SOUTH LOS ANGELES — Residents are responding positively to a policy change implemented Oct. 15 by the Los Angeles Police Department regarding the controversial racial profiling of black and brown motorists by the Metro Police Division.
Najee Ali, president of Project Islamic HOPE, said he was incensed after reading about the racial profiling data in the Los Angeles Times, but said he was well aware that black motorists being stopped by police was a common practice in the community.
“After hearing the complaints about black and Latino motorists being pulled over unfairly by the LAPD Metro Division, I immediately requested a meeting with LAPD Chief Moore,” Ali said. “The meeting was attended by representatives of several major civil rights organizations such as the president of the Los Angeles Urban League Michael Lawson, Los Angeles president of the NAACP Minnie Hadley-Hempstead, and Earl Ofari Hutchinson, president of the Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable.
“[Chief Moore] was open to criticism and promised that he would take a hard look at the policy and review it immediately,” Lawson said. “He heard all of the complaints and he didn’t refute the [claims] that were made in the L.A. Times account of what was happening.
“We called for the hiring of more African-American officers and we commend Chief Moore for meeting with us immediately and agreeing to our list of demands to help stop racial profiling,” Ali said.
Lawson also voiced concern that more African Americans needed to be recruited to join the LAPD ranks in order to bring more diversity to the department.
“The proof of the pudding is in the eating. We’ll see how well this will play out,” he said.
Within days, a policy change by the LAPD was announced to the media, stated that the LAPD’s Metro Division will drastically cut back on random stops.
According to The Times, the LAPD is stopping and searching black and Latino drivers at higher rates compared to white drivers even though contraband was more often found in cars driven by white motorists.
According to the Times, which obtained the data under a new California law targeting racial profiling that requires the LAPD to record detailed information about every traffic stop, law enforcement stopped more than 385,000 drivers and passengers during a 10-month period and nearly three-quarters of those stopped were black or Latino.
LAPD department figures indicate that 49% of their officers are Latino, 10% are black, 31% are white and 10% are Asian.
Informed about the policy change, Alberto Retana, president and CEO of the Community Coalition, spoke on behalf of the PUSH LA Coalition and said, “Chief Moore admitted the random stop strategy has been highly ineffective (one arrest for every 100 stops) and is breeding higher levels of distrust of the police in South L.A. and other communities of color.”
Retana led a rally in front of LAPD headquarters Oct. 9.
The change is an acknowledgement of the emotional and material impact on black and brown residents,” Retana said. “These are racial profiling pretextual stops, in which officers pull over a driver for a minor equipment violation and leverage it to engage in a full-blown vehicle search in the hopes of finding more serious wrongdoing.”
“These changes to Metro’s policing style in South Los Angeles vindicate what our community has been saying all along about the highly imbalanced use of pretextual stops on black and brown people,” Retana added. “We need to ensure that there’s proof that the stops by Metro are in fact ending, which means the LAPD must be transparent in its release of real data in regular reports.
According to Retana, the new PUSH LA “Reimagine Protect and Serve” coalition of 15 social justice organizations dedicated to reforming policing is demanding an immediate moratorium on all pretextual stops that are used to initiate unjust searches and racially profile the city’s black and brown residents; the immediate withdrawal of Metro Division officers from South L.A.; an apology and public admission of racial profiling from the LAPD; reparations for these unlawful stops and searches; and officers who engage in unwarranted pretextual stops, have patterns demonstrative of racial profiling, or who engage in misconduct and abuse must be disciplined and removed from black and brown communities.
Stories about being frisked and searched by LAPD abound.
Allen Mitchell Gardner said, “I live in Santa Monica and I personally have to deal with police harassing me on a daily basis. I was on the Expo Line train leaving Santa Monica and a police officer was on the train staring at me in an antagonistic way. Then he took my picture. I asked him why he took my picture and he said, ‘I can do whatever I want.’ I said, ‘You can’t do that’ and he said, ‘Do you want to get off the train and talk about it?’ His supervisor was standing right there and looked the other way. He knew that his partner was way out of line.”
“I had a gun pointed in my face because I reached for my identification too early,” said David Turner, manager of Our Brothers, Ourselves, who is still haunted by an incident when he was a 6-year-old boy when he and his family were trailed by police.
“My dad was terrified,” he recalled. “He said, ‘Don’t look back because if you look back, it gives the police a reason to stop us.’ His words forever traumatized me and my sister.”
Corey Matthews, the chief operating officer of the Community Coalition, said, “There’s a power dynamic happening when it comes to the police. Every black male that I know tenses up when they are pulled over by the LAPD even though they know they’ve done nothing wrong. You don’t know what’s going to happen and that uncertainty makes you jittery, nervous and angry.”
Hadley-Hempstead, Los Angeles NAACP president, was concerned that African Americans stopped and frisked by police could lead to larger problems in the future.
“[The police] focus is on us,” Hempstead said. “Most of the blacks they stop don’t have any weapons, drugs or alcohol. But if the police cite them with a police record, it will hurt their opportunities to have a good career, to acquire college and student loans or to even secure housing. It hurts your chances of ever getting ahead.”
Pausing, she added, “If you stop and frisk members of our community year after year, how do you improve the relationship between the community and the police? I think it would be more helpful to implement a number of social programs rather than implementing the constant harassment year after year.”
“Stop and frisk has been going on a long time in our community,” the Urban League’s Lawson said. “During the Darryl Gates era, when I was still a teenager, my friends and I were stopped and frisked on a regular basis. The police would say things like, ‘Where are you going? Where do you live? Where do you work?’ It was a common practice.”