcetti and was immediately elected president by my peers. I accepted the position because I felt that, working with my fellow Commission colleagues, we could make a difference in continuing the positive evolution of the LAPD.

 

The Department has had a checkered past which contributed to civil unrest in 1965 and 1992. In 2001, the LAPD was ultimately forced to enter a Federal Consent Decree. Under the Consent Decree, the Department was required to make major reforms that led to a positive institutional transformation. Despite this progress, we are living in challenging times. The LAPD, like police departments across our country, is facing a crisis of confidence with minority communities, particularly African Americans. As a result of both real and perceived racial disparities in policing, there are deepening wounds in Los Angeles and cities across our country.

 

Since joining the Commission, I have met with hundreds of people — community leaders, clergy, elected officials, and everyday Angelenos — individually and in groups.

 

I have also listened to those who have raised their concerns in our Commission meetings, concerns that have included criticism of me, personally, for not doing enough to hold the Department or the Chief of Police accountable. I understand and appreciate their perspective; I simply disagree with it. In my view, the work we are doing — from the widespread rollout of digital in-car video and body cameras, revising our use-of-force policy, strengthening the Department’s response to homelessness and mental health issues, addressing implicit bias, and providing unparalleled transparency in the aftermath of officer-involved shootings — shows we are not only moving in the right direction, but leading the nation.

 

That is not to ignore or minimize the plain fact that the LAPD has had a difficult history, and continues to face challenges today. Like elsewhere in the nation, attention here has remained sharply — and rightly — focused on issues of race, use of force, accountability, and policing.

 

We are fortunate here in L.A. to have uniquely powerful and robust citizen oversight of our police department. The Police Commission sets the overall policy and goals for the Department, while the Chief manages daily operations and implements the Commission’s objectives. The Commission is also responsible for reviewing every significant officer-involved use of force — such as a police shooting or other use of force resulting in a person being hospitalized, or a death occurring while in police custody. We determine whether or not the involved officers acted appropriately.

 

The old view of the Police Commission was that it provided ineffectual oversight and failed to ensure transparency and accountability. That view was reinforced over the years by incidents that included two riots, the findings of the Christopher Commission, the Rampart scandal, and the eventual implementation of the Federal Consent Decree.

 

We emerged from the Consent Decree a transformed Department. Today, the Police Commission is recognized nationally as a model of civilian oversight. The investigations of its Inspector General, its progressive policies, and its focus on systemic change within the LAPD have been cited by both national and international civilian oversight groups as best practices. The Police Commission also has a stronger and more positive relationship with the LAPD, Chief Charlie Beck, and the larger community.

 

How did the Police Commission get to where it is today? It was the result of strong leadership from past Police Commissioners like John Mack, Shelley Freeman, Andrea Ordin, Anthony Pacheco, and Paula Madison. It was through the political support of mayors, including Mayor Garcetti, as well as the support of a strong and resilient Inspector General. The Police Commission also relied on long- term, concerted outreach efforts, effective communication and meaningful cooperation with the community both before and after major incidents, and dramatic improvements in the quality of internal investigations. As a result of these efforts, today’s LAPD is an organization that supports robust civilian oversight, and enjoys a more positive and constructive relationship with the diverse communities it serves and represents.

 

There have been many changes since 13-year old Devin Brown was shot and killed by a Los Angeles police officer in 2005. Since that time, the Police Commission has pushed for significant reforms, including digital in-car video and body cameras. When the rollout of cameras is completed, the LAPD will be the largest municipal police force in the nation with digital in-car video in every patrol car and body cameras on every officer in the field. These cameras will make for more robust investigations of difficult situations, including officer-involved shootings, allegations of excessive force and biased policing (commonly known as racial profiling). In turn, improved investigations will lead to greater public acceptance of both the investigations and their findings.

 

The Police Commission has also been a statewide leader in the level of transparency to the public, particularly since 2006. When I took this job, I determined that transparency best serves the Department and the public. The State of California has strong privacy protections for police officers, including for their personnel records and internal disciplinary hearings. Yet, in spite of these obstacles, the Police Commission releases more information on every serious use of force incident than any other major law enforcement agency or civilian oversight entity in California. The Police Commission’s abridged summary of each case is posted online and includes an analysis of the facts, the Chief of Police’s recommendations, and details the Commission’s findings and rationale. Further enhancing transparency of these cases, I recently began adding to the Commission’s public agenda the names of involved parties in police shootings and other serious use of force cases that come before us each week.

