August 22, 2003

“Prop L??”

By Raymond R. Beltran

The question makes councilman Luis ‘Louie’ Natividad irrate and substitute his answers with hostile banter. It turns Ralph Inzunza into a momentary amnesiac, which can only be cured by tangible proof of the matter. The new acting National City Police Chief Penu Pauu, as upstanding as he seems, claims to have no clue to where the answer could be, and former National City Police Chief Skip DiCerchio points the finger right back at community residents. Activist Terry Hanks is serving time for raising the issue, and while these elected officials swat the community to the wayside, president of the Committee on Chicano Rights Herman Baca and fellow National City residents and voters are left asking, “What happened to Proposition L?!”

The Prop and the Purse

What is Proposition L? Well, it doesn’t seem that it is the kind of proposition that would get as much propaganda as the prominent Prop.187 initiative. It was an idea brought to the surface by the anti-police brutality activist Terry Hanks to place a citizen’s review board in position to oversee public complaints about police procedures. The review board would have the power to subpoena any possible witnesses in any case. 51-year-old Hanks presented over 2,200 National City voter’s signatures for the proposition and was thrown in jail on Dec. 2, 2001 for demonstrating on Highland Avenue with a bandolera filled with live ammunition and no gun. The initiative was recognized, went on the voting ballot, and 69% of National City voters favored Proposition L in November of last year.

So, it passed, but what does it take in order to implement such a review board? Who knows? Like many other issues that get swept under politician’s carpets, this necessary initiative is being dodged at every elected official’s doorstep, and almost without any trouble. That was until last month on July 12 when the question began to ascend once again.

The question rose with the recommendation of Lieutenant Craig Short to act as Chief of Police while Chief DiCerchio was on medical leave. Now, for those who aren’t National City natives, and for those who haven’t been around since the 70s, Officer Short was charged with manslaughter because of the 1975 murder of 20-year-old Luis Robert ‘Tato’ Rivera. A victim to what now appears to be an incident of racial profiling and police hostility, Rivera was shot by Officer Short with a .357 magnum while Rivera was running from Short at one o’clock in the morning. The facts as they were recorded about that morning are as follows:

One, a purse snatching was reported at 1:01 a.m. on October 12, 1975 by a fourteen year old Margarita Torres who was attending a function at St. Anthony’s Roman Catholic Church recreation hall on 18th Street. Two, the dispatch to all police patrol units went over their radios at 1:02 a.m. No one at that time had evidence or a recollection of whether or not a description of the suspect went out with the call. No one today is able to know. Three, a report that Luis ‘Tato’ Rivera was shot and killed broadcasted on police radios at 1:04 a.m. He was shot in the upper right area of his back with a .357 magnum revolver. The bullet punctured his body from the back, exited from the front of his body, and shot into the wall of a house on West 13th Street.

To look at the general facts is to recognize that it only took three minutes for a misdemeanor to be reported and for a Chicano youth to be shot. Officer Short was reinstated after a three week investigation, and a paid vacation. Community activists, such as Herman Baca, were ignored, and a 1975 National City Councilman Luis Camacho was left quoted as saying, “My hands are tied.”

The correlation between the two issues is that one is a problem, police hostility taken to the extreme, and the other is the possible solution, a review board to oversee these acts of violence. But from the murder of Rivera to Prop L, both topics have been swept under the carpet without resolution.

Chicanos Gone Hispanic

What can be said about the National City elected officials on the Proposition L issue? As a Chicano activist-turned-Hispanic politician, Councilman Luis ‘Louie’ Natividad seems to fall victim to a dilapidated sense of morality when answering questions concerning the Craig Short recommendation and the current issues on implementing a police review board. Even though he was active in the protest surrounding the death of Tato Rivera, his defiance in answering questions about the stagnation of Proposition L only represents these types of Hispanic politicians. It represents what could happen to the Chicano as a trajectory over time, thrown into the clandestine world of policy making and question answering.

“There are things that are confidential,” says National City Councilman Louie. “I’m not against meeting with you, but I don’t know how many questions I will be able to answer, that’s all.”

Councilman Natividad eventually states: “he’s not the one that makes the kind of decisions that would implement a proposition and that all questions should be directed toward the mayor.”

Mayor Nick Inzunza fell victim to temporary amnesia with his reply via email, “Prop L??” Luckily, with his memory lapse, some quotes resurfaced, and he was recorded in an article by Deborah Ensor as admitting, “I think the spirit of [Terry Hank’s] petitions has to hold some weight here,’ Inzunza said. ‘We need to be proactive in trying to improve our policing issue’ ” (San Diego Union Tribune, 12/22/01).

