Armenian Police Chief made public stand against ‘historical injustice’
It’s trite to compare the atrocity of slavery in America to our nation’s police departments’ treatment of African Americans, but recently appointed Pasadena City Manager Bernard K. Melekian was the first police chief to publicly apologize to the Black community about law enforcement’s pattern of abuse and racism.
Melekian, who is not Black, has been Pasadena Police Chief since 1996 and also served as the city’s acting fire chief in 1998 and will assume an even larger role with Pasadena when he officially becomes the interim city manager effective Jan. 8, 2008.
The Pasadena City Council made the appointment recently when Cynthia J. Kurtz announced that she would step down from the post to accept a position to join a Pasadena-based consulting firm.
Members of the African American community and city council praised the appointment of Melekian, boasting about his civic work and his commitment to the city of Pasadena.
“He’s been a very good police chief and is well known within the community and the city could not have chosen a better person,” said activist Georgia Holloway.
Recently elected Black Pasadena City Councilwoman Jacque Robinson echoed those sentiments of a man who throughout his career has been consider as firm, but fair to all ethnic groups.
“The City Council made a unanimous decision in selecting Police Chief Melekian so I think that in itself speaks volumes for the level of respect that he has in the city of Pasadena,” said Councilwoman Robinson.
Veteran City Councilman Chris Holden credited Melekian for being well respected and well known throughout not just Pasadena, but other communities as well.
“He’s a solid manager who knows how to bring out the best in his subordinates and that will be good for the city,” Councilman Holden told the Sentinel.
Melekian, who is Armenian, is a descendent of genocide and was reared in Oklahoma by a father who was a member and attended meetings of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
In 2004 he made the public apology to the Black community for what he called, “an historical injustice.”
“It was time to do that because if we didn’t do that we were never going to build and move forward as a society and the police have been critical in that role previously,” Melekian told the Sentinel.
Asked if he thought we have moved forward as a society, he diligently selected his words before answering, “I think that history will have to be the judge of that. I think that in Pasadena we have, but I never had any illusion that somehow one police chief would remove 300 years of injustice standing up and saying I’m sorry.”
Melikian has appointed 25-year Pasadena Police veteran Chris Vicino to serve as acting chief when he takes over as city manager next year, and he says that he will make any changes that he deems necessary in his new post.
“I will let the council exercise their will in this matter and I intend to do my job,” he said.
Melekian was asked how could one person in one city help improve upon the racism that inflicts the nation that we live in and before answering he took a long deep sigh before responding.
“I think that as one person in one position all you can do is the best that you can, which is to acknowledge the past and not repeat those actions in the future. You have to be sensitive to the fact that people who have been victims of those injustices may be suspicious of government and authority in power and I think you have to be mindful of that,” Melekian added.
He’s one man in one city and for Pasadena to have him, they must feel very fortunate.