Police Race Relations

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A discussion with George Dean, President and CEO Greater Phoenix Urban League; Bishop Henry Barnwell, retired pastor of the First New Life Baptist Church; and Daniel Ortega, local attorney and National Council of La Raza Board Chair about race relations with police and the community. This after Phoenix City Councilman Michael Johnson alleges that a Phoenix police officer used excessive force during an incident.

José Cárdenas: Good evening, everyone, and thank you for joining us.A case of allegations of excessive use of force by the Phoenix police brings up longstanding racial tensions in the community. Phoenix councilman Michael Johnson, who is African American, says that he was handcuffed and thrown to the ground by a white police officer while trying to check on a neighbor whose house was on fire. The officer, Brian Authement, says he was assaulted by Johnson, and that's why force was used. The case is now under investigation by the FBI and internally. We will talk to community leaders about this, but first, we'll hear comments from a news conference councilman Johnson had last week talking about the incident.

Video: I want to thank all of those who have supported me and supporting this issue that we have. And in our community. And I want to thank all of those who have -- certainly, that justice is done and everyone treated fairly and equally. I'm going to ask for your continued prayers and especially for my neighbors who had a house burn down and had to go through such a tragic incident during that period of time. I want to express my gratitude to the community and who have lent their support and I want to say that I support the Phoenix police department and still believe they're one of the best police departments in our country and officers on the street are putting their lives on the line to protect our citizens every day, however, there seems to be a systematic problem of excessive use of force and mistreatment and overall disrespect in the 400 police precinct. That they have the privilege of operating by a different set the standards and the citizens have no rights. I say that no citizen or resident in this city should be subject to this type of treatment. There's no difference in our communities. We're one community. One city. The rules, the law, the procedures, apply to us all. My message is simple. To all of those who think that they don't apply, I say to them, you are wrong. This is the way that it works. Here in our city and all over our great city, we have one community and one city and what applies to one community applies to us all.

José Cárdenas: Joining me tonight to talk about race relations and police here in our community is Daniel Ortega, local attorney and chairman for the national council of La Raza. Also here is bishop Henry Barnwell, retired pastor of the first new life Baptist church, and George Dean, president and CEO of the Greater Phoenix Urban League. Bishop, welcome to "Horizonte." It's good to have you on our show.

José Cárdenas: George, Danny, you've both been on the show before. Ironically, the last time, we were talking about tensions. And now we're talking about an incident that's brought our communities closer together. First, George, tell us a little bit more about what you understand wept on with respect to -- with respect to councilman and his confrontation with the police official.

George Dean: From what I've been told, I had to be told that, was that the -- [inaudible] Went to the whoever in charge of the fire there and told them who that person was and a disabled person that lived in the house and he wanted to go and check on it and the fire person the permission to do that and approached the house and the officer stopped him and told him he could not go and the neighbor [inaudible] to do that. Well, didn't make any difference. The permission you have. I'm saying you don't go -- and the councilmember is on the ground and handcuffed. And I understand that they were telling him to slow down, don't do that. Just take it easy and so forth. And the councilman, dragging him across the street and the councilman said I just got out of surgery and all of these kind of things going on. And just made a bad situation worse.

José Cárdenas: I know you have some thoughts about how it perhaps should have been handled differently. But Danny, last week, the vice mayor was on our show and made the comment that this incident had brought together the black and brown communities and you made the same comment. How so?

Daniel Ortega: I think both of our communities, in the south mountain precinct, are really concerned about an increase of anecdotal complaints that have been made to different members of the community. Particularly in my position as a attorney, I get these calls. An increase of incident where is people feel they're being racially profiled or there's an excessive use of force. I think the councilman's incident underscore what is we've been hearing about for a long time. I thought this was a good opportunity to do self things. Both of our communities to come together. To deal with what appears to be an escalation in our communities of abuse of authority. And ultimately to -- to make some recommendation about how to deal with it.

José Cárdenas: And I want to talk about those recommendation in a moment. But first, bishop, you've been talking to your fellow ministers in ways that the tensions have risen and can be different fused.

Henry Barnwell: The Hispanic clergy are outraged about their elected official as well and what I have been doing is going through pastors and the congregation, given me the opportunity to share with their people. Because the community at this point is really upset and to keep tension down, I have talked with the pastors to give a sermon, to patience, understanding, and prayer. And the congregation know what is prayer will do. And I'm saying to them, it's no time for us to -- it's now time to put into practice, our teachings and preachings toward prayer, while the police and the city manager and the mayor, go through their process. And this process needs to be shared with the community. And I think prolong the time, they're urging now, that people be informed of what's going on. What's taking place there.

José Cárdenas: As I understand it, you're concerned that the people you just mentioned, the mayor, the city manager and the chief of police, chief Harris, are taking too long to tell the community what it is they're doing and the processes these are that they're going through.