 

When I set forth a series of goals for the LAPD last year, I tasked the Department and Inspector General with preparing hard and unvarnished analyses through a series of audits and reports to determine what we can do better. In February, the Department issued the first of these reports – the Use of Force Report for 2015. That 300-page report, which is available to the public, provides a detailed analysis of the use of force by Los Angeles police officers in 2015, as well as a comparison to the prior five years. Details include officer and suspect ethnicity, whether the suspect was mentally ill, under the influence, or a gang member. The geographic location, weapons found, and many, many other details are also included and scrutinized. It is by far the most comprehensive report of its kind in the nation, and further solidifies our commitment to transparency and accountability. It is an incredibly valuable tool for all of us to understand force used by Department personnel.

 

About a month ago, the Inspector General issued our second report. This report laid out the evolution of use of force-related policy and training over the last decade. This second report included 12 recommendations -- the most controversial of which requires that the old language regarding using deadly force as a last resort be reinstated and that officers’ attempts at de-escalation be a factor in determining the reasonableness of an officer’s actions.

 

I knew that we would get pushback from the Police Protective League and others. However, we will keep pushing and will not give in. It’s my expectation that the work we do here in Los Angeles will become the standard for the nation.

 

And we will continue to listen to as many voices in our City as possible to gain insight, ideas, and constructive feedback. Beginning in June the Commission will hold regular Police Commission meetings in each of the four police bureaus. These meetings will be held in the evening, to encourage as much local participation as possible and increasing the possibility for Angelenos to participate in the vital function of citizen oversight. The exact times, dates and locations will be announced shortly.

 

I look forward to those meetings, and the dialogue that will result. The right to self-expression and free speech are fundamental rights and essential in preserving democratic values and promoting the common good. A robust exchange of ideas is necessary to the health of our community.

 

Yet, none of this works without respect for each other. Embracing civility in our discourse allows diverse and impassioned opinions and viewpoints to be considered with respect and due consideration in an inclusive and respectful environment. I have made a commitment to routinely give people — including those who routinely disrupt meetings — more time to have their voice heard, to immediately respond to questions or comments, and to agendize issues that are raised week after week. These include the Department’s process for investigating officer-involved shootings, death notifications, and more.

 

I have also repeatedly offered to meet with the groups who routinely disrupt Commission proceedings. I have established ground rules for those meetings because those groups have shown little interest in conversation. Rather, they have repeatedly opted for disruption, or — in the case of a meeting last year at a house of worship — in outright hostility.

 

We cannot let any obstacles get in the way of the serious work we have left to do. My leadership as president of the Commission is geared toward building on the accomplishments of the last decade. And I am determined to do it in a way that respects, honors, and responds to the sacrifices made by our officers, the pain that is felt in communities of color, and the will of the people of Los Angeles.

 

Our city deserves nothing less.

Category: Opinion

May 05, 2016 

BY JESSE JACKSON 

 

The Flint water crisis is now two years old — and the water still isn’t safe to drink. There have been civil and criminal investigations, two congressional hearings and extensive reporting, particularly during the presidential primary in Michigan. Gov. Rick Snyder appointed a special task force. Yet only 33 pipes — 3 of every thousand — have been replaced.

 

The Obama administration’s limited declaration of emergency was extended for four more months in April, but the administration made it clear no further extensions will be granted. State emergency resources will end at the same time. Residents still depend on bottled water and filters, and they won’t be supplied beyond August. Now residents are not only suffering from the lead poisoning but from depression and anxiety driven by an agony that it seems will never end.

 

Melissa Mays, one of the mothers who forced the exposure of the poisoned water, appeared on my radio show last week. She is sick and tired of being sick and tired.

 

At a demonstration protesting the two-year anniversary of the crisis, she said, “Flint wasn’t a community that was ‘worth going out on a limb for.’

 

“So, our job is to prove them wrong. Our job is to show them we are not going sit down and take this anymore. And you know what, I have been peaceful. I have tried to fight this in the courts, in the labs doing all the things to prove that the water was poisoned. We got that proof. The water is poisoned. And two years later, it is getting worse.

 

“I watched my 13-year-old son damn near pass out today from blood tests looking for bacteria and immune disorders. He’s 13. So, I am reaching my breaking point. I’m tired of being peaceful. I’m tired of being nice. They’re not listening.”

 

The city has gone back on water drawn from Lake Huron, as opposed to the toxic Flint River. But in mid-April, Professor Marc Edwards and the Flint Water Study team at Virginia Tech, the courageous team that helped expose the poisoning, reported that new testing shows Flint’s water remains unsafe to drink.

 

The Flint crisis has led to the exposure of leaded water and aged pipes in other communities in America. But it is clear that Flint paid the price of being poor and largely black.

 

The governor’s own task force concluded: “Flint residents, who are majority Black or African American and among the most impoverished of any metropolitan area in the United States, did not enjoy the same degree of protection from environmental and health hazards as that provided to other communities. Moreover, by virtue of their being subject to emergency management, Flint residents were not provided equal access to, and meaningful involvement in, the government decision-making process.” Now the Michigan Civil Rights Commission is holding its first hearings on the role that discrimination played in the crisis. Some indictments have come down, but the problem isn’t being solved.

