When We Fight

Show me your trash and I’ll tell you who you are, any good hospital janitor will tell you. Tallent Neal is damn good. Your dark poop stuck under the toilet rim speaks to me so loud that I can’t hear a word you say. That’s what flushed through my mind when sunlight glinted off a disposable lighter cap and the metallic stripe on a grape flavored Swisher Sweets cigarillo wrapper in the curb gutter, along with clumps of tobacco, and a crumpled 7-Eleven receipt, no doubt left by some smoked-out zombie. My cheek muscles jumped and out of habit, I bent to pick up trash just as Xochi De León said, “Smile for the camera Mr. Neal.” She was the Hue and Cry newspaper reporter.

I stuffed the litter into my pocket, smoothed back coiled salt and pepper Bozo hair, sucked in my belly, popped the top buttons of my custodian’s shirt, and propped my back against the Davis Middle School’s security fence; cold steel bars that towered over me with an outward curve and terminated with triple-pointed spear tips as black as Snoop Dog’s lungs. The bars were not unlike those at Men’s Central Jail where I’d once did a bullet, a whole Goddam year.

A pandemonium of thick, leathery, dark green oleander leaves with scented yellow flower clusters peeked through the pickets at the corner of Matthisen and Spruce Streets. A stone’s toss north, Queen Egypt, Chattom, and other rebels waited on Rosecrans Avenue.

The media came to Compton only when there was a murder, political corruption, or when they were curious about some rapper’s poetic couplet. But this was different. Xochi was covering our protest against marijuana storefront dispensaries.

I forced the corner of my mouth up as far as I could. “I-I am s-smiling,” I said, my face frozen from Parkinson’s acquired from Paraquat tainted marijuana in the 70s. Click. Xochi caught my best anti-drug scowl. I’d been clean and sober for thirty years. Old habits and temptation never fully leave you though. It’s like a smoldering ember on a wood shingled roof waiting for that right gust of wind. That’s why total abstinence from drugs is the only way. My truth would spare others the down side to weeds laughter.

Xochi wore no makeup. Her face was the color and shape of a marmalade plum, hair short, dark, and roughed-dried, a yellow pencil rose from it like a hairpin. What did she know? She looked fresh out of college and had probably partied high on drugs like college kids do. She looked all around and behind her and said, “Compton has a dangerous reputation.”

“I know,” I said. “Rappers sold shit sandwiches and the world, they ate it.” My throat started to close up. “——before, we had in all ways loved us. Now, we have targets on our backs. Do I look like a monster to you? Do I?

Xochi’s head hitched slightly then she swallowed. “Let’s get this done,” she said. “I don’t have all day.”

My shoulder squeaked like a rusted door hinge when I raised a sign stick that read, THINK CLEAR!

“Why’d you organize the protest Mr. Neal?” Xochi said.

“We’re being lied to about weed. Dope p-problems grow like bad bacteria when left unattended,” I said. I spell-checked my sign. “I want it to stop——one unemptied trash can mean the job is incomplete,” I said. Truth is weed once retarded my reaction. I hallucinated and failed a four-way stop sign. My road dog crashed through the windshield. I’d go back and change that if I could.

Atop a streetlight pole, from some remote location, the sheriff monitored us, and all activity along Rosecrans. I didn’t bother with a permit and deputies could break up our party at any time if we left the sidewalk like when Alvarado Park May Day protesters overflowed onto city streets. LAPD drove motorcycles through the crowd, and then used their batons and rubber bullets on them. My heart pounded against my rib cage. It would be my fault if that happened.

Their camera lens whirred and moved when we made our way toward protesters that called themselves Weed Rebels. Some strayed into the street and caused light morning traffic to slow while waiting on the grassy median that divided four east-west traffic lanes on Rosecrans.

“When we fight, we win.” Councilwoman Ethel Last Word Vickers’ voice rose above the murmurs of about two dozen rebels mingling below the surveillance camera. Why was she there?  Politicians only come to skin and grin before the camera.

Rebels put the finishing touches on protest signs, sneered down the block at drunks sitting on discarded furniture and crates in front of a new 7-Eleven that was built beyond an empty lot and a tiny shotgun house, or they pointed to the line that snaked around the cannabis storefront in an abandoned church. Several doors down from the old church cars crept like pill bugs in and out of a 24/7 drive-through smoke shop, an apartment building, a house, and auto parts store was in between. An occasional car passed and honked support for the protesters. Others slowed, rose down their windows and shouted, FUCK Y’ALL. Somewhere within the avenue’s discombobulated zoning scheme a dog barked and a rooster crowed.

A thick woman, Vickers’ skin was deep brown, hair gold. She wore a white summer dress and clutched a white purse that, when she talked, she crazily waved around as if she were going to throw it at you. Her stiletto heels clacked against the sidewalk when she approached us from the median. She thrust a sign at passing vehicles that said, No Mas Drogas. My blood pressure rose and I coughed a couple of times. She butted between us, faced Xochi and said, “Dealers suck,” her voice choked with tears. She held up her purse as if to block someone from dumping on more worry.

***

Antsy protesters met us on the corner at Rosecrans next to one of the clandestine storefronts, a faded sand colored building. On it was a mural of forest pine trees set against an amber backdrop. One sliding door and three rectangular windows were covered with thick steel plates. On one end was a pale-white side entry door behind a rickety wrought iron driveway gate. Across the street was Greater Love, the former church, a one-story building with three large white wooden crosses embedded in its dull gray stucco facing.

The Weed Rebels eyeballed Xochi. She pressed her elbows into her side which made her look smaller, studied something on her cell phone and said, “The majority of California’s voters favored recreational marijuana use. Why do you think Compton residents voted against it?”

“It’s dr-drug dealing,” I said, “made legal, like p-prescription opiates. Superfly. First Youngblood Priest showed us how to snort cocaine. It got worse when Ronnie Reagan dropped the crack bomb on us.” My skin crawled. “Now Trump has his finger on the button.”

Trump. The rebels hoisted their signs and erupted, “Not my president——Not my president——Not my president!”

Vickers waved her white purse like a symphony conductor and snarled, “ten years ago we passed an ordinance to outlaw medical weed dispensaries.” Her back was to me. “We didn’t want it then, don’t want it now,” she said.

I shifted from foot to foot as the number of rebels grew and began to block eastbound traffic. What if riot gear clad deputies descended on them? My gut quivered. Some among them over her shoulder gave Vickers a silent look and narrowed their eyes.

She didn’t mention how her tax crazed money-grubbing fellow Democrat’s supported the recreational-use ballot measure. Since then, cash-only fly-by-night operations spawned like a cockroach infestation and for the past few months, were out of control.

“First weed, next gentrifuckation,” I said. “We’re pushing back. Resisting.”

Xochi jumped when rebels behind her shouted, “No gentrifuckation——No gentrifuckation——No gentrifuckation!”

She white-knuckled her phone recorder and pushed it toward my mouth. “Some would say that yours is a lost cause Mr. Neal.”

“I don’t need to prove nothing to you,” I said, elbowed around Vickers, threw up a fist like John Carlos and Tommie Smith did in 68 and said, “When we fight, we win.”

Xochi frowned. The protesters raised knuckles and chanted, “When we fight, we win——When we fight, we win——When we fight, we win!”

“I followed the crowd as a kid,” I said to Xochi, “——I used to chug cheap wine, smoked cigarettes and marijuana by thirteen, and celebrated my fifteenth birthday high on LSD, downers, and weed, on a rocket to nowhere,” I told her. “For some reason, it all felt right, normal,” I said.

