August 15, 2008

Editorial:

Police Brutality issue needs to be addressed!

Not brushed under the rug, with business as usual

Reaction to Herman Baca’s guest commentary published last Friday, August 8, 2008 “Chula Vista – Mayor Cox and City Council Condone ‘Police Brutality!’” was immediate and all too predictable. Mayor Cheryl Cox responded with the generic response that, “peace officer personnel matters are by law, confidential, I cannot discuss details of the incident or the investigation that followed.” Chula Vista City Councilman Rudy Ramirez in a phone message responded to Baca’s commentary with an equally evasive response that “he would talk with the police.”

What is revealing by the response from the political leadership of Chula Vista is that they missed the whole point of Baca’s commentary!

The commentary used the case of high school senior Christian Morales who was awarded a $400,000 settlement to drop the charges against the Chula Vista Police Department. The case revolved around Morales being “mistaken” by Officer Moises Rodriguez as a trailer thief. What followed changed this young man’s life!

The incident occurred Jan. 30, 2006 when Morales, an innocent young man, had just arrived at his home driveway, parked his truck and was then approached by Police Officer Rodriguez. Morales at the time had no idea why he was being approached by the police and was understandably apprehensive.

Chula Vista police were looking for a Latino male in a brown pickup that had stolen a flatbed trailer. According to Morales, when confronted he stated that he had done nothing wrong, and tried to follow Rodriguez’s orders. Morales stated that when he opened the driver’s door to get out, Rodriguez threatened him with a taser, jerked him from the pickup and handcuffed him.

Up to this point, the actions of Officer Rodriguez can be understood, since police put their lives on the line every day, and every stop has the potential of being life-threatening. However, what happened next from that point on becomes harder and harder to understand or explain, but at the end it cost Chula Vista taxpayers $400,000.00.

Morales stated that after being handcuffed he was knocked to the ground and beaten unconscious, suffered a concussion, a sprained back, and suffered muscle spasms in his leg. The police than threatened Morales’ mother who had come out of the house to find out what was happening to her son. All of this happened to an individual who was innocent of any crime and had no criminal record.

The reported incident after that, went from bad to a nightmare. Morales, after filing his lawsuit later had to amend it declaring that he was being stalked and harassed by four Chula Vista police officers.

Those are the circumstances that prompted Herman Baca, (after receiving calls from concerned community residents) to raise questions to the Chula Vista political leadership, asking: what they were going to do about the reported incident of “police brutality” by the Chula Vista Police Department?

Up to that date, Chula Vista’s political leadership had been silent on the issue, which signaled a de facto acceptance of this type of behavior.

The police department is a pubic agency that is supposed to “protect and serve, and whose actions are on public display every day. The above reported incident causes distrust and loss of faith in the Police Department by the community. The Mayor and City Council members are voted into office to represent the interest of the community. By their silence and failure to respond the Mayor and the Council have sent a clear message to the police and to the community that the above actions are acceptable. That, in our opinion does little to restore confidence and trust within the community.

Mayor Cox and the City Council have the duty, right and responsibility to ask the questions of the police department and of its chief, what steps are being taken to ensure that this sort of abuse doesn’t happen again?

An investigation by the City Council should have been launched into accusations that four police officers were stalking and harassing Morales. In a free society this type of police misconduct should not be tolerated and instead should have raised the ire of elected officials and the general public.

The lack of action by Councilman Rudy Ramirez is particularly hard to understand, as Ramirez poses as a politician who espouses a progressive political attitude, his actions however demonstrate a conservative's demeanor.

In his commentary Baca addressed the issue of the rising specter of police brutality against Hispanics in Chula Vista and San Diego County. Was this hyperbole by Baca? We think not. As Baca pointed out, we have editorialized in this newspaper about abusive police practices being carried out in Escondido under the direction of the city council, for using police stops in Hispanic populated neighborhoods. We have also editorialized against Vista where an anti-Hispanic attitude is prevalent within the City Council.

The serious question of Police Brutality increasing against Hispanics is a matter that the Hispanic community needs to address and respond to. It is an issue that is important and needs to be impressed upon elected representatives. If police brutality is going to end the community needs to rise up and demand answers as to why is this happening? If the community fails to address the issue and does nothing, police and politicians will continue to allow the status quo to remain. That is until the time when someone else’s son gets beaten up or their mothers are threatened … unfortunately then it will be to late.

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