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Are We One Community or Two Communities in the Eyes of the Police?

Pasadena's All Saints Church, through its Office of Creative Connections headed by Lorna Miller, reached out to a concerned community by hosting "City Conversations" on Thursday, March 26. Rev. Ed Bacon opened the meeting with remarks to the large and diverse crowd that we are one community. The vision of "City Conversations" is that we are a community absent of structural racism where public policies and institutional practices benefit all people of the community equally.

The shooting death of Leroy Barnes, Jr. by Pasadena Police officers on February 19th moved the conversation from a historic view of racism in Pasadena to a more current discussion of officer-involved shootings.

The family of Leroy Barnes, Jr. was represented by his father, Leroy Barnes, Sr. and his mother, Patricia Lee, as well as Detrick Bright, and other family members. Numerous city leaders and activists were also present including Joe Brown, President of the NAACP, Pasadena Councilmembers Jacque Robinson and Sid Tyler, Vannia de la Cuba, Field Representative for Councilmember Victor Gordon and representatives of the League of Women Voters-Pasadena Area, the YWCA Pasadena-Foothills, Moms on the Move, and ACLU Police Practices Committee Chair, Martin Gordon.

A distinguished panel of Bernard Melekian, Chief of Pasadena Police; Kevin Uhrich Editor of the Pasadena Weekly; and Michelle White, President of the local American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) chapter was assembled. Brian Biery of Northwest ECHO Program served as the moderator while the facilitator was Dr. Valerie Batts of Visions, Inc.

Each panelist made an in-depth opening statement and then responded to questions having to do with the role of their organization when there is an officer-involved shooting and secondly, they addressed the 125-page Police Assessment Resource Center (PARC) Report, "Assessing Police-Community Relations in Pasadena, CA" published in August of 2006. One finding of the PARC report was "our results show that all racial and ethnic minority groups were significantly more likely than Anglos to perceive police misconduct as a problem."

Chief Melekian offered his sympathy to the Barnes family for their loss; he also expressed regret about the initial misstatements which led to questions about the integrity and credibility of the Pasadena Police Department. Chief Melekian carefully detailed the process to date of the various levels of investigations and announced that within 10 days there should be a preliminary report of the Barnes shooting death. The Los Angeles County Coroner has been asked to withhold their findings until the Pasadena Police Department is ready to release their report on the Leroy Barnes shooting death.

Editor Kevin Uhrich spoke about the public information statues, state and federal, and the duty of the press to seek the truth. He had praise for his reporters, pointing out Andre Coleman who was present. Kevin noted that the Christopher Commission was formed in July of 1991 in the wake of the Rodney King beating and the allegations of excess force. A standard of accountability was called for then as it is called for now as the number of officer-involved shootings escalate. At times the comments seemed to be a repeat of the 2004 officer-involved fatal shooting death of Maurice Clark that resulted in a major lawsuit and the later publication of the PARC Report.

Protecting our civil rights and the Constitution is what the ACLU does as explained by Michelle White. The ACLU has called for an independent investigation of the Barnes shooting death as well as the creation of a Civilian Citizen Review Commission. The ACLU has been joined by several Pasadena organizations concerned about the Pasadena police investigating themselves when there is a shooting and alleged Police misconduct.

Issues discussed stressed the need to change the "Three Strikes Law," the monitoring and treatment of parolees, the complaint-filing process offered by ACLU, that 40% of the officers on the beat have three years or less experience, the lack of African-American police recruits, plus key training issues for new officers to the Pasadena Police force including cultural competence and awareness of a community where they probably do not reside.

The question remains "Are we one community or are we two Pasadenas?"

 

Publisher's Postscript:

On Tuesday, March 31, the Pasadena Star News reported that the shooting of Barnes was justified.

In a Press Conference held on March 31, the Pasadena Police Department reported that after Leroy Barnes was shot by the Pasadena Police in the back seat of the car he was riding in, he stepped out of the car with a gun in his hand.

This incredible occurence seems to set up the defense of what the two unnamed police officers did to cause what the Department calls justifiable killing of Leroy Barnes.

The Department will turn their report over to the District Attorney and FBI for further investigation.

 

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