A voice boomed over the rebels, “Give thanks and praises to the most Hi, Emperor Haile Selassie the first.” The crowd parted, my chest tightened. It was Winfrey’s Caribbean accent. Bad news. Why’d he show up now? A Compton native who’d visited Jamaica and returned Rastafarian, Winfrey said, Lamb’s bread is a sacrament for the use of man——a cool meditation, mon.” He was a 1960s Black Panther. Short in stature, he wore a red, gold, and green tam with long Dreadlocks sewn onto the sweatband. His flat nose and pitted-black skin made him look fierce, and to anyone listening, he’d tell the story of how he and fellow Panthers fought SWAT back in the day. “I was in the 1969 shootout against LAPD’s first SWAT team. We kicked their asses all over 41st and Central——fuck the pigs,” he’d say. He was once uncompromising, hated police and they hated him back. But when it came to weed, all skin-folk ain’t kinfolk.

“You helped us get porta-potties in public parks from the City dude but this fight ain’t for you,” I said. “That is, unless you’re gonna put the weed away.”

He’d been drinking and slurred, “Nah mon. Me never do dat,” Winfrey said. “Herb never hurt nobody mon. Whoa. You usta puff collie herb, now you ǵainst it. What ya know mon?”

Motherfucka tried to pull my cover. “That was years ago,” I shouted at Winfrey, heartbeat pounding loud in my ears. I did a little breath-of-fire yoga to calm myself.

“Get the fuck on you fake assed Rasta!” A protester yelled. “Go fuck with LAPD. Go back to Jamaica,” they said.

Winfrey dragged his palms down his legs and tried to facedown the crowd.

“You can’t even get a job,” a rebel said. “Your old piss’ll test dirty.”

When the crowd closed in, he rocked slightly and raised his hand to ward them off.

“Bumba clot!” Winfrey said. He gazed red eyes up to the churring spy camera and to draw ire, gave it the finger. He held the gesture for us as he squeezed through and away from the protesters. He stopped, fired a spliff. “Ras clot! Make we leave ya,” he said and stumbled toward the new 7-Eleven.

Xochi scribbled onto a notepad and asked, “Is there any upside to marijuana cultivation and sale in Compton Mr. Neal?”

“Hell no. It’s a scheme by entrepreneurs and their political puppets to make money off poor people. They want to market it,Straight outta Compton.’” I squeezed the sign stick.

“Fuck that,” a protester said.

I said, “If cannabis benefited Compton, we’d already be rich. A lot of people went to prison behind it. It’s a trick-bag.”

Queen Egypt stepped out from the rebels. Her royal blue gele was knotted at her temple and covered her hair and ears which left her periwinkle earrings and pinched face exposed. “Trick-bag is right,” she said. “Husband’s been in prison ten years for weed.” She took several quick breaths. “My son wants to open a dispensary one day.” A scrawny kid about fourteen with big eyes in a black wave cap snatched his wrist away from her and, with his Vans, kicked at a breeze blown cigarillo wrapper and traced sidewalk cracks. “Something’s wrong with this picture,” She said.

I crouched to the boy’s eye level and said, “Respect your mama.” The boy yawned. His name was Cory.

Xochi ignored the boy and said, “But Mr.Neal, you seem to have turned out okay——kinda.”

I said, “With help I was able to t-turn away from dependence and from the thefts, robberies, c-crimes to support it——in and out of jail.” My arm twitched. “——always leashed to probation, parole.”

The boy muttered under his breath. “Whatever,” he said. Cory’s daddy was in prison for what’s no longer a crime.

“So, how’d you clean up, Mr. Neal?” Xochi said.

I threw the big-eyed boy a sidelong glance. He shrugged and placed his hands in his pockets. “What do you know about running a business?” I said to him.

His voice hardened, “Nothing. I don’t know nothing about it.”

“Have you ever s-sold anything before? Lemonade?”

“Chocolate turtles in the fourth grade,” he said.

“H-how’d it go?”

“Kinda hard. Mom sold it for me.”

“T-then you might have a clue. Weed is different because people that need it will come to you like a magnet. You could make a lot of money off the weakness of others——if it’s only about money.”

“What else is it about? I want bling like everybody else.”

“Even if others are harmed? D-do you really want to profit off the pain of people that look like you?” I glanced at his mother. “Your mama raised you better than that. I can tell.”

Cory squished his big eyes together. “What else can I do?” He said.

I lightly touched Cory’s shoulder and said, “Learn business if that’s your interest. There’s a world for you. You might have to look, work hard to find it and do it. L-love yourself first.”

The rebels didn’t miss the beat and said, “Love yourself——Love yourself——Love yourself first!”

“You can do better,” I said. “We have always loved each other, Cory. You don’t need drugs for that. Let the white boys have it.

Queen went dewy-eyed, she cupped her face and wept, several rebels sniffled. Of course Vickers chimed in, “Don’t worry about anything——instead pray about everything,” she said to Cory and handed his mama her business card.

I turned Cory to face me and said, “Make the library and a dictionary app your new BFF. Tell God your needs and remember to thank him for his answers,” I told him. I returned to Xochi. The rebels held their signs and leaned in.

“How’d I clean up? Paraquat poison still burns my blood. Th-That’s another thing——now cattle are out the barn, they’re out, dope is legal if you’re over t-twenty-one,” I said. Three felony strikes would get Cory’s daddy twenty-five years. I said to Xochi, “Decriminalization is good but instead of jail time, my brothers camp around smoke shops.” I was on a roll. “Th-There’re way more drug storefronts in Compton th-than are places for people to kick drugs, if they choose——” My fingers pill-rolled. “I-I was l-lucky. There were recovery homes——a village to love and support me. One day at a time.” I clasped both hands together around the sign stick. “Recovery is hard,” I said. “But everything will be alright if I do one day at a time——one day at a time,” I said.

The protesters repeated, “One day at a time——One day at a time——One day at a time!”

“Holla!” Vickers said.

Several passing drivers honked, another cussed us.

***

A woman in a floppy orange hat, copper skin bunched around her eyes, pushed a stroller with a toddler with cornrows into the group of protesters who milled around the weed storefront with their signs. The toddler wore a black t-shirt with a green marijuana leaf inside a circle with a red line through it. The woman bared her teeth and yelled, “We didn’t vote for this shit. Shut it down. Shut it down.”

The protesters sprung alive and bellowed, “Shut it down——Shut it down——Shut it down!”

We marched past the mural and approached the side entry door. Behind the driveway gate a security guard stood on trash strewn barren dirt, arms folded across his pudgy chest. In wraparound sunglasses, blue polo shirt with black collar and epaulettes, his pot-belly hid his belt. Guzman was sewn on a fabric plate above where a pocket might have been on a real uniform shirt. On his upper arm was a patch like California’s state bear, only his looked more like Yogi. He hitched his head, smirked, and sat in shade under a tree that grew just above the slanted roof; its spindly branches weighted like Christmas ornaments with red Chinese globes the size of soccer balls.

When the rebels reached the gate Guzman jumped from his high chair and shuffled back. He checked that the side door was locked, clutched a Taser attached to his belt, and then fastened the gate latch to keep protesters out.

Next to me was Chattom, a retired prison guard who was third runner-up in the Mr. Olympia contest. He wore a gold rope chain with a crucifix of a body builder on it. Chattom’s muscled thighs and calves tested his cargo pants. He spoke to Xochi through his teeth, “Read this.” He passed around a petition, and handed out leaflets about Compton’s unsolved murders. “The list includes the unexplained ones killed by deputies too. Murder is murder,” he said.

A wispy androgynous soul stepped from behind the driveway gate in a dark gray baseball cap. Across the crown was a green caduceus, a short rod entwined by two snakes, and topped by a pair of wings. “I’m Tosh,” the person said.

The pungent odor of hydroponics shadowed Tosh even though this person had no red cast to the white of their eyes as deadheads under the influence usually did, pupils weren’t dilated. The scent was powerful but not unfamiliar and reminded me of the far weaker bunk weed that I once copped. Who was this Tosh? I declined Tosh’s fist bump.

Weed Rebels whispered, some shook their heads disapprovingly and ogled as if Tosh, much too little to take on a hostile crowd, had just beamed down from space.

The moment was long and uncomfortable before Xochi asked, “What pronoun do you prefer?”

