Here we go again. Another Black man was recently killed by Inglewood Police under questionable circumstances. This is the fifth such killing in a year’s time, and people are demanding answers from Police Chief Jacqueline Seabrooks, Mayor Roosevelt and the City Council. Apparently, the enormity of the cumulative effect of these killings escapes the elected officials; as of this writing they have said nothing about the killings, leaving the public to interpret their silence. (Four separate investigations of the Inglewood Police Department (IPD) have yet to be completed, more on this later.)
Inglewood residents’ outrage usually evaporates when the media leaves-and police continue their abusive practices with impunity. The morbid police-residents stand-off remains unchecked. (In nearby Los Angeles, Police Chief William Bratton, like Inglewood officials, cites glowing crime and violence reduction statistics but tend to minimize continuing violence and police abuse in both cities.)
Distrust and fear still figure prominently in Inglewood cops’ propensity to shoot before properly assessing the situation. This virtually ensures that many, if not most, cops will not make appropriate judgments in life-threatening situations. It also underscores a need for community-oriented officers capable of dealing with Blacks and Latinos fairly. California’s Police Officers Bill of Rights makes it next to impossible to convict a police officer of a serious crime. (No LAPD officer has been convicted of killing a Black person in recent memory.)
Inglewood Police have now killed five men in the past year. 20008: Nineteen-year-old unarmed Michael Byoune, May 11; Ruben Walton Ortega, July 1; Kevin Wicks, July21; and Eddie Felix Franco, August 31. In each case the police version is disputed by some witnesses.
In the early morning hours, May 17, (2009), 31 year-old Marcus Smith was leaving a party and, according to his fiancÅ½, slipped as they walked down a stairway after Inglewood Police ordered guests to disperse. She said that, to her knowledge, Smith did not brandish a weapon but was not certain whether he was armed or owned a gun. She said Smith had his hands up in the air and then she saw his body jerk as police bullets struck him.
IPD released a statement that there was an officer-involved shooting and the suspect was killed and an officer injured. A police spokesman later said that that suspect had a loaded semi-automatic handgun. His fiancÅ½ said she and Mr. Smith had been together for seventeen years and have three daughters, all under the age of 12.
Four separate investigations of IPD have been underway for months by the Office of Independent Review (OIR), LA County District Attorney, U.S. Justice Department and an IPD administrative probe. Months ago, the OIR indicated its investigation was all but complete and would be given to the Council shortly. Until these investigations are completed and made public, they are increasing distrust of IPD and the City Council.
Inglewood’s Citizen Police Review Commission has no authority. If the City Council had really been serious about police reform–and gaining the respect of Inglewood residents–it would have strengthened the commission that presumably, was formed to increase transparency and citizen participation in assessing and processing complaints against police officers. Hopefully, at least one of the investigating bodies will recommend an elected civilian police commission with appropriate oversight authority.
Inglewood residents should be outraged over the pattern of police killings. IPD has been reluctant to enlist community support, a residual racist culture within IPD still exists, and residents’ tendency to slip from outrage to silence all need fixing. New thinking, strategies, and performance standards for policy makers, as well as rank-and-file police officers are vital.
An additional aggravating spin-off in the cop killings are self-serving, self-anointed pundits who scream the loudest but are nowhere in sight after the media leaves. They not only do a disservice to those seeking sustainable solutions, but as egregious, exploit the emotional trauma of the families of those killed. These grandstanders offer false hope but leave as quickly as they appear with no public outrage of their exploited behavior.
The pattern of pre-emptive shootings of suspects by IPD is unacceptable; this insidious propensity reflects the need for actual reform throughout the organization. Inglewood residents should settle for no less than sustainable change that protects and serves their best interests.
Larry Aubry can be contacted at e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.