By Fidel “Butch” Montoya
One of the most pressing issues facing our cities is the “traditional problem” of community police relationships between minority groups, particularly African Americans and Latinos.
It is a problem that is growing more serious as the relationships continue to grow more desperate and with more open contempt toward the police. In New York City, we have the Sean Bell case where three NYPD officers were acquitted in a criminal court, but now along with four other officers are facing departmental charges of violating internal police rules.
The seven police officers are being charged for violating several departmental rules for misusing their police issued weapon and for failing to follow departmental rules in processing the crime scene.
This after Sean Bell was killed and two of his friends were wounded when 50 shots were fired at the unarmed men celebrating Bell’s upcoming wedding the next day.
In 2002 the United States Department of Justice investigated the Cleveland Police Department over issues of whether police officers engaged in a pattern of “unconstitutional conduct.”
In a subsequent follow up investigation by the Cleveland Plain Dealer from 2003 through 2006, not much had really changed. During that period of time, the newspaper found 4,427 incidents where the CPD reported use of force was used.
The Plain Dealer investigation found the police department reported 4,427 incidents where the use of force was justified. The newspaper did report however, the department found one case where the use of force was “inappropriate.” And that was after “reforms” were put in place.
The Los Angeles Police Department is legendary in the number of Federal Justice Department investigations or internal reviews on police misconduct. Unfortunately it shows how easily these audits can end up on the shelf.
From the corruption of the Rampart Precinct, the Gang Unit, and lack of command and control tactics used in crowd control, such as last year during a peaceful protest that turned violent only after the police department started what I call a “police riot.”
During that riot, police shot rubber bullets and high pressure pepper spray at peaceful demonstrators, including elderly and young children and the news media. To the credit of Chief William Bratton, several high command officers were demoted or chose retirement after a internal investigation.
Chief William Bratton in my opinion is perhaps one of the best police chiefs in the country. He is a very reform and open minded cop who enjoys working with community groups trying to resolve community relationships.
Yet, even with that strong commitment from Bratton, there is more mistrust today and turmoil among many Black and Latino activists in LA who blame the cops for every single act of use of force.
In Denver, developing its own reputation for shooting the unarmed mental health cases and doing a better job of making sure the victims are shot dead after multiple bullets into their bodies.
Two years ago, one police officer actually called for the fire department so they could use the ladder to make sure a suspect was not in the housing development. Fortunately for the suspect, he was gone, unfortunately for an elderly Latino gentleman drinking from a Pepsi can in his bed, and was shot dead because the officer thought the can was a gun.
A year before that, police shot and killed a young Black man who wielded a large knife “and lunged at the officer” and was shot dead. The family had called police because they could not control the 15 year old who had a history of mental illness.
Last week, after a Latino gentleman – apparently drunk, angry, diabetic, and who had cut a large gash in his arm, showed up at a confirmation party for his daughter, and then left the scene after the police showed up.
They insisted on calling the suspect back to the scene, where his neighbor stood between him and the police pleading with the police to stop the shooting of rubber bullets, tasher shots, and pepper spray at the suspect and at himself.
In the end, the victim was shot at least 8 times…dead in front of his family, friends and neighbors.
A week before, after police chased a young Latino teenager on the north side of Denver, no reason given, but after the officer caught the teen, jumped up and down on the back of the teenager, seriously injuring the teenager’s back,lacerating his liver, and causing serious kidneys injuries.
And we wonder why the Latino and Black clergy are up in arms in Denver. There has been no public comment from Mayor Hickenlooper, Manager of Safety Al LaCabe, or Chief of Police Whitman about either case.
At least Bratton has condemned police misconduct in his department repeatedly when he has seen it, and in the opinion of many leaders in the Denver community, which is what happened in both incidents without a single word of public condemnation or concern about the misconduct.
Last weekend in Denver/Aurora alone there were 7 gang related and police shootings.
Unless the Mayor, Police Manager, and Police Chief take control of the community discussion, it is going to be a long hot summer in Denver and in other cities across the USA where government leaders ignore the cries of injustice.
In Denver, Black and Latino clergy are demanding to speak with the Mayor, and thus far, this mayor is content to hide behind his 70% approval ratings, forgetting his city is made of up of 36% Latinos, and 20% Black populations.
As MLK said, "We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people."
Which person are you….the silent….or the bad?
Fidel “Butch” Montoya
H. S. Power & Light Ministries – Latino Faith Initiative
Denver, Colorado 80212