“They or them,” Tosh said all bubbly. They wore a lavender T-shirt; a sad lap dog surrounded by roses stared out from it. They reached for and read the petition and said, “It’s my dispensary and don’t understand your protest.” Tosh folded the petition and stuffed it in their jeans pocket and seemed to carefully consider what to say next. “We care about customers and don’t sell to children. We require ID——must be twenty-one,” Tosh said.

The protesters shouted, “Get the fuck outta of Compton. Get the fuck out now!” they said.

Xochi clicked on her cell phone recorder.

“We’ve seen kids make b-lines from school to your d-doors,” I said to Tosh.

“We turn them away and they cross the street,” Tosh said.

Ever the interloper, with each word Vickers cast and reeled back her purse as if she was fishing. “We have enough problems and don’t need more drugs in Compton. I’ll have the health department investigate.” She lowered her sign. “Do you assess the quality of the dope?”

“Is high quality, healthy.” Tosh bounced on their toes. “We don’t sell to people without a doctor’s recommendation. Across the street, maybe they do.”

I cut off Vickers and said, “You use p-pesticides on your products? Herbicides? Right?”

“No. Our growers don’t use anything——maybe ladybugs,” Tosh said. “It’s organic.”

“Sheesh,” a rebel scoffed. His face was puffy, nose crooked as if he’d lost a few rounds in the ring. He lisped, “Maybe we thould eat the thit,” he said, “Tal vez deberíamos comer la mierda.” He put his hands to his throat and mimicked a gag reflex.

The rebels derided Tosh, “It’s organic——It’s organic——It’s organic——Let’s eat the shit!”

Xochi said, “Organic? Get this straight——your product contains no mycobutinal or other pesticides?”  She wrote something in her pad. “If you don’t grow it yourself, how do you know?”

“That’s what they tell us,” Tosh said.

“Psssh——whaaat?” I tasted bullshit, my body temperature rose. “Th-that mycobutinal is like malathion p-pesticide and Paraquat——systemic——stays in tissues for years.” I went for the gut. “That stuff’s a slow death——like antibiotics fed to cows and pigs that’s in hamburgers and b-barbeque.”

Xochi stopped writing and said, “Surely your suppliers certify that the product doesn’t contain fungicides?”

“Well,” Tosh crossed then uncrossed their arms. “——it’s shipped from Seattle. I think its sun grown.”

“Really?” Vickers said. Her purse jutted back and forth in Tosh’s face like a toilet plunger. “You think? I think you’re full of it. You think we’re stupid. I think you’re wrong and need to get your ratchet ass up out of here. Think on that.”

Good shit for a politician. The protesters didn’t let it pass and said, “Ratchet ass——Ratchet ass——Ratchet ass!”

I dropped the cardboard sign when its weight became too much. I’d not let Vickers have the last word, bogart my protest. “Weed smoke causes cancer. Do you warn them?”

Tosh fidgeted and didn’t answer, their head rolled like Linda Blair’s did in the Exorcist.

The Weed Rebels huddled tight and taunted Guzman, “Burn ‘em down——” they shook the weakened gate and repeated, “Burn ‘em down.”

“We need a molotov,” a woman laughed with an edge. “Turn this bitch into one big blunt.”

Guzman gripped the doorknob but the side door was locked from inside. Tosh squeezed their tiny frame between the gate and the protesters. The red globes on the spindly tree danced on a slight breeze like slanting rain. A hint of chemicals drifted in. Drivers in passing cars continued to honk, some cursed. The sheriff’s camera focused steady. A news helicopter rumbled overhead. I spit out excess saliva.

“We don’t cause problems and our customers mostly have medical issues,” Tosh said, the crowd was bigger thanks to social media.

Pressed against the fence next to Tosh was a sweaty, wooden guy with facial scars and eyelids that quivered, ratty auburn hair, and rumpled clothes. He separated hairs on his head and pointed to a stitched scalp gash. He said to the rebels, “I need pot for epilepsy.” His tongue was coated silver. “I took shrapnel when our convoy hit a roadside IED in Afghanistan,” he said rubbing at the injury.

Vickers’ purse stilled at her side. “Thank you for your service,” she said. Next her purse sprung into action, “But, you’ll have to find your medicine somewhere else——not in Compton,” she said.

The rebels weighed in, “Thank you——Thank you——Thank you——But not in Compton!”

Gash Head clinched his jaw, he tried but backed against the fence, he couldn’t retreat and the rebels didn’t budge. His eyes darted from place to place. “It’s there in the box soldier,” he said. He muttered under his breath, “They got it on film. Get out, get out——Holy shit. It’s in the road. FUCK. Did you see that?” He snatched at his clothing as if it itched and then, from his pocket pulled a cigarillo from a red package with a watermelon on it. His hands trembled. He used his pocket knife to slice along the glue seam on the smoke, dumped its content and filled it with weed. He snapped open his Zippo, sparked the blunt, and inhaled deep. I coughed when he blew a cloud of butane infected smoke into my and Chattom’s face.

Chattom leaned back and said, “You don’t live in Compton, dude.” Whack! He slapped the back of Gash’s head, plucked the smoke from his lips, and with his heel squished it into the sidewalk. “Shit stinks,” he said. “Secondhand smoke kills.”

Gash Head’s face flushed, “Awww mannn,” he said. He elbowed out from the protesters, bent down hands on knees, and breathed hard. Tosh gawked and Guzman’s lips formed a straight line.

What the f—? I took a deep breath and turned to Tosh. “I don’t care what your argument is.” I lifted the THINK sign stick to my shoulder. “I gatewayed from Mary J and cheap wine to harder stuff.”

The crowd stopped pushing, quieted, and listened.

“That’s your experience. Everyone doesn’t go there.”

“How do you know? You ever ask your customers what they lace weed with? What they Snort, shoot, or drink?”

“Medicinal marijuana, especially the old ones,” Tosh said.

Vickers chiseled in and pointed her purse down the street to where OG’s tethered to hooch congregated on crates outside of 7-Eleven. “They’re lost in the wilderness,” she said. “They waved the white flag, gave up the fight in order to get their drunk on.”

Tosh’s pitch rose, “People have rights. A choice to do what they want to.” Tosh glanced quickly at Vickers, Guzman, and then looked away.

I said, “And we have a right to feel safe, where children can p-play, women can walk at night. People high on drugs do stupid shit and sabotage th-that right in our city. Freedom’s not free.”

Chattom cupped his hands over his mouth and waved leaflets over his head. “Kill dealers,” he said. “Smite them all in the name of the Lord.”

“Smite them——Smite them——Smite them!”——the protesters said.

Guzman looked amused. He leaned one hand on his chair.

“Are you blaming all of those problems on marijuana?” Tosh asked.

“Yep. Th-that and all that comes with it.”

“That’s just old fashioned prohibitionist reefer madness,” Tosh said. “Fake news.”

“Fake?” My mouth soured. “We must c-control what goes on within our city——just l-like any other c-community.” My fingers pill rolled again. “D-Drug problems affect us different than in Beverly Hills, Palos Verdes Estates, or wh-wherever you come from——Trump wants to take our Obamacare. Then what?——we ain’t got no Betty Ford down here. Just Say ‘No’ is bullshit.” Edginess replaced my shoulder pain. “You suck the money out of Compton and leave us cranberry-eyed in a fog, unable to think on how we can do better.” I slammed the sign to the pavement. “I’m keepiń it real,” I said.

“WORD,” a protester said. “I’m one hundred with that.”

Vickers’ purse got busy when she said to me, “You need your own church.”

Xochi smiled, her face softened, but her tone didn’t. “Do you remind your customers that it’s illegal to smoke marijuana in public?” she asked. “It’s allowed only on private property——not parks, not sidewalks.”

“Not everyone gives a damn about other people,” Tosh said, nodding their head to where Gash rocked back and forth on the periphery.

I——”, before I could finish Vickers horned in.

“See,” Vickers said, purse fully engaged, sign moving up then down. “How does Compton benefit from your dispensary? You bring in a lot of outsiders who cop and hop. Smoke shops, 7-Eleven’s, weed dispensaries, and empty churches are what we’re left with.”