 

Gov. Snyder couldn’t find funds in the state to replace the lead pipes exposed by the toxic water. Yet he’s allocated $1.2 million of state funds to pay private attorneys for his criminal defense fund.

 

The residents want action. They need an emergency program to replace the lead pipes. They want an end to the state appointed emergency manager system. It was an unelected emergency manager, with no accountability to the residents of the city, who made the decision to use the toxic Flint River water. And they want Medicare coverage for all those impacted by the poisoning.

 

The latter is not unprecedented. Residents of Libby, Mont., benefitted from a special provision put into law by Sen. Max Baucus that provides full Medicare coverage for every person who was exposed to asbestos poisoning from the mine owned by W.R. Grace & Co. that left hundreds dead and many more sick. The same should be done for the victimized residents of Flint.

 

This country continues to squander billions on failed “nation building” efforts on the other side of the world. We wasted over $2 trillion on the debacle in Iraq that has helped destabilize the greater Middle East. As Flint has revealed, we will face spreading calamities from obsolete water systems, dangerous bridges, crumbling roads, dated and insufficient mass transit. It is time we stop pretending we can police the world and start rebuilding our country here at home.

Category: Opinion

April 28, 2016 

By Marian Wright Edelman 

NNPA News Wire Columnist

 

Every day I wear a pair of medallions around my neck with portraits of two of my role models: Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth. As a child I read books about Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad. She and indomitable and eloquent slave woman Sojourner Truth represent countless thousands of anonymous slave women whose bodies and minds were abused and whose voices were muted by slavery, Jim Crow, segregation and confining gender roles throughout our nation’s history. Although Harriet Tubman could not read books, she could read the stars to find her way north to freedom. And she freed not only herself from slavery, but returned to slave country again and again through forests and streams and across mountains to lead other slaves to freedom at great personal danger. She was tough. She was determined. She was fearless. She was shrewd and she trusted God completely to deliver her, and other fleeing slaves, from pursuing captors who had placed a bounty on her life.

 

“’Twa’nt me. ’Twas the Lord. I always told Him, I trust You. I don’t know where to go or what to do, but I expect You to lead me. And He always did…On my underground railroad, I never ran my train off the track and I never lost a passenger,” she was quoted as saying. No train, bus or airline company can match this former slave woman’s safety record. And few of us could match her faithful partnership with God, determination to be free and willingness to help others to be free without thought about self-sacrifice.

 

Frederick Douglass wrote to Harriet Tubman on August 28, 1868 eloquently summing up her life and that of so many Black women throughout American history: “The difference between us is very marked. Most that I have done and suffered in the service of our cause has been in public, and I have received much encouragement at every step of the way. You, on the other hand, have labored in a private way. I have wrought in the day – you the night. I have had the applause of the crowd and the satisfaction that comes of being approved by the multitude, while the most that you have done has been witnessed by a few trembling, scared, and foot-sore bondmen and women, whom you have led out of the house of bondage, and whose heartfelt ‘God bless you’ has been your only reward. The midnight sky and the silent stars have been the witness of your devotion to freedom.”

 

Now the entire nation will pay public homage to Harriet Tubman’s devotion to freedom, and also honor Sojourner Truth and other great women and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who never stopped demanding and working to assure that America lives up to its declared creed of freedom, life, liberty, pursuit of happiness and equality for all.

 

Kudos to the Treasury Department which has announced that Harriet Tubman’s face will grace the front of the redesigned $20 bill, making her the first woman in more than a century and first African American ever to be represented on the face of an American paper note. And it’s wonderful that she will not be alone. Sojourner Truth and women suffragette activists and leaders will be featured on the back of the $10 bill. Great contralto and opera singer Marian Anderson, for whom I was named and about whom great conductor Arturo Toscanini said “yours is a voice such as one hears once in a hundred years,” will be featured on the back of the $5 bill. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt arranged for Marian Anderson to perform at the Lincoln Memorial before 75,000 in 1939 after the Daughters of the American Revolution refused to let her sing at Constitution Hall because she was not White. Mrs. Roosevelt and Dr. King will grace the back of the $5 bill rounding out the inspiring group of determined moral warriors who expanded the civil and human rights of women, people of color and all of us.

