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

Monday, January 15, 2007

What would MLK, jr. think: City Hall

Hundreds of men, women and children braved the icy weather and walked in celebration of the life and death of Martin Luther King, jr. who had once planned to march alongside city employees in Memphis, Tennessee before his assassination in 1968. Nearly 40 years later, what would King, jr. think of the city of Riverside, which has shown at least four Black and Latino city employees who worked inside City Hall the door just in the past two years?

Is the inside of City Hall as chilly to employees of color as the outdoor weather was to anyone who walked out in it yesterday?

Mayor Ron Loveridge gave a speech at City Hall, with the emphasis on what a great visionary Martin Luther King, jr. had been. He espoused how at the dedication of the statue which stood behind him, King's daughter, Yolanda, had said that the statue erected in Riverside was the best looking of its kind, in the entire country.

Not that it's not impressive to look at, a vision of King, jr. walking with two young children, wearing a robe with snapshots of his life etched on it in great detail. His meeting with Mahatma Gandhi and his marchs from Selma to Birmingham, Alabama are included in this vivid tapestry. But why is this rendition of King, jr. standing only feet away from a building where many believe a whitewashing of management may be taking place?

Loveridge didn't discuss the problems with racism in the city. He hardly ever does, even as Black and Latino employees who work for the city feel more vulnerable than they ever have under previous mayors and city councils.

The city has long had an uneasy relationship with the legacy of King, jr. even though a major street is named after him. In 1998, White individuals from the Orangecrest neighborhood appeared at a school board meeting to protest against its plans to name a new high school in that neighborhood after King, jr. in part because individuals feared that college admission directors would not accept their kids into their schools if they believed they went to a "Black" high school. But city officials still love to talk about what a great civil rights leader King, jr. was on the day set aside to honor him, even though days earlier another Black city employee has left City Hall under questionable circumstances.

"We are really hear to talk about unity and justice," Loveridge said.

Many who listened to his words found them ironic in the face of the disappearances of men and women of color who worked in upper management positions at City Hall. All of them left or were fired after Hudson was hired by the city council in 2005. More than one candle light vigil had taken place on the steps of City Hall when yet another Black or Latino employee had left City Hall. Just as they had been held along with much louder rallies in support of the six Black employees who had filed a racial discrimination, harassment and retaliation law suit against the city in U.S. District Court.

That law suit had been filed in 1997 but the incidents described in it began in the late 1980s, with two men Rommel Dunbar and Anthony Joyner stating that when they had worked in the public work's department's corporate yard, they had been subjected to effagies of Black dolls and KKK and other racist language spraypainted on bathroom walls. Feces were smeared on their vehicles and in one incident, Dunbar was assaulted by White male employees after trying to clean racist graffitti off of a wall.

Originally, at least 17 city employees who represented city departments including the city attorney's office, Human Resources, Park and Recreation, Streets and buildings, public utilities and public works were included in the law suit, but the numbers were reduced through the years, especially as the law suit spent nearly two years awaiting a ruling from then Judge Robert Timlin on a summary judgement motion filed by the city against two employees, Gregory Hagans and Jerry Arline. Timlin finally made up his mind what to do, not long before he left the bench.

Timlin decided in favor of the city in the case of Hagans, but decided that Arline's case should go to trial. Soon after, the city settled with all of the remaining plaintiffs, in part because of political pressure put on them by organizations including the NAACP and SCLC, which King, jr. had been an active member of when he was alive.

Law suits and discrimination claims were filed by two Riverside Police Department officers in 1999, one who was Black, the other Latino. One of them, Officer Roger Sutton took his case in front of a jury and received from that jury, $1.65 million in return. Not exactly an endorsement of employment practices in the police department and in the city. The other, former Officer Rene Rodriguez took his grievances to a national audience by appearing with the the late Ed Bradley on 60 Minutes in August 1999, the same month Sutton had filed his law suit in Riverside County Superior Court.

Community leaders involved themselves further on these issues, especially when the employees in City Hall started getting fired or leaving including the following.

Current Roster(subject to change):

Jim Smith, African-American who served as the city's budget director before being promoted to Interim Asst. City Manager under Interim City Manager Tom Evans. When Brad Hudson was hired as city manager, Smith was demoted back to being budget director while a White male employee he once supervised, Paul Sundeen was promoted into the more permanent version of his position.

Smith had the added indignity of being paraded in front of city council as an example of how the city valued diversity. One councilman said that if the city hadn't valued diversity, then Smith would never have been an assistant city manager. Of course not long after that, was when the city demoted Smith and assigned him to an obscure posting in the utility building on Orange St. He ultimately left and works now for the city of Oakland.

Art Alcaraz: Hispanic, Human Rights Director, who resigned several years ago, but signed a nondisclosure clause as part of his severance package and thus was not able to discuss the circumstances of his departure. He was replaced by Rhonda Strout, a White woman.

Dan Bernstein of the Press Enterpriseincluded the departure of Alcaraz in a column he wrote about Hudson here.

Tranda Drumwright: African-American Housing and Community Development management who was fired from the city after her department was merged with Office of Neighborhoods. Drumwright reported that her boss, Belinda Graham once told her she did not see her as a manager but more as a supervisor. Before her termination, Drumwright was the highest ranking African-American woman at City Hall.

The firing of Tranda Drumwright

Pedro Payne: African-American former Community Relations Director and executive director of the Community Police Review Commission who resigned in early January, under circumstances that have aroused a lot of suspicion in the community. Community members felt that it was in part the dislike that both Hudson and Asst. City Manager Tom DeSantis have exhibited towards community participation in city government that contributed to Payne's departure, along with the reality that the CPRC was in the process of investigating three fatal shootings of unarmed men by Riverside Police Department officers in 2006 at the time he left. Investigations which were charter-dictated now being placed in limbo, while the city and its police department figure out what to do next.

The resignation of Pedro Payne

Not that any employee feels all that secure at City Hall, even many of those who are White. Employee morale is probably at or near its lowest in quite a while. You'd probably have to go back nearly 10 years to the massive layoffs that occurred when the city balanced its budget on the backs of its employees. It was estimated that at that time, at least 1/3 of the employees who were laid off were people of color.

Last summer, the city's labor unions underwent a negotiations process that many thought was the worst in recent memory. Several bargaining units took their case to city council meetings, while others filed law suits. One of those cases, a law suit filed by the Riverside Police Executives Association is still being litigated.

So what would MLK, jr. do if he were alive and anywhere near the city of Riverside? Based on his life history, he would probably be out protesting the treatment of its employee of colors and by doing so, would probably be labeled an "outside agitator" by the same city officials who spent yesterday appearing at public events to celebrate his life. Just like his son, Martin Luther King, III was called an "outside agitator" when he and other civil rights leaders came to Riverside in 1999 to protest the fatal shooting of Tyisha Miller, the same city which praised his sister for not protesting in it. But Yolanda King showed that the apple doesn't fall far from the tree when she commented on that dualism involving herself and her brother(not to mention most men and women of color) into two separate categories in her keynote speech that day. And just how fine the line is between being a "good" daughter of a civil rights leader and a "bad" son who is an "outside agitator".

"Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."

Martin Luther King, jr. (1963)

The first round of judging in the Koufax blog competition is almost closed. Five Before Midnight has received four nominations including best single issue blog, best blog addressing local and state issues and best blog worthy of greater recognition. It will move on to the next round to compete with other blogs that are nominated in these categories.

Thank you for those who expressed your appreciation of this blog by submitting it for consideration in this competition. It's nice to know that despite the flurry of negative comments posted here and negative treatment offline that there are those who appreciate it in this and other ways.

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