“We do our part,” Tosh said. “Just look across the street.”

People twice the number of the protesters streamed through metal doors into the converted church. “They sell Green Hornet to little kids.”

“What’s that?” Xochi asked.

“Pure THC made like Gummy Bears,” Tosh said, voice shaking. “Their Fifty-One-Fifty Bar is nothing but THC and sugar.”

The councilwoman’s nostrils flared, “Oh, HELL NAWL——its genocide. Let’s block the doors,” she said.

She turned and headed across the street but the rebels did not follow her. “What should we do Neal” one said. I hesitated, my breath caught in my chest. Another rebel said, “Who’s calling the shots?” Vickers did what politicians always did in Compton. She tried to hijack the revolt. I rolled my neck and said, “CHARGE.”

“Let’s riot,” a rebel said over rowdy voices.

Chattom stopped car traffic and we rebels waved signs, shouted profanities, and crossed against the traffic light. From behind someone tossed a McCafé® Latte that splashed against a cross on the re-purposed church. A coughed racked my chest.

In front of the church Tosh explained how their grasses contain high levels of Cannabidiol, which to them has medical benefits. “CBD doesn’t get you high but is good for pain, acne, and PTSD,” they said.

“Humph. Do you mean Post-Traumatic Slavery Disorder?” I asked. Misfits had given Compton a bad reputation. Many people there had been pained, discriminated against, disenfranchised. But even in my time, admittedly, marijuana reduced anxiety. Couldn’t study, do homework, or job interviews, but could chill-out, scarf junk food, and trip on meaningless shit. Pain shot through my shoulder when I pressed my fist to my lips. Could a medical case be made for cancer patients and those with severe pain? What about epileptics like Gash Head? Maybe Tosh had a point but why then sell anything other than CBD? Winfrey’s so-called religious beliefs? But just to get sprung, or twisted? FUCK NO. We can do better than stay high all the time. I said, “PTSD?——a lot of Comptonians have that aw-awright.”

The customer line that had snaked around Greater Love vanished when set upon by Weed Rebels. The workers packed a SUV with boxes and hurried away.

One storefront down.

***

We were back across the street. Rebel’s had grown larger and louder.

Xochi faced Tosh and said, “Assuming that your business is legally organized as a non-profit collective——” She pushed her recorder close to Tosh’s lips. “Does your business have a state seller’s permit?”

Tosh buried their face in their Smartphone. The lap dog’s eyes on their T-shirt seemed to droop.

Rebels shook and rattled the gate that Guzman snorted and paced behind.

“Do you have a b-business license?” I knew full well that Compton did not issue marijuana business licenses. Chattom stood silent.

Crash!, the gate slammed the sidewalk. Guzman held up both palms and backed away. Protesters reached for him, a shrill voice said, “Yeah muthafucka——what you gonna do now?”

Guzman put down his head and straightened his arm like OJ did on the USC gridiron, “No mas!” He barreled over the orange hatted woman and her toddler. Eeeow! The kid screamed like a child would who just scraped face-first across concrete. Guzman rushed onto Rosecrans with Chattom in pursuit. He ran east on the median toward Paramount which was the next city. Winfrey and Gash Head looked confused and took refuge in the empty lot between the shuttered storefront and 7-Eleven.

Tires screeched followed by the smell of burnt rubber. A van packed with dispensary supplies, equipment, and the scent of hydroponics careened out of the driveway where Guzman had posted, Tosh was behind the wheel.

“HIP, HIP, HOORAY,” the Weed Rebels cheered, high-fived and posed for Xochi’s group photo, and for the surveillance camera above.

“Here’s my byline,” Xochi said when she turned her note pad to me, ‘When they fight, they win: Compton smokes out weed storefronts.’

I pointed my pill-rolling fingers at the sheet of paper and asked, “Why Xochi?”

She said, “I’ve never used and turned against drugs when by brother Juan Carlos killed himself in Guatemala.” Her voice cracked. “A river of drugs flowed through there to the U.S. We lived in a place called Dump City when he started smoking marijuana, moved on to sniffing glue, and later crack cocaine.”

My stomach knotted.

Vickers squeezed her body between us and said, “Two down, sixty more to go. Where to tomorrow?”

     A cluster of yellow marigolds poked through a crack in the concrete at the base of the streetlight. A sheriff’s cruiser slowed, its tires stirred a Dutch Masters chocolate flavor cigarillo wrapper from the asphalt that I instinctively reached for.

 

***

 

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental. © 2017 Deniggerlator Publishing.

 

Compton4COPS Editorial

Policing you can trust

Policing you can trust

 

Are we fooled again? We were fooled when we took sides in a false debate over whether or not to resurrect the defunct Compton Police Department. As usual, residents were pitted against one another and became emotional, and often irrational, to the point that the main and most important question was never asked: Who could police and serve the needs of Compton resident’s best? The question was never who could jail, maim, or kill the most people, which is what happened. A felony arrest pretty much defines a young person’s future and if for drugs, worse. They become locked out of society and where do they go? Home to Compton.

From the start community members were excluded from the conversation, in 2000 when the Omar Bradley regime brought in the sheriff and years later when Eric Perrodin’s group made millions and attempted to bring back CPD. In both instances games were played to give the appearance either that a)  leadership knew what was best for Compton or b) residents had some semblance of involvement in the decision process. In other words, lies.

Have we had enough of being lied too? Not. The gunshot detection experiment done by the sheriff in Compton apparently was a failure. If in doubt, try to find information on it now. And then there was Measure B, sponsored by sheriff deputy unions that pretty much legislates that the city contract with the sheriff’s department. Again, there was the emotional side-taking response that placed brother against brother, sister against sister, and everybody against someone else. It seems so easy to rile the residents up against their own interest in Compton and have us fight each other like Bloods and Crips gangs. This is acute during election season like the one we are in now. Misinformation and disinformation comes along with strangers and others looking to see how they can benefit personally from Compton’s troubles. But there is never a Moses, never anyone that walks the line of our common concern with poor municipal service, questionable police practices (the Cessna drone is only the latest incident), and schools that don’t teach civic engagement and entrepreneurship which might help to build a sense of community.

Here we go again with the sheriff election. All of a sudden people with not one meaningful contribution to improving Compton, ever, are telling us how to vote and, as usual, the strategy is to divide, give misinformation, disinformation, and steal the city while we argue among ourselves over some shit selfish people threw in for us to feed on. They know we will because they know us better than we know ourselves.

And what about the L.A. Times Editorial Board endorsement of Jim McDonnell, current Long Beach Police Chief and former LAPD officer and Citizens’ Commission on Jail Violence member? “The Times strongly recommends a vote for McDonnell for sheriff.”

You can count on one hand where can you even find a copy of the L.A. Times in Compton and it does not now, never have, and no doubt never will speak to the needs and concerns of Compton residents. They’d have to spend time in the city when someone’s not bleeding to do that. If they did, the conversation might turn toward community-oriented in addition to constitutional policing and jails. The Times editorial board is too focused on crime rates to do that. McDonnell was where when Rodney King’s ass was whipped by LAPD? Or when Stanley Miller was chased and beat in Compton by LAPD?  We know where he was from 2008 to 2013 when 13,911 Black teenagers were arrested and cited in Long Beach.

That number included the number of arrests and misdemeanor citations issued to boys and girls between the ages of 13 and 17. Black youths accounted for 35 percent of the arrests and citations, and Whites represented 8 percent of the arrests and citations. Black students are 16 percent and Whites 15 percent of the LBUSD respectively. Inexplicably, some Latinos were lumped into the White group which actually makes things look worse since they too have police relationship issues. The stated reasons for the disparity are attributed to population density, more violent crime, and more frequent patrols dependent on who you ask. The L. B. Press-Telegram pointed to the sometimes “uneasy relationship with the black community,” that the LBPD has.

