The City of Inglewood's reaction to last year's spate of killings by Inglewood Police was overwhelmingly underwhelming. Protests were initiated by outsiders, not Inglewood residents who seemed less than outraged. (Are manicured lawns a higher priority than the tragic loss of human life?) self-serving leadership and residents' indifference is a lethal combination.
Since the killings, Mayor Roosevelt Dorn and the City Council sit in wooden silence, providing virtually no leadership on this pressing issue. Apparently, the Council feels that for them to say anything at all about the killings is "irresponsible." This shortsightedness is exactly the opposite of what is needed, i.e., informed, sensitive leadership that instills confidence in constituents. Most people understand the Council cannot discuss or disclose confidential information, but to embargo any reference to the killings at the Council table pending completion of the investigations fuels suspicion about its motive. Hopefully, Inglewood residents will, at some point, become sufficiently dissatisfied to behave differently and demand strict accountability from their elected officials.
Dorn's assertion that the City Council must adhere to the Office of Independent Review's recommendations is pure nonsense-it can accept or reject any or all of OIR's findings or recommendations. It could be a ploy to absolve him and the Council of responsibility to assume the political risks necessary to effectively deal with the problem and Dorn is known for self-serving obfuscation.
Substantial commercial development in Inglewood in recent years is positive, but more shopping centers-do not, ipso facto, enhance residents' quality of life. Until civic responsibility and even more important, civility and mutual respect, are the norm in Inglewood, existing political and ethical practices will continue. Actual change means elected officials must be constituent oriented first. (Values are the core of the problem, but years of conditioning have taken a toll and Blacks especially, have internalized values inimical to their own best interests.) Inglewood is a prime example, and reversing such conditioning is a daunting, transformative process.
The city council's hiring the Office of Independent Review (OIR) was positive, but given an atavistic mayor and city council, more of the same self-serving decisions is inevitable. Unless and until residents demand non-discriminatory policies and practices, as well as greater accountability, the Inglewood Police Department (IPD) will not change substantively.
Thus far, Police Chief Jacqueline Seabrooks is perceived as both an asset and a liability. Clearly, she inherited a long-simmering mess and, as a female in a male (macho) dominated field, her job is even more challenging. Nonetheless, Seabrooks' propensity for whitewashing the department's problems is of some concern. And many have difficulty getting past her notoriously inept response when informed of 19-year-old Michael Byoune's having been shot by Inglewood cops: she told the LA Times reporter who called her that weekend that she did business during the week, or something to that effect; a troubling response. (Recently, on a local radio station, Chief Seabrooks mentioned that OIR's report may be released within a month or so.)
Last year, on July 28th and again on September 2nd after four fatal officer-involved shootings in four months, Congresswoman Maxine Waters wrote to the U.S. Attorney General requesting an investigation of allegations of misconduct by IPD. On December 23rd Ms. Waters reiterated her request to investigate IPD, "…..to determine whether there is a pattern and practice of discriminatory conduct or violations of federal civil rights or federal criminal laws. Adding, "With your tenure soon coming to a close, my constituents still need to know the status of any investigation and, most importantly, that laws will be enforced fairly and promptly." She also said the Attorney General's failure to respond "…raises disturbing questions about the effectiveness of leadership at the Department."
Shoddy leadership contributed to the general silence that engulfed last year's police killings. The mayor and majority of the City Council still seem more concerned with soft-peddling the allegations of police misconduct than providing or encouraging straightforward discourse on the issue. Legal and/or procedural constraints do not foreclose useful explanation; the city council could have called for on-going dialogue as one means of ameliorating a highly volatile situation.
Inglewood residents' propensity to uncritically accept City Council decisions contributed to what amounted to an unofficially sanctioned code of silence by the Council. Giving the City Council carte blanche at times such as this, results in decisions inimical to constituents' interests. While there are no panaceas and transparency is imperative, sustainable change within IPD requires ongoing community pressure.
An effective police department, respectful of those it serves, is the uncompromising, intractable goal and Inglewood residents should settle for no less.
Larry Aubry can be contacted at e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.