July 15, 2005


Susie Lopez is Dead

...and a mother asks for justice

By Rodolfo F. Acuña

Susie Lopez is dead. She was 19 months old and all that people are asking for is why?

The whole scenario reminds me of the Bush handling of the Iraq war. It didn’t matter if weapons of mass destruction existed. It didn’t matter that Iraq did not have ties to terrorists. It didn’t matter that it was not in any position to threaten the security of the United States.

Saddam Hussein was a bad man. An evil man who had to be stopped and if you did not agree with that then you were for Saddam Hussein.

This line was pushed and the Bush people bullied the press that rolled over.

The plain truth is that bullying works and Police Chief William J. Bratton is using the tactic in the Susie Lopez killing.

At a July 12 news conference he called the family dysfunctional. Bratton called Jose Raul Peña, a “coldblooded killer.” He threatened his entire family and took shots at his 17-year-old stepdaughter. “This is not a good father. He is no hero. All of this tragedy falls on Mr. Peña,” A foaming Bratton cried, “Mr. Peña is not a good man.” He was not a loving father.”

Predicably he then begins the rumor mill. According to police Peña had been accused of child molestation. The stepdaughter said, “Her father had threatened to kill her, kill the baby, kill himself and the mother.”

Frankly, I don’t know if Peña was a bad father or not and that is not the issue. I question the police’s tactics and attitude exemplified by Bratton’s arrogance. Neither he nor members of his department are infallible and I question their release of uncorroborated accusations.

For instance, Bratton refused to detail any of Peña’s previous interactions with police. However, his department leaked the stepdaughter was taken to a mental health facility because “she was blamed by the family for what happened.”

In their frustration, many members of the community are pointing a finger at Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, interpreting his statements as giving Bratton carte blanche. While I can understand their frustration, Tony is just one of a dozen or more Chicano/Latino city, county, state and federal officials.

Given the inaction of many of us, the reaction of these officials is predictable. Saying nothing takes the spotlight off them, and they know they don’t have to say anything. When was the last time we sent a $100 contribution, walked a precinct or made our presence felt.

Don’t expect Bratton to change and don’t expect our elected officials to challenge him. An examination of his career shows that assertive policing is part of his M.O. He operates a paramilitary model that emphasizes crime fighting.

Since coming to Los Angeles Bratton has reinforced the department insular police culture, focusing on arrest statistics to prove that his methods work.

Bratton’s brand of assertive policing has caused tension with individual rights. Although Bratton had a fallout with former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani who prided himself in “tough talk” and his questioning whether police should do “social work,” Bratton has adopted Guilianni’s profile.

After the last mayoral election Bratton sent a message to Villaraigosa. He called former Mayor James Hahn one of the best mayors he had worked for. Of Hahn’s strengths in dealings with the Police Department, “He never interfered in the internal workings of the department on discipline cases, never sought to inject his opinion into a disciplinary decision.” In other words he let him do what he damn pleased. Given that the police commission was equally deferential Bratton had no oversight.

Bratton has been so busy courting Hollywood celebrities and politicos that he has failed to connect with the minority communities. The recruitment of minorities and women has not changed the police culture and from the vantage point of critics he has paid little attention to this aspect of policing. Meanwhile, legitimate issues such as police disciplining and reforms have been eclipsed by the notion that the expansion of the department will be to protect us.

This leaves us Lorena Lopez’s accusation that “The police killed my daughter. I want justice.” Is she a bad mother for asking this?

Reprinted from LatinoLA (http://www.lationola.com)

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