Compton had nothing to do with the Citizen’s Commission on Jails other than the jails being filled with many of its residents. Compton was not and has not been part of the law enforcement or policing conversation in Los Angeles County even though the city has an inordinate amount of contact the entire criminal justice system. Therefore policy, direction, and so-called reform are left to attorneys, not to residents on the receiving end of police discretion.

I had two questions after I listened to McDonnell and his supporters speak in his behalf for about two hours at a one-sided Concerned Citizens of Compton “business meeting” May 10th.  First to the 50-60 audience members, mostly law abiding voting seniors, and a few cops and opportunists: “Raise your hand if you trust police.” One hand went up, not even the cops raised their hands. The second question was to McDonnell: “What will you do to increase that number to 99 percent?” He spoke to what he will do if elected but could not speak to what he has done. Realistically, I’d settle if he’d get less than half of the room to raise their hands next time in Compton.

My point is that the L.A. Times endorsement is not intended or targeted to Compton but to a wider populous in which the needs of Compton get drowned out. Don’t assume that the concerns of Compton are the same as Rolling Hills, Lakewood, Calabasas, or West Hollywood. Those areas might not start the conversation with a question of trust of police. The L.A. Times rarely speaks to the needs of Compton because they don’t know it and probably don’t care. If no one in Compton ever bought a paper would it make a difference? Hell-to-the-No.

The L.A. Times acknowledges my candidate preference, Todd Rogers, “[he] deserves notice for his commitment to community policing, and the integrity and professionalism he brings are badly needed in the department. But like other candidates, he need not hold the top spot to be part of the solution.” In other words he could be undersheriff, maybe. The assumption is that a new face, even one from the LAPD whose members have sparked the last riots (1965 and 1991) and have had a checkered relationship with communities such as Compton, Watts, and Willowbrook, is the solution. What if Rogers as sheriff brought McDonnell in as undersheriff instead? Hmmm.

Compton is on an island pretty much alone. It’s time for us to recognize our commonality, stop arguing, fussing and fighting among ourselves and rally around each other since there is plenty of work for everyone and more. The one-upmanship and high school, child-like put downs need to cease. We needn’t look for another leader, mayor, council person, or city manager if we all take the lead. Besides, the work must continue when appointed leaders fall for the okie-doke and end up in county jail.

Everyone has a contribution to make to improve life in Compton. What is yours?

Let’s not be fooled again.

Did the Citizens’ Commission on Jail Violence Go Too Far?

Lee Baca, Los Angeles County Sheriff

I wonder a lot whether public servants have completely lost sight of their purpose. Last September the Citizens’ Commission on Jail Violence completed its report on L.A. County jails with a host of recommendations that the sheriff has committed to implement such as a new Assistant Sheriff for Custody Division; a new Internal Investigations Division to investigate all injuries to inmates; a new Inspectional Services unit to ensure custody personnel compliance with sheriff policy; recommended that Special Counsel Merrick Bobb,  Office of Independent Review Michael Gennaco, and the Ombudsman, Board of Supervisors (BOS) creations all, rolled into a single Office of Inspector General reporting to them. There are winners and losers under these arrangements that purportedly are to reduce violence in jails perpetrated by deputies.

The sheriff of course wins because the BOS are ever willing to throw money at whatever law enforcement problem that surfaces. Nowhere but in county  law enforcement is mismanagement, incompetence, and lack of vision handsomely rewarded with surveillance cameras, more personnel, additional programs (Education Based Incarceration), and no doubt plenty of other things not made public. Oh yea, a new jail is coming soon to replace new county, the dungeon known as Men’s Central Jail. I worked inside of CJ for seven years through floods caused by faulty plumbing and electrical blackouts: It stinks and everyone inside eventually converts positive for TB. CJ is cruel and unusual punishment for workers and inmates alike. There is no remedy short of demolition if indeed L.A. County needs replacement jail beds despite voices that advocate more schools instead of jails. Sorry, EBI is as close as you’ll get on that one.

The BOS win, at least until the next election. Some had called for an Inspector General all along and is probably the main reason for forming the Citizens’ Commission in the first place. They avoid firing useless units by rolling them all into one and sticking a new high paying position  on top purportedly to do what their other creations was unable to do. As usual, they miss the point of civilian oversight albeit expensively. The inefficiency of piling shit on top of shit is what fuels small and anti government conservative rhetoric.

The prison industrial complex of businesses win: those that supply the sheriff with services and supplies from inmate food, toilet paper, books, clothing, medicine, and whatever the department needs for continuity and maintenance of 18-20,000 male and female inmates: construction contractors and a plethora of consultants.

Unincorporated patrol areas theoretically could gain if deputies now housed in the jails are pushed to the streets in favor of using Custody Assistants in the jails. This proposal has been in place for twenty years but never fully implemented thanks to visionless and weak management and overly influential deputy unions. There is a caveat to this potential win however discussed below.

Losers are easy to identify. That’s you if you pay property taxes locally.

With all of the Commissions’ talk of accountability, little is likely to be achieved, especially in the jails without (r)evolution of the entire department. Part of the reason is that no one knows what jail accountability looks like. What does appropriate or reasonable use of force look like? If workers are to be held accountable for jail service performance, will standards be established that are specific enough to be measured? Will employees have a chance to provide input on these standards, not necessarily through unions? What about the voice of inmate customers? All of the pro bono attorneys from respected law firms, staff, interns, and volunteers didn’t have a describable clue. Interestingly, the commission included no inmates or former inmates that could give first hand experience of county jail life. Of course, current or former inmates might not fall within some definitions of citizens. The Coalition to End Sheriff Violence in L.A. Jails weren’t invited to the table either. The practice of excluding service recipient or customer input from audits, reviews, and reports have ramifications in other policing activity as well. More on that later.

County unincorporated areas could be real losers when problem deputies end up on the streets. Contract cities could also have this problem. Face it, they have had plenty of practice with excessive force on black and brown jail inmates in the jail which is the same population they are likely to see on the streets. And, as the Citizens’ Commission points out, no one was disciplined for the jail problems, scapegoat maybe, but not disciplined. To find a disciplined jailhouse deputy is as hard as getting L.A. County District Attorney Jacqueline Lacey to file criminal charges against deputies for murder such as the case of Jose Delatrinidad who was shot in the back seven times last November. Alarmingly, no Citizens’ Commission was formed to review the hundreds of police killings over the past five years, a sizable number by sheriff deputies.

What’s the Vision?

What the Citizens Commission failed to do, and what the clueless BOS are incapable of doing, is describing a vision of what sheriff services should look like. This is especially true for jails and patrol, the two most problematic areas. They present no alternative mission statement and produce no ideal goals. Instead, they defer to sheriff developed core value, mission, and creed statements that offer little direction and are no more than words on a plaque or fliers on a bulletin board. While requiring better supervision, as well as a willingness to discipline, fire and prosecute deputies who violate rules and laws will help, we need to go much deeper.

The Commission offered no vision statement that generates purpose and meaning, which is the real starting point. A vision is a picture of what the organization wants to become. It is context for decision making and every big decision that LASD makes should move it closer to its vision. For example, the Compton4COPS vision statement is for Compton to become a city where women and children can walk any street safely at any time day or night. The sheriff needs a vision that can be embraced by all employees and the public. Here’s one from Newport News PD: To take a leading role in making Newport News a place where people want to live, work and play.

Of course, no one wants to make the jail a place where people want to live, work, and play so I’ll only talk about Patrol/Detective Operations that service 9.8 million people.

A mission explains how the organization will achieve the vision and helps the organization to focus on what’s important to carry out everyday activities. The sheriff’s mission statement reads: Lead the fight to prevent crime and injustice. Enforce the law fairly and defend the rights of all, including the incarcerated. Partner with the people we serve to secure and promote safety in our communities. Yep, and they’re able to leap tall buildings in a single bound too. Every deputy is not a leader. Also, the best leaders know how to lead from behind. Communities would benefit greatly if more deputies were simply great team players with other organizations.

