Dear men and women of the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station:
I attended the peaceful protest (June 4) in Valencia to support the Black Lives Matter movement to end police violence, and this is the latest of many times I have exercised my First Amendment right as a U.S. citizen. As a college student, I marched with thousands for Women’s Rights in Washington, D.C. As a resident of New York City, I marched proudly in the annual Gay Pride parade. I also stood at the corner of West Side Highway and 14th Street on Thursday, Sept. 13, 2001 to cheer and support the first responders and surviving firefighters, as they removed the first truckloads of rubble from the World Trade Center site. To me, it is important that when history happens, one must not just be a bystander… and history is happening right now.
The feeling among the protesters was one of caring, community, unity and support. Drivers honked and cheered, and some even pulled over to drop off cases of water for the those standing in the sun.
It was a beautiful and powerful moment. That is, until we arrived at the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station. Then the mood turned tense and dark.
Police in riot gear stood like stormtroopers in front of us. Police were on the roof, looming like predators. No one engaged. No one spoke to us. They all stood aloof and superior, daring us to confront them. Last I checked, the job of a police officer is to protect and serve their community, and there was no service happening here.
I believe that if you do not want to work in the service industry, you don’t want to work. Every job in the world is in the service industry because everyone who works is paid to provide a service.
Doctors serve their patients, waitstaff serve their customers, entertainers serve their audience, even CEO’s serve their clients and shareholders. The job of police, firefighters and elected officials is to serve their community. Intimidating and bullying people does not provide a service, unless it is to an organized crime boss.
I spoke out, clearly and calmly, to the police in front of me that this was an opportunity for them. It was an opportunity to engage with their community, and yet they stood still with their guns in front of them – some with fingers on the triggers. After several minutes of tense silence, some of the protesters chanted to the police to take a knee, and some started yelling at the police. A few of the protesters got upset and loud, because they felt they weren’t being heard. This would not have happened if at least one of them had come forward and engaged in a conversation with the protesters.
In order to serve a community, one must engage with that community – ask our names, ask how our day is going, ask if we knew any kids at Saugus High School and how they may be doing after last year’s school shooting.
As I walked further, there was another group of officers standing near a barricade. I held up the 8CantWait list in front of them (the list of eight police reform practices that can drastically reduce police violence). One officer said it was too small for him to read. A second one behind him sneered “I can’t read.”
I said “OK” and walked up closer to them all, so they could read the sign, and engaged them in conversation.
The first officer said that many of those practices are already in effect in L.A. County. I responded that I’d only moved here a year ago and wasn’t aware, then thanked him for the information. I mentioned hearing about these practices during Campaign Zero’s presentation the day before, hosted by President Obama, then echoed by L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti. The same sneering officer in the back replied “Who?” when I referenced the mayor, then chuckled again at his own sarcasm and disdain.
I guarantee you that if this guy doesn’t already have multiple complaints filed against him, he soon will. This type of person has the wrong attitude to be an effective police officer, and he’s going to be a problem for that unit – no question.
I told the first officer that it goes a long way when you talk to people and engage with them, and that’s what the other officers should have done with the protesters, instead of standing there silent and looking imposing. I mentioned I’d worked for a wonderful police chief in the past who talked a great deal about community policing, and wished I’d seen more evidence of that here. He listened, we talked, and I got fist bumps from all those officers, including a reluctant one from the sarcastic “problem child.” All it took was a bit of engagement initiated by me – not them, sadly.
I also spoke with many of the other protesters. We learned each other’s names and a little bit about each other. We read each other’s signs and complimented the more creative ones, especially those made by kids who carried them proudly. If we are supposed to be a community, we need to talk to each other, learn about each other, share experiences. Everyone has different stories and different perspectives based on their own lives. There is always something to learn from others and understanding breeds kindness.
My husband, who served in the United States Marine Corps, was at a bar in Santa Clarita a few months ago and heard some police officers bragging about how they had roughed up a suspect. One guy laughed and said, “Yeah, that guy fell down a bunch of times on the way to my cruiser. I’m going to have to do some creative writing in my report.” That happened, and it continues to happen. They spoke freely and openly because my husband looks like one of them.
However, they should remember that their salary is provided by taxpayers like my husband and me, and we do not support their behavior.
There is no arguing that being a police officer is a difficult and messy job, but when being a cop means you stop treating others like human beings, you shouldn’t be a cop anymore. That’s the whole point of these protests – cops should not be bullies and bullies should not be cops.
However, when we take the time to talk to each other, learn about each other and share stories, we all become more human, and more of a community. I’ll strive to do my part, and I challenge the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station to better serve this community.