Five before Midnight

This site is dedicated to the continuous oversight of the Riverside(CA)Police Department, which was formerly overseen by the state attorney general. This blog will hopefully play that role being free of City Hall's micromanagement.
"The horror of that moment," the King went on, "I shall never, never forget." "You will though," the Queen said, "if you don't make a memorandum of it." --Lewis Carroll


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Location: RiverCity, Inland Empire

Sunday, December 17, 2006

"It's just a joke." and other excuses

VideoGate continues in San Francisco

Up to 35 San Francisco Police Department officers will be disciplined for their participation in a series of videos and could receive anything from written reprimends to 10-day suspensions. Seven could face termination. This scandal broke about a year ago, after videos surfaced on the internet created by police officers and were viewed by many as being racist, sexist and homophobic in their content.


Chief Heather Fong, SFPD: "When officers come to work, their job is to perform the functions and responsibilities of their responsive positions. And when they are at work and engaged in activity that is not consistent with the duties that they have chosen to engage in, in terms of protecting the public, that is a problem. I don't expect officers to come to work and spend time doing things that are not work related. I don't believe that the public expects that either."

The officers involved in the Bay Area’s version of VideoGate defended their actions calling them an “inside joke”. As far as excuses go, this oft-used and very handy one used by those who engage in racist, sexist and homophobic behavior is truly pathetic.

It serves merely as an extension of the “lighten up, can’t you take a joke” attitude that men of color, women, gays and lesbians hear from those who tell jokes that are at their expense. Excuses like these also are made to try to keep individuals from asking why it is that these police officers, along with countless others from other law enforcement agencies, express their humor along racist, sexist and homophobic lines in the first place. The fact that law enforcement officers are calling these videos an "inside joke" is proof that it is their department's culture and how it views race, gender and sexual orientation which drives them to express themselves in this way.

Humor is the mirror into a person's soul, so often any racism, sexism or homophobia that rests there will be manifested through jokes like the following:

"What's the difference between a Jew and a pizza? A Jew screams when you put it in the oven."

--Riverside Police Department, 1990s.

"That's what they get for hiring the handicapped."

--Riverside County Sheriff's Department, 1990. It was made by a deputy who was responding to an apology that his breakfast order was delayed. The cooks were all Latino. The use of humor that ties in people of color with the disabled(as if they are two discrete categories that don't intersect) with the intent by those who make the jokes to denigrate both is worthy of its own discussion. See the term, "Jerry's kids" that was commonplace in the Riverside Police Department from 1999.

"If it will make them feel better, tell them we shot here with black bullets."

---Riverside Police Department, 1998 allegedly spoken by Sgt. Gregory Preece to Officer David Hackman after the shooting death of Tyisha Miller.

"NPI, my brother,"

---Riverside Police Department, 1998 allegedly said by Officer David Hackman in response to Preece's "black bullets" comment. "NPI" means "no person involved" and is often said by law enforcement officers in response to the death of a person of color

"The only way Native Americans will see law enforcement is from a jail cell."

--Riverside Police Department, 2000, after other comments about taking liquor to a career fear at a federal Indian school in Riverside, to "soften" them up.

"Women with small breasts love me because I fuck them so hard, their boobs pop out."

---Riverside Police Department, 2003 out in the field

"This is like living under the Third Reich"

---San Jacinto Police Department officer to two Riverside County Sheriff's Department deputies stationed in Perris, 2003 at a diversity training class, to ridicule a presentation on hate crimes given by a representative from the Anti-Defamation League.

Whether it is dressing in blackface and afro wigs and participating in racist floats in Queens, New York or making racist comments and jokes after an officer-involved shooting of a Black woman in Riverside, California, these jokes seem to be part and parcel of what experts refer to as “police culture”. What’s ironic is that even after engaging in this behavior or defending those who do even if it is only through their silence, many police officers then scratch their heads and wonder why it is that men of color, women, gays and lesbians do not trust them or their intentions. They wonder why men and women of color show up by the hundreds or the thousands and march in protest of shootings or incidents of alleged misconduct against individuals in their communities. The fact that many of them still wonder shows how much more insulated police culture has become in many law enforcement agencies.

At the same time many of the comments and jokes were being made in the RPD, State Attorney General Bill Lockyer, whose office investigated the agency, had this to say about what was going on in the department:

"I decided there were systemic problems with the Riverside Police Department," Lockyer said.

"There were a lot of instances in which African-Americans were beaten, Hispanics beaten and tossed in the lake, and Gays and Lesbians harassed and beaten."

