Last week’s Inglewood City Council meeting was packed, even the overflow room overflowed. The large crowd, rare except after a crisis, consisted of Inglewood residents, concerned others, and grieving relatives and friends of slain postal worker, 38-year-old Kevin Wicks. He is the third Black man killed by Inglewood Police in the last ten weeks and outraged residents are demanding answers from Police chief, Jacqueline Seabrooks, Mayor Roosevelt Dorn and the City Council.
Four Inglewood police officers responded to a domestic violence call in Kevin Wicks’ apartment building at approximately 12:30 A.M. There’s confusion about whether the disturbance was in Wicks’ apartment, but officers ended up knocking on his door. One of them, Brian Ragan, was still under investigation for killing unarmed 19-year-old Michael Byoune on May 11th.
Speakers at the City Council meeting were incensed over Ragan being returned to duty so soon after Michael Byoune’s killing; some blamed Chief Seabrooks, others even called for her resignation. Critics were disturbed by her comment shortly after Byoune’s killing: Incredulously, Chief Seabrooks said she should not be contacted on a non-business day, hardly instilling confidence in her leadership. She also pledged the Byoune’s investigation would be transparent; many consider Officer Ragan’s return to duty a violation of that pledge. (The L.A. Times also criticized Seabrooks’ leadership, urging that she, “take a page from Los Angeles Police Chief William Bratton’s “book,” and be more responsive to crises-a dubious suggestion for those who don’t believe Bratton’s “book” benefits Blacks.)
The police account is that Kevin Wicks answered the door holding a handgun that he suddenly “raised” at the officers and was shot by Officer Ragan who “feared for his life.” (Wicks is described as quiet, gentle, and intelligent, and those who knew him well say it is inconceivable that he would jeopardize his life by pointing a gun at the police officers.
Mayor Dorn and the City Council have also been criticized for ineffective, self-serving leadership. They rejected recommendations for strong citizen police monitoring, adopting instead, a toothless Citizen Police Oversight Commission whose purpose and authority are vague. Commission members themselves are not clear about either their role or scope of responsibility; the “Independent Investigator” is a police captain, virtually obliterating an image of fairness. Sadly, the Commission is a farce and can neither speak nor act independently. Many see this as tantamount to fraud orchestrated by the Mayor and City Council.
The Inglewood Police Department, like virtually all others, has residual racism reflected in an “us vs. them” culture that is highly resistive to change. Different mindsets and comprehensive community-oriented strategies are key ingredients for achieving sustainable solutions.
Residents must demand that the City Council bring in an outside, impartial body such as the State Attorney General’s office or U.S. Justice Department, to conduct a thorough, impartial investigation of recent police killings as well as the police department’s overall operations.
Police abuse, including the ultimate abuse-unjustified killing of Black people- has become the terrible norm in urban areas and Blacks and others of color remain the prime targets. Hopefully, the recent spate of police killings in Inglewood will illuminate the need for serious, sustained attention and resources sufficient to solve this embedded, systemic problem.
Community outrage typically dissipates shortly after a crisis and follow-up is usually poor or non-existent. Without sustained community pressure on public decision-makers, we will witness this same dysfunctional pattern that perpetuates the status quo.
Theoretically, Inglewood has a better chance for meaningful change than say Los Angeles, if for no other reason than it has only a fraction of Los Angeles’ population and related complexities. However, police issues are fundamentally the same in both cities-authoritarian decision-making and fear-driven practices that morph into self-fulfilling prophecies. Meaningful change will happen when a concerned citizenry settles for no less.
Inglewood residents, by and large, have not been sufficiently dissatisfied to hold their public officials accountable and are paying the price. They have relied on officials whose primary agendas were, and are, not necessarily in the public’s best interest. Residents must demand, and receive, effective leadership, starting with the police chief, mayor and city council. This means courageous, community-oriented leaders-a sea change from the current leadership model. If current leaders are not up to the task, they should leave voluntarily or be ousted.
Larry Aubry can be contacted at e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org