The department’s mission statement is not widely understood or acknowledged. In other words, it is lost on the workforce and that employees had nothing to do with its development might be a contributing factor why it is not universally embraced. L.A. County’s overall mission reads: To enrich lives through effective and caring service. That’s okay from an overall service perspective but the sheriff can do better. For example, back to Newport News PD: To work in partnership with citizens and government to provide excellence in police services. Or this from Prince William County: The mission of the Prince William County Police Department is to enhance the quality of life by providing police services through shared responsibility with the public. Note how the last two mission statements reference the customer base while the sheriff’s focus is insular.

A new set of core values for LASD employees to embrace could become a driving force for organizational norms and priorities. The goal should be to establish a set of core values that would be owned and lived by employees, ultimately becoming the organization’s foundational tenets of daily behavior and decision-making. The core values must underpin the mission statement and emphasize productivity, responsibility, innovation, dedication, and ethical actions.

The current set of values reads: As a leader in the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, I commit myself to honorably perform my duties with respect for the dignity of all people, integrity to do right and fight wrongs, wisdom to apply common sense and fairness in all I do and courage to stand against racism, sexism, anti-Semitism, homophobia and bigotry in all its forms. This sounds more like the Serenity Prayer: God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference. That’s a great thing for folks recovering from alcohol and other drugs but not so great for multifaceted public organizations. As an example Venice, Florida offers this: Be trustworthy, acting with the utmost integrity. Be truthful and dependable. Make impartial decisions, free of bribes, unlawful gifts, and financial or other personal interests that impair judgment or action. Be fair, extending equal opportunities and due process to all parties in matters under consideration. Demonstrate respect for all persons.

LASD would need to involve a large number of employees in the process of coming up with new core values but it is best to leverage the buy-in and engagement of workers. Again, from Prince William County PD: …is responsible for protecting constitutional guarantees and impartially enforcing the law. We believe that integrity is the basis of public trust and that honesty and equality in the delivery of police services is essential. We commit ourselves to uphold these values and to foster cooperation and respect within our community.

The sheriff’s creed or motto reads: My goals are simple; I will always be painfully honest, work as hard as I can, learn as much as I can and hopefully make a difference in people’s lives. The Newport News, VA Police motto: Committed to our community. The sheriff’s creed points inward, Newport’s, outward. Get it? I’d like to see more demonstration of the sheriff’s commitment to communities, especially in Compton, Willowbrook, and So. L.A.

Do you think there is a clear public benefit to revisiting sheriff’s vision, mission, creed, and core values?  The public or maybe a commission with real public tie-in can lead it. This is the starting points commissions fail to address which serve to maintain the status quo in the long run. When LASD leadership adopt and internalize revamped vision, mission, and core values by walking the walk and talking the talk, the rest will follow. It is easy to benchmark and measure progress toward achieving a new vision.

Sheriff Reorganization

A sheriff sergeant told me that all the department really did was rearrange boxes on the organization chart rolled out in May. While I don’t totally agree with that assessment, I fully understand that he means that the sheriff really does not intend to change, particularly from outsider’s recommendations.

On the other hand, contrary to the sergeants opinion now is the opportune time for the sheriff to change substantively and measurably for the better. The new reorg is a great start for an agency that hates change. Sheriff Leroy Baca has had the benefit of constant community engagement during his years as head man. Unlike Sherman Block, he is popular throughout L.A. County because he engages the entire county and has had the opportunity to hear from most elements of an extremely diverse population including the dreaded gang member. He is routinely approached by citizens and non-citizens because he is approachable. He is one of, if not the most approachable elected official in Los Angeles. Because of this, he gets firsthand the concerns of residents.

There is no other institutionalized means by which sheriff’s get the kind of input that Baca has received over the years; not town hall meetings; not city council meetings; and certainly not Tuesday BOS meetings and block club meetings in places like Compton. His management and leadership skill of the sheriff’s department is being tested right now however. With that opportunity, he has a chance to catch up and even surpass what William Bratton accomplished with the LAPD.  It will take five years to install a solid change foundation, it took Bratton  about six.This opportunity is far more relevant to the 9.8 million people in the unincorporated areas and some contract cities that have had issues with sheriff’s services in the past, like Compton, Willowbrook, South Los Angeles, Palmdale, and Lancaster, when compared to the problems of 18,000 jailed inmates.

Baca has done some things that flew in the face of industry and convention. For example, the past twenty years has seen the whole field of alcohol and other drug use professionalize to the point that it is now a useless extension of the criminal justice system where the goal for users is not total abstinence. Some so-called substance abuse counselors believe it’s alright to drink beer and smoke weed personally.  Many people think that marijuana use is harmless. Moreover, prescription drugs are a bigger problem than even deadly designer drugs.

In June 2011, the Baca allowed the Foundation for a Drug-Free World to conduct training courses at his headquarters. Attendees like me received certification as a Drug-Free World Prevention Specialist. Except for nicotine, we were taught about the effects of all drugs including alcohol and prescription drugs. That’s the kind of thing that goes against the grain of and direction of the rest of L.A. County services that is beholden to the pharmaceutical industry’s medical psychiatric model. He has also been known to support the twenty one principles contained in The Way to Happiness, a secular program used successfully in the life skills component of the Teen Intervention Program (TIP) for which I am Communications Secretary. Principle number eight is Do Not Murder, for example.  A good move would be to use Learning How to Learn and Study Skills for Life from Applied Scholastics in the EBI program. In the people business one has to get good tools where you can find it regardless of who gets pissed off. What I find is the one doing the most hollering and jumping up and down is the one doing the least to improve the community.

Who Really Gets Empowered?

Making Los Angeles County Law Enforcement Accountable was the workshop topic at the January 19, 2013 Empowerment Congress Summit promoted by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas. The summit accomplished at least two things: it provided a forum for L. A. City mayoral candidates and helped roll out the Citizens’ Commission jail report. Nothing empowering was involved and no one that could really affect sheriff policy and practice attended. Many resident policing issues were raised but there was no further discourse and the promised follow up never happened. Many of the attendees were not residents of Los Angeles City and would not participate in the vote for mayor. In other words, that was time wasted. Since there was no serious effort to address workshop issues, that time was wasted too. The Gun Violence Prevention workshop fared no better according to those that attended it.

What Does Empowerment Really Look Like?

True empowerment and engagement won’t be televised but will take the form of ground level up action like that of Rosie Delatrindad, wife of Jose who was killed late last year. It does not wait for or require government definition, approval, organization, or sanction. The response to the George Zimmerman verdict, Occupy Wall Street, and the Arab Spring are three examples. Rosie and 130 other people, mostly residents from Compton, signed a March 12, 2013* petition letter developed by Compton4COPS. I thank those who did sign it which was everyone I spoke to.The letter to Baca called for a reorganization of the sheriff’s department. The main thesis is visible and measurable community engagement  by the whole of the sheriff’s department, not just him and importantly, accountability to residents directly, not through another BOS pile of smelly stuff.

The Compton4COPS letter calls on the LASD to accept as real that fear and distrust of law enforcement is a major barrier to effective policing in places like Compton, Willowbrook, South L.A., Palmdale, and Lancaster.  The LASD must take a leadership role—there’s that word again— by finding ways to overcome the level of distrust. Increased trust will lead to safer communities; better communication; focus on problems identified by the community; and, less use of force litigation. The sheriff is asked to expand his role beyond law enforcement in three ways; 1. By elevating crime prevention and community trust building within the organization 2) engaging the community often and differently, and, 3) accept that resident distrust of deputies and police in general is real. Distrust is exacerbated by media accounts of county jail problems and deputy involved killings.

Baca was asked to reorganize the Sheriff’s Department to put emphasis where it is needed most, satisfying the policing needs of residents. Specifically, creation of two high level units or bureaus is prescribed; Crime Analysis, Prevention & Community Trust Bureau (CAPCTB) and Quality Measurement, Policy Development & Control Bureau (QMPDCB).