During the same time period, that Riverside County Sheriff deputy made references to Latino men being "handicapped" to two other deputies who laughed in response, the same was said to be happening to Latino men and women including one video-taped incident in 1996 which made international news. More video-taped incidents of deputies beating and kicking Latinos including one taken near Temecula would follow. Often words said as a joke from one officer to another or others can and often do translate into actions by those in that agency against the butts of those same comments, "inside" jokes and yes, videos. And often, it is when controversial incidents of alleged police conduct occur that the existence of this humor and the belief systems which manifest it first comes to light, from underneath the rocks and behind the dark corners. Then, the agency's management which often ignored this behavior for years is left to explain it.

Not every law enforcement officer in every law enforcement agency engages in making racist, sexist and homophobic comments and jokes. But most of these officers do hear jokes being made, as was evident by the testimony given by RPD officers of all races on this subject during the trial involving Officer Roger Suttons' racial discrimination, harassment and retaliation law suit last year. How do these officers respond? Do they tell those who do make these jokes that the comments are offensive to them and to knock it off? Do they listen in silence, and make similar comments inside their heads? Do they laugh along with the jokes, like the deputies mentioned above did, in two circumstances including once at a diversity seminar which makes you wonder how they behave in private.

And how does management handle this situation? Do they act like Fong did, with some understanding that jokes, comments and offensive videos can undermine the often tenuous relationship between straight people of color and gays and lesbians and place the entire agency in a bad light? Do they understand that jokes, comments and videos that are racist, sexist and homophobic often make the work of building bridges with these communities more difficult? Do they ignore this conduct except when expectations are made that they do act by others? Do they say one thing in public and practice another in private? What do they do?

Kudoes to Fong. Here is a police chief who stands up to this odious behavior and the culture which spawned it, even at considerable political risk to herself especially since she is a woman of color in a profession dominated by White men especially at its top. Too often police chiefs bow to the pressure placed on them by the employees they have been charged to lead and do nothing, except talk in general about how appalling this behavior is and make vague promises about cultural sensitivity training. However, here is a chief who decided that enough was enough and did what needed to be done.

And you can bet that she probably won’t be handing out awards to them a few months down the line either.

Chief Heather Fong bio

The father of Sean Bell, 23, who was shot and killed by five New York City Police Department officers on Nov. 25 in Queens has spoken out. William Bell joined the chorus of people asking for the ouster of NYPD commissioner Raymond Kelly as well as an independent investigation of his son’s death.

Newsday: Bell’s father speaks out


“We just want justice for our son," he told reporters, his eyes shielded behind dark glasses.

His appearance came after a march and rally that drew thousands of protesters to 5th Avenue, where they participated in a “silent march” led by community and religious leaders.

New “York Daily News: Thousands rally against shooting


Rev. Al Sharpton led the march along with Bell’s family including his friend, Trent Benefield, who marched by wheel chair due to injuries suffered in the shooting.

“Some people thought it more important to stand with the families of the victims on this Saturday than to give Santa Claus some money," Sharpton said shortly before the march began.
"Unless Santa Claus got some justice, we don't need Santa Claus."

The march had some critics.


"Sharpton's march is intended to deny the officers involved their civil rights," said Detectives' Endowment Association President Michael Palladino. "He's trying to convict them in his own kangaroo court. He should just let the investigation proceed."

More on Stanley Rubenstein, the lawyer who represents Bell's family and both Benefield and Joseph Guzman, who were wounded in the shooting, including his comments on the alleged "fourth man", the subject of a manhunt in Queens by the department's ahem, internal affairs division.

Michael Daly, of the New York Daily News in his column, Amid anger, a 'regal' presence writes about Nichole Paultre-Bell's grace under pressure, including at Saturday's march and rally. On her left finger, was the gold band that Bell would have placed on her finger. It had been found along with its mate inside the bullet-ridden vehicle by police officers. The rings were delivered to her after she had requested them from the department. Now, she wears one, the other she placed on her fiance's finger as he lay in his coffin.


When the tensions were mounting and passions were rising, this woman who had lost more than anybody went on television with words that leave every peace-loving soul in this city in her lasting debt. She said that her overall view of the police had not changed, that she did not hold every cop responsible, that she still believed justice would prevail.

"I'm really not angry," she said. "I'm more just trying to be strong and we just want justice. ... That's what we're praying for."

Prayer will have to help, as for her and her family the most difficult days still lie ahead.


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