Although, seeming more optimistic about answering some Prop L/Craig Short questions when reacquainted with his previous quote, he was quoted once again via email saying, “Oh ok—send your list of questions so they can be answered.” He has yet to be heard from.

Former National City Police Chief Al ‘Skip’ DiCerchio is not currently on active duty. His absence in the police department has been shrouded with rumors and misinformation in a couple of different journals. The facts as he’s stated are that while he was on medical leave for various injuries that have accumulated over the years.

“[Proposition L] is great and I supported it one-hundred percent at the first council meeting I went to,” stated DiCerchio. “It is moving very slowly. When the mayor was challenged, he said, ‘Yeah, you’re right, but we have only three applicants for the board.’ If no one volunteers to serve, what are you going to do? You can’t grab someone by the throat. I don’t think it has anything to do with the police department or mayor and city council.”

National City Council meeting minutes recorded on January 22, 2002 report that in the presence of “Vice Mayor Inzunza” and “Administrative official DiCerchio,” community members including Benjamin Prado of the Raza Rights Coalition, Christian Ramirez of the American Friends Service Committee, as well as Prop L initiator Terry Hanks himself appeared to show support for the will of the people and their vote to implement a citizen’s police review board. With them were several other community members in accord.

In a May 6, 2003 National City Council meeting, minutes recorded show that in the presence of Mayor Nick Inzunza, Councilman Natividad, and Police Chief DiCerchio, “Lisa Hernandez, National City, spoke in support of Proposition L and urged the council to carry through on the wishes of the people, [while] Linda Hanks, spoke in support of Proposition L.” These minutes are testimonies that the community hasn’t forgotten about the only proposition which has succeeded in the polls and that actually works for them, but has yet to be recognized by the elected officials.

Since DiCerchio’s police career is in hiatus for the time being, acting Police Chief Penu Pauu says he’s supportive of Proposition L. “I think there was skepticism about it, but it’s an advantage between the cops and members of the community that serve. Formulated, it gives the citizen’s the advantage to voice their complaints.”

Illusion of Inclusion

“I’ve always said that National City is not a city. It’s a plantation, or a hacienda, and this bears it out,” says lifetime National City resident and activist Herman Baca. “Most of the advantages, the politicians, the businesses are outside of the city, but they know the will of the people and the political economic power. The city government has reflected that. This is why there’s no accountability, and it’s reflected in Prop L.”

Baca has been a member of the Committee on Chicano Rights since the 1975 shooting of Rivera. Since then, he’s seen many activist turn politician, and stresses the Hispanisizing of these officials, and attributes to it the fact that no officials work on behalf of the Mexican population.

“This is the second oldest city in San Diego,” says Baca. “It’s the poorest; it has the worst political public relations; it has the worst potholes. And Craig Short, why should he be rewarded? It’s indicative of what’s up there. There’s an increase in trash rates, sewage rates. That’s what I mean. It’s an indictment of Hispanic politics on a town that’s over 65% Mexican, and they can’t say anything. I don’t know whose politics they’re playing, but it ain’t on behalf of no community. Who do they represent? These people say they have a mandate. The mayor got 44% of the public vote. The only mandate I see is Prop L. Nobody supported their 18% pay increase, nobody but the bureaucrats and the politicians. That’s going to cost us, the residents, the homeowners, millions of dollars.”

What does it mean to have a brown face in office? Progress? What Baca refers to as the illusion of inclusion somewhat explains how the system works when we see Natividads or Inzunzas. Now that the demographics for National City have gone from the vicinity of 20% in the 60s to 59.07% recorded in 2000, there seems to be a need to physically relate to civil servants. But is that enough? No. Why? Because while Chicanos are being harassed and shot in the back with extremely large hand cannons, our friendly-faced elected officials are ignoring the needs of the people in order to attain some goal within their new special/political interests.

“We’ve gone from many things, conquered, discriminated to being disenfranchised people to what you see now,” says Baca. “Now, you’ve got the illusion of inclusion. In 1968, there was no such thing as a Chicano politician. Now, you get more politicians than you can throw up in the air, and things are worse now than they were back in ‘68. Because there’s more of us than anything with less than anything. If you take a look at the political landscape, there’s no difference between the politicians here and the PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party of Mexico). We’re worse off. We have more of our youngsters in prison than in college. We got Prop L in the basement, and some killer cop being appointed acting police chief. That’s progress?”

The Question

So, where do these ideas submerge and formulate the answer to the question? What happened to Proposition L?! There’s no easy tangible answer that anyone seems to have, or seems to want to divulge. It’s there under the noses of those people that know that almost 70% of National City voters favored the initiative and recognize the lack of democracy in this historic Mexican town. It’s right there on the silenced breath of Hispanic politicians like Natividad and Inzunza who refuse to speak. The only question is whose hands are really tied.

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