“Trust is the Issue” was one of our rallying cries at the City Council’s Rules Committee meeting Wednesday.
And the committee came through, voting 3-2 to pass the idea of creating a Commission on Police Practices on to the full Council.
That sounds hopeful to me but trying to build trust with the police in San Diego, for communities of color, has been like trying to assemble a jigsaw puzzle. One with too many pieces – due to years of bad history.
My own history with the San Diego police goes back to when I arrived in town in 1962, my first Sunday here, shooting hoops with some guys at Mountain View Park until a few cops barge in on our fun: “Looking for some burglars.”
I don’t know how many times they’ve rolled up on me like that, coming out of nowhere, crushing my day just because I was being myself: Black.
Such behavior does not inspire trust, believe me. From where I’ve sat I’ve never seen the city and the police really work to outlaw this kind of behavior by the members of the force.
I can speak personally to that as I will always remember when a number of police officers drew their guns on me one evening, thinking I might be a suspect in a shooting downtown who was believed to be living in my apartment complex.
A fair person might say “What’s a poor cop to do?” Well, if I had been a police officer the first thing I would have done after seeing that the person they had surrounded was 6-foot-5 and fit with the complexion of a Hershey Candy Bar and the suspect we were hunting practically looked like the Pillsbury Doughboy in both size and color – I would have said: “Put your guns away! Wrong man!”
Instead they had me in a situation where if I had as much as sneezed, or lost my balance, or made any kind of quick sudden move, a coroner would have been pulling bullets out of my hide.
Bill Kolender, the Chief of Police at the time, handled my heartfelt complaint as casual as Dean Martin would croon “That’s Amore” with a drink in one hand and a cigarette in the other hand.
Well, I fared better than two black kids who are part of local police history: Barry Preston, Jr., the son of a childhood friend of mine, and Tyrone Thomas.
Barry was choked to death by the police in the back seat of a patrol car because he was “getting out of hand” wrecking city property…
A few of us in the community voiced concerns but there wasn’t an interested ear anywhere to be found downtown at City Hall or at the old Market Street police station.
Tyrone was said to be a junkie, and cops used him as their flunky, their snitch, and one day he didn’t want to cooperate and they decided to shake him down and, in the process, he, unarmed, was hit over the head with a revolver that goes off and blows him away ….
Regarding that, a cub reporter on a police beat in a book written by the comedy troupe, “Culture Clash,” says, shaking, because he’s had enough of such behavior, “Who cries for Tyrone the junkie?”
The reporter then says: “I eventually had to get off the police beat because I couldn’t distinguish the good guys from the bad guys!”
Back then I ended a poem that was written for a meeting in the community concerning Tyrone with:
When are we,
members of our society
to be accepted as non-adversaries
in this land of the free?
We huffed and puffed and when we quieted, after a while, life went on in “America’s Finest City.”
But I think we’re truly on to something now, a chance to obtain reasonable oversight over our police department so that we can help them better distinguish the good guys from the bad guys – something sorely needed in these times when our country is in crisis when it comes to human relations, race relations, more specifically.
The Rules Committee has taken a wonderful step forward and now it’s up to the full City Council to get the proposal regarding Police Practices on the ballot for the November 2018 Election.
I’d like to trust them, but I know that up to now they’ve never taken police accountability seriously.
And I try very hard not to reduce matters down to Democrats and Republicans and all that, but I’m very bothered that two members of the Rules Committee, Chris Cate and Mark Kersey, both Republicans, opposed sending the proposal to the full City Council.
I don’t see how this has anything to do with liberalism or conservatism because it’s about humanism, about taking care of a citizenry’s needs, about finding rational ways to solve our human problems.
So I don’t understand how these two men could have sat at the meeting listening to the soulful personal testimonies that I heard, and not be moved to, at least, “Let the People Vote,” our other rallying cry.
I can only assume that based on how Republicans, when it comes to matters of the heart, are acting in the White House and in the Senate and Congress, they, like them, just don’t care.
But I hope they assess their lack of integrity and along with their other two party members, Lorie Zapf and Scott Sherman, do the right thing: Support giving people a say in how their police department treats all citizens.
They could be instrumental in putting in place what has been needed for so long in San Diego, a good trusting relationship between a city and its police department — the heretofore missing pieces of what’s seemed like a jigsaw puzzle.
We can become a city that values all of its citizens.