Henry Barnwell: Well, I'm not saying they're taking too long, but saying they need to speed it up and let the people know, because the people are outraged and because they're human beings, the quicker they come to a conclusion and do just in this situation, the better off the city is going to be.

José Cárdenas: Danny, what else do you think should be going on in terms of how we respond to these -- this incident?

Daniel Ortega: Well, first of all, I need to clarify that, you know, we're not in a rush to judgment about what happened here and the investigation, needs to be transparent and quicker than it's been. And that we support our police and support the fight against crime. We should note he's a former police officer.

Daniel Ortega: And I support chief Harris, but the bottom line is, we do have officers who are exceeding their authority, abusing their authority. I think, and the city council has talked about having a taskforce put together and people we've met recent days, feel number one that, we absolutely need to look at a citizen's review panel that could ultimately investigate and review complaints file against police officers. That's number one. Number two, we need to look at the diversity of the police force, specifically in the south mountain area and make sure all groups are represented adequately. And third, we need to look at training. Is training where the problem may be if there's an escalation of this abuse of authority. And last -- well, and then we need to do comparisons. We need to compare the south mountain precincts to others to see how many young officers, rookie officers are in south mountain versus other precincts and need to look and compare the number of complaints filed through the process in other precincts versus this one. The police will tell you and the department will tell you they don't get that many complaints. There's a decrease. I say there's a potential, a potential, there's a lack of trust with the process and the people don't file the complaints because they don't feel like anything will be done and that's why I think a citizens an review panel, the people have to have the trust in the police to feel like they're being treated fairly and impartially in investigations against the police.

José Cárdenas: George, we had some ugly incidents in years past. A double amputee who died when he was retained by the police and others of that ilk and thought we had learned from that. What accounts with the increase, at least anecdotically that both you and Danny noted in abuse by police?

George Dean: I don't know what [inaudible] However, I would have to say that race is a factor with -- we don't want to talk about it, we don't want to look at it, and saying it's not race. It's difficult to believe in that it has to be in the incidents you talked about in the past, those were -- and getting back to the third point that Danny made in terms of training. That is absolutely critical here because it's 2010 and those incidents you talked about took place back in the '90s, we should be past that. I'm shocked that this would happen in today's Phoenix,Arizona, the fifth largest city in the country, that we've got policeman in confrontation with -- and handcuffed, it's ridiculous for that to take place. The training that needs to take place is how do you [inaudible] and not know who your elected representatives are the number one. And number two, that shouldn't be -- that shouldn't happen whether it's an elected official or not. They should be trained to have the respect for any human being in any situation. And they should be the professionals to say, sir, let me check with the captain and see if -- anything other than exactly what took place.

José Cárdenas: I take it, Danny, you would agree if this hadn't been a councilman involved, we wouldn't have heard about it?

Daniel Ortega: There are many, many instances of this, that go unreported and no complaints because people don't have a process, and -- it's a great opportunity. We're not making accusations as much as we're saying we need to look at the underlying reasons why this might be happening. Let's take care of it.

Henry Barnwell: Absolutely.

Daniel Ortega: Is that your sense as well that there has been an increase in the instances of police abuse?

Henry Barnwell: Yes, I think councilman Johnson said it well when he said this is not about him. It's about the others that are being abused and they're not really being brought to light. So I think it's really a time of opportunity for the police department of Phoenix to really get on top of this and it's needed training now and I think one of the speaker stated that instead of the police being on administrative leave with pay, probably need to be taking that pay to put into sensitivity training so that all of the policemen will be well versed in keeping with the standard of the police profession.

José Cárdenas: One quick question on this subject. Danny says he supports the chief. Others in the community have called for his firing. Do you think --

Henry Barnwell: I support chief Harris. I have nothing against him. We need to keep these things focused. It's not about the chief. It's now about the civil rights that has been -- for councilman Johnson.

José Cárdenas: George, do you agree?

George Dean: Yes, I do. I think chief Harris has done an excellent job in his time in office and continues to do everything to bring communities together. I think that when you have a large force like that, you're going to have some folks that don't all be the same page and that's where the training comes in. To make sure they're on that same page.

José Cárdenas: The last yes, different topic. You got back from Washington and the immigration march. Three seconds left to tell us about that.

Daniel Ortega: Over 200,000 people, primary Latino on the capitol mall urging the president and congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform. Looking forward to that happening and hope that the message we sent them is heard loud and clear. We need to do something. Which is also a part of some of the problems we're having with the police as it relates to racial profiling and I'm encouraged about what happened there and hope something happens this year.

José Cárdenas: Bishop, thank you for joining us. Appreciate it.

George Dean:President and CEO Greater Phoenix Urban League;Bishop Henry Barnwell:Retired pastor of the First New Life Baptist Church;Daniel Ortega:Attorney and National Council of La Raza Board Chair;

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