The primary charge of CAPCTB is to analyze crime problems, particularly as identified by the community serviced, public dumping, sex trafficking, and hate crimes for example, and design and implement corrective strategies. This bureau will also focus on developing and executing strategies to build trust for law enforcement within communities such as Compton. The LASD needs to develop a comprehensive information outreach and feedback program loop. This will help LASD assess if customer service is good, bad, or indifferent.

The QMPDCB will focus on developing transparent service quality measures based on his department’s mission and strategic goals. If crime control and reduction is a primary goal, adding other objectives to the policing tool bag will sit favorably with communities such as Compton. For example, in addition to arrest, response times, and clearances, station personnel’s effectiveness could also be measured by:

  • Number of problem‐solving meetings held with local businesses & community groups
  • Number of new initiatives from partnering with business & community
  • Measures of citizens’ feelings of safety in their neighborhoods

Clear and understandable policies with actionable and measurable performance indicators will go a long way with improving internal accountability and answer three fundamental questions: How are we doing? Why are we doing it? And, what should we be doing? The recommended organization flow is attached.

Second, rules of community engagement should be clarified and probably redefined.

Historically, rebellions or riots have occurred that were sparked by police activity in communities from Dade County Florida to Alameda County California. Who can forget Los Angeles in August 1965 and April 1992? The charge of the CAPCTB will be to create new engagement rules and new images of policing to offset beatings, fire hose, and canine images from policing tactics used in the past. Strategies will need to be developed for engaging diverse groups and population segments such as youth, seniors, and especially young adults in places such as Compton.

Third, we must all accept that distrust of police is a major impediment to productive relations between law enforcement and communities such as Compton. A few bad deputies inform community perception of the majority and this is not something that is overcome with Public Relations units. It is usually how deputies go about their daily job that determines trustworthiness. Questionable police shootings are the most blatant deterrent to building community trust among other derogating behavior toward residents.

The proposed organization chart shows the additional units placed directly under the sheriff, above the under sheriff.

Sheriff Baca’s March 21, 2013** letter responded to the petition. That letter references another document, Public Trust Policing – Partnering with the Communities We Protect,*** and refers us to work with the Compton Sheriff’s Station captain. The document touts what the sheriff considers its public trust programs but falls short of establishing any sort of baseline by which to measure changes in community trust levels. It is not clear what audience the booklet was intended for or its purpose. With a budget approaching $3 billion the onus for trust building devolves to the LASD. Besides, to effect positive change in Compton requires a revamping of the whole of LASD as described above and in the March 12 letter. That’s the only way to ensure continuity with constantly changing sheriff personnel, including captains.

I’ll reiterate, I am indeed saying that the LASD must change its style of policing entirely if it hopes to better serve communities such as Compton, Willowbrook, South L.A., and, possibly Palmdale and Lancaster. If this can be done without affecting sheriff county-wide services and jails, so be it. Some other cities might be 100% satisfied with sheriff’s services and have few problems with distrust, so why change the wheel instead of one bad lug nut? The answer is that: 1) historically rebellions and riots are more likely to be ignited by police behavior and that in turn adversely affects the whole county, socially and economically and, 2) passage of Measure I in April locks the sheriff into Compton forever (or until the voters overturn it). It might be wise for the sheriff to develop mechanisms to access more segments of the community to determine the validity of perceptions expressed in this and other reports.

To his credit, Sheriff Baca boldly rolled out a new flatter organization structure in May. It was published in that month’s edition of Star & Shield, below. The new org shows custody or jails as an entity under an assistant sheriff all to its self. That’s a good thing. It also shows the new Internal Investigations and Inspectional Services units all reporting directly to him. Those are good things too but seem too narrowly focused on jails. Patrol and Detective operations report to the sheriff through an assistant sheriff. That’s good because patrol might be able to now establish its own identity and direction. Besides, that is where the average person is most likely to come into contact with sheriff’s services.

Conceivably, the items contained in our March 12, letter to Baca could occur within the far right portion of the chart under the assistant sheriff over Administrative/Professional Standards. I say this because that is where crime analyst reside and, hold your breath, there is a new box called Continuous Improvement Unit. That’s huge.

Since none of the reorganization was accompanied by narrative, it remains to be seen if the sergeant’s comment about rearranging boxes is valid. Because there is no narrative, we cannot see around or through the huge elephant in the room: the level of community involvement and engagement. Is customer service an integral part of the mission? The sheriff must overcome a common refrain about its complaint process: 1) “They ain’t gonna do nothing anyway,” and 2) Complaint initiation is unfriendly and discouraging.  In Compton Station there is actually a Plexiglas counter barrier that separates the worker from the public to exacerbate the problem. The sheriff needs to determine community expectations of the sheriff’s department and its role in the community, and develop policy that matches those expectations. The Patrol/Detective Operations must learn and then fully implement community-oriented policing.

The way that deputies go about their jobs in places like Compton, Willowbrook, Athens, Lancaster, Palmdale, and South L.A. will determine the efficacy of the reorganization. Another way to accelerate real change is for LASD to seek Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies, Inc. (CALEA) accreditation. CALEA, an independent entity, that was founded in 1979 through the joint efforts of the International Associations of Chiefs of Police, the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives, the National Sheriff’s Association and the Police Executive Research Forum. CALEA allows LASD to transparently police itself from within.

The Commission is charged with administering an accreditation process unique to law enforcement agencies in the United States and several foreign nations. The ultimate goal of the process is to increase the professionalism of law enforcement agencies.

Of course, citizens’ commissions, Inspector Generals, Board Deputies, and all others fail to address issues raised here. Why?

That’s my take on it. I welcome your feedback.

LASD Reorganization May 2013

*Lee Baca final (Autosaved)March 12 letter

**Baca response to Cpt4COPS

***Public Trust_LASD

 

Compton Raped, Repeatedly

Pissed

In April 2000, it took three votes, Omar Bradley, Amen Rahh, and Delores Zurita  to disband the Compton Municipal Police Dept. In June 2010, it took three votes, Eric Perrodin, Lilly Dobson, and Barbara Calhoun to attempt a CPD comeback. In April 2011, the comeback failed due a lack of budget amendment votes.  The one common thread to this 13 year policing odyssey is that in neither instance was the Compton community included in the discussion or decision making process.

In 2001 Bradley was ousted. In 2003 Zurita and Rahh were not re-elected. Calhoun subsequently was voted out in 2011. Will there be more incumbent ousters in 2013?

Once again without any community discussion about policing, 4000 signatures were gathered from Compton voters to place Measure “I” before the voters that reads:

“All police powers as prescribed by Federal and State law that can be carried out by a Municipal Police Department shall be provided by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department for the City of Compton. The city shall annually budget funds to cover the cost for Los Angeles County Sheriff Department services.”

The proponents, primarily the sheriff deputy union ALADS and a former Compton city clerk would have voters believe that sheriff services in Compton is being threatened and that Measure “I” is the best solution to “Keep the Sheriff in Compton.”

In reality, Compton voters are asked to lock in sheriff’s services and jobs to the extent that it can choose no other option regardless of whether the city can afford it or if service quality is substandard or inappropriate. None of the other 42 cities contracting with the sheriff has such a law on its books and probably never will.

The LASD has a dubious service history in Compton. For example station deputy Mark Fitzpatrick was convicted of sexual assault on women; Captain Bernice Abram of Carson station got in on the Compton action by helping Compton drug dealers;  deputies fired 120 shots at Winston Hayes in East Compton; Deputy Gabriel Gonzalez was convicted in 2006 of raping three women while on duty in Compton and surrounding areas; Bryant Hunter was killed by deputies that shot at him through their own vehicle windshield; Sean O’Donghue filed false reports; the killings of Avery Cody  Jr. in 2009 and Jose Delatrinidad late last year in neighboring Willowbrook by Lynwood deputies. The influence of Lynwood deputy behavior on Compton and Willowbrook go way back. Sometimes, although rarely, deputies are fired for misdeeds as in the case of Arthur Jones.