 

Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew said he had an ‘a ha’ moment after recognizing the groundswell of public response to his announcement that the Treasury Department was considering changing the design of the $10 bill. To so many people these new treasury bills will be much more than pieces of paper. For too long and for too many money has been the most powerful symbol of what we value as a nation. Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Marian Anderson, Eleanor Roosevelt, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Alice Paul, Susan B. Anthony, Lucretia Mott, and Martin Luther King, Jr. – their faces on American currency will send powerful messages about what – and who – we Americans are, value and strive to become. The new bills also will powerfully remind all Americans and teach our children and grandchildren that Black history and women’s history are American history. They will take us a giant step forward towards healing our nation’s profoundly crippling birth defects of slavery, Native American genocide, and exclusion of all women and non-propertied men of all races from our electoral process and ensuring full participation in our nation’s life. It is so important to make sure all of our children can see their ancestors pictured on something as basic as the money used every day by countless millions and this will deepen the meaning of how we define success in America.

 

And to Black children who remain the poorest group in America, I hope Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth become anchor reminders of their great heritage of strength, courage, faith and belief in the equality of women and people of every color. None of us must ever give up fighting for freedom and equality and human dignity however tough the road. I hope all of our children and all of us will be inspired anew by our diverse and rich heritages and cultures as Americans and renew our determination to build a level playing field in our nation for every child and help our nation shine a brighter beacon of hope in a world hungering for moral example.

 

Marian Wright Edelman is the president of the Children’s Defense Fund whose Leave No Child Behind® mission is to ensure every child a Healthy Start, a Head Start, a Fair Start, a Safe Start and a Moral Startin life and successful passage to adulthood with the help of caring families and communities. For more information go to www.childrensdefense.org.

Category: Opinion

April 21, 2016 

By Julianne Malveaux 

NNPA News Wire Columnist 

 

The Sewall-Belmont House is located at the National Women’s Party in Washington D.C. It is one of the oldest houses near the United States Capitol, and was the house where Alice Paul wrote the 19th Amendment that granted women the right to vote. On April 12, Equal Pay Day, President Obama designated the house the Belmont-Paul Women’s Equality National Monument. The National Park System will manage the site, and a philanthropist has donated a million dollars to support the site and to provide some restorations to the house.

 

According to the American Association of University Women, a group that promotes equity and education for women and girls, “Equal Pay Day is the symbolic day when women’s earnings “catch up” to men’s earnings from the previous year.”

 

But African American women earn a scant 63 cents to the average dollar a White man earns. A Black woman would have to work until around August 1 to earn as much as a man did in the previous year! As alarming as that fact is, it is equally alarming that few mention Equal Pay Day in a racial context. Ain’t I a woman?

 

It would have meant a lot to some African American women had President Obama mentioned other inequality in passing. It would not have distracted from the important points he made when he designated the new monument. After all, the press release from the White House talked about “America’s diverse history”. The disparate treatment of African American women is certainly part of that history.

 

To be sure, President Obama has done a good job in addressing the issue of equal pay and fair treatment of women in the workplace. His first piece of legislation, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, gave women a longer time to sue for workplace discrimination. He has also created a National Equal Pay Task Force and, through executive order, prohibited federal contractors from discriminating against workers who discuss their pay. In the non-federal workplace, employees can be disciplined, or even fired, if they discuss their pay. Indeed, the reason there are such gaping pay gaps is because there is so little transparency about pay. From legislation he has supported, and discretionary acts he has taken, President Obama would likely do more to close the gender pay gap were there a more cooperative Congress. Clearly, pay equity is not a priority for this Congress.

 

President Obama has been an aggressively pro-family President. From his support of an increased minimum wage, to his advocacy for paid sick leave (including an executive order for federal contractors), to his support for better overtime regulations, the President has strongly supported workplace fairness. It takes nothing from his strong commitment to women, though, to acknowledge that African American women earn less, and that Equal Pay Day comes much later for them (and for Latina women, who would have to work until November 1 to earn the same amount a man earned last year) than it does for other women.

 

Surrounded by three intelligent and beautiful African American women – Michelle, Sasha and Malia – it would be impossible for our President to be unaware of the challenges that African American women face. While I am aware that this President prefers not to deal with race matters, in this last year of his Presidency, he ought to consider doing so. There are few consequences for this action.

 

President Obama does not mind using Black women as a throwaway line in a speech. At his University of Chicago Law School conversation, he defended his nomination of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court. He rather vapidly said that some people expected him to pick a “Black lesbian from Skokie,” a comment I found offensive and condescending. If Black women can be fodder for a silly off-the-cuff remark, surely we ought to get enough serious policy consideration for our pay equity issues to be addressed.

 

August 1 is Equal Pay Day for African American women. We work harder, longer, and for less remuneration than other women do. What are we going to do about it?

 

Julianne Malveaux is an author and economist based in Washington, DC. Her latest book “Are We Better Off? Race, Obama and Public Policy” is available at www.amazon.com and http://www.juliannemalveaux.com.

Category: Opinion

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