Despite the stings, the problem of prostitution goes unabated along the once commercially thriving Long Beach Blvd due to the sheriff’s inability to arrest and prosecute johns, the sex trade customer. Some even question the validity of the so-called hate crime that supposedly occurred in Compton not long ago and how the incident appeared on the front page of the L.A. Times the same day, January 26,  as the protest rally of the sheriff deputy killing of Jose Delatrinidad late last year. On top of everything, a sizable number of residents simply don’t trust deputies.

Only in Compton can a dastardly deed such as Measure “I” even be contemplated and it points to the failures of municipal leadership since Walter R. Tucker III days. What city in its right mind would permanently lock in a contractor? Such an act defeats the choice option that comes along with time limited agreements and narrows the menu of policing service options available to city to the sheriff’s offerings.

Disincorporation

Is measure “I” the first step toward disincorporation of Compton as a city? What’s to stop the next or even the same proponents from coming with another signature gathering to replace fire department services, Emergency Medical Services, and public works? Don’t think it’s possible? Who would have thought 13 years ago that Compton would still be grappling over the issue of policing?

The Los Angeles County Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) looked at Compton and several other southeast cities, Lynwood, Cudahy, Maywood, Bell, Commerce, Vernon, and South El Monte in 2008 and prepared a report that asks the question: Is there a better way to govern the area?

Would Compton be better off under the County of Los Angeles completely? This might be the solution, albeit a sad one, if residents want potholes filled, streets resurfaced, trees trimmed, sewer and water lines replaced, parks maintained and manned and, of course, law enforcement from the sheriff.

LAFCO regulates boundary changes proposed by other public agencies or individuals through application. One objective is to discourage urban sprawl that is described as irregular and disorganized growth occurring without apparent design or plan.

According to its brochure, “This pattern of development is characterized by the inefficient delivery of municipal services (e.g., police, fire, water, and sanitation and the unnecessary loss of agricultural resources and open space lands). By discouraging sprawl, LAFCO limits the misuse of land resources and promotes a more efficient system of local governmental agencies.”

Under the county arrangement, instead of going to the parking-less city hall to complain, you’d travel downtown to the Board of Supervisors and Mark Ridley-Thomas.

Given the findings of the LAFCO 2008 report, it’s not hard to project what the 2013 report, that’s overdue, could look like. Face it, a lot has happened since 2008 in Vernon, Bell, Cudahy, and Compton. Much of it was not good.

After reading through most of the information on the LAFCO Webpage, I’m unclear whether it has the authority to dissolve boundaries in Compton for example and annex the city with Los Angeles County. But, it occurs to me that this is one option for residents to get the kind of basic quality-of-life services that have been in decline in Compton for a long, long time. Besides, it’s unlikely that surrounding cities would agree to consolidate with Compton.

I’m just sayin’.

Candidate Forums and Politics

I’m not one much for politics or politicians. After all of the promises and outright lies, most have incompetently left Compton worse off with budget deficits, poor education and public service, negative outcomes in the form of street pot holes, public nuisances and high crime, high taxes and utility bills, and, to top it off, old farts scrambling for life-long political careers have all but ignored the life blood of the community, young people.

And they wonder why we have gangs.

Candidate Forums

Still, I’m a member of the Concerned Citizens of Compton (CCC), one of the few activist groups in Compton. Most of us are elderly and many are retired, some from politics and civil service. For a while I thought the organization was too close to politicians and, to an extent, it might be if accountability is not demanded from them.

The numbers of politicians coming through admittedly test the limits of my comfort because I trust them so little. But what keeps me involved is this part of the CCC mission statement “We encourage and support leadership who will serve the Citizens of Compton with unselfishness, honesty and integrity.”

That’s a tall order given Compton’s governing and political history since mayor Walter Tucker III, but hope springs eternal.

But, like the president, Marie Hollis, reminds us, “where else can you go to receive what CCC offers [real politicians and bureaucrats up-close and personal]?” The answer is nowhere. Besides, the three candidate’s forums to date, while not all inclusive of everyone running, have been interesting and informative. And, because I’m always interested in getting residents engaged and voting, they let me film them. So, there you go.

The first forum was held February 16 (video) and included Eric Perrodin, Charles Davis, and Rose Marie Downs. The second forum was on March 2 (video), and featured Satra Zurita, Lynn Rodgers-Boone, Jasper Jackson, and Aja Brown. The March 16 (video) forum was for Diana Sanchez, Craig Cornwell, Cynthia Green-Geter, Omar Bradley, and Anton Blakely. The next is April 6.

Django (The “D” is Silent)

I’m reminded of the movie Django and the character I consider the most significant, Stephen, played by Samuel L. Jackson. With due respect for the outstanding performance of Leonardo DiCaprio as Calvin Candie and the Academy Award winning performance of Christoph Waltz as Dr. Shultz, it was Jackson’s role as what we use to erroneously refer to as “Uncle Tom”  that riveted my attention.

I didn’t really want to see Django even though I like most of Quentin Tarantino’s other movies. I couldn’t fathom how anything humorous could be mined from our experience as American slave property, particularly in the hand of a white man. Spike Lee, yes, Tarantino, no.

It was after my third viewing, twice because I liked my dates and the third time watching a bootleg with my mother that I drew out a different understanding. For me the movie starts at chapter 18 where Stephen first appears.

Stephen is a House Nigger and the very epitome of what we, as Africans, thought we had come to despise. Stephen is intelligent as we see when he first appears making out a check to pay Calvin’s, his master, grain bill.

Stephen oversees plantation and household operations on behalf of Calvin’s sister. He has full control of the house and the surrounding acreage. He would never criticize and always agrees with Calvin much like many in Compton do when it comes to discussions about sheriff’s services and what deputies do in Compton. On top of that, he has a special relationship with Calvin because he no doubt raised him. In other words, Stephen was Calvin’s male nanny. Stephen is Calvin’s surrogate father and has the rights and entitlements associated therewith including the power of life and death over the other slaves.

Stephen will do anything to maintain his position in the hierarchy including maiming or otherwise killing the aspirations of other slaves. He is the anti-Harriett Tubman. I’m reminded of Stephen as I watch the political jockeying taking place in Compton.

Candidates

There are 12 people running for mayor, six for city council District 3, seven for council District 2, two for city clerk, and three for treasurer. That totals 30 people after five jobs.

I’m not suggesting that all candidates fit the Stephen mold but there is probably more of his type than Harriett Tubman’s which creates a dilemma of choice for the voters, especially when we consider the CCC mission statement above.

Who do you vote for? What candidates have the leadership and managerial skill to drive Compton out of the ditch it’s parked in? Which candidate has the sense and competence to understand that Compton is city manager oriented per charter and the lead of a skilled CM is essential? Not all Compton candidates are African [American], and that’s a good thing. But the comparison to Stephen still holds since the focus is on  character traits which transcend ethnicity, race, and gender.

Listen closely to what candidates are saying. Do they even have a grasp of Compton’s situation? Do they understand how governing works? Can any describe it or paint a picture of that understanding? Any solutions?

Does the shit make sense? If not, don’t be afraid to vote for the unfamiliar name if the ideas make sense.

“NO” ON MEASURE I

There is a ballot initiative, Measure I, for Compton voter’s decision on  April 16, 2013  that I believe is unconscionable. Measure I takes away the city’s choice of policing by adding to the Compton Municipal Code a requirement of county sheriff (LASD) to provide policing or law enforcement services.

All police powers as prescribed by Federal and State law that can be carried out by a Municipal Police Department shall be provided by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department for the City of Compton. The city shall annually budget funds to cover the coast for Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department services.”

Here we go again. First we had the ineffectual Compton PD, F Troop. Then, thanks to Omar Bradley, we were introduced to sheriff’s services in 2001. Eric Perrodin attempted and failed to bring back CPD. That was really an expensive fiasco. There is one common thread to all of this: The people of Compton had no input whatsoever, and hopefully, memory is long come April 16 when you see familiar names on the ballot. Its time to get off the dysfunctional merry-go-round.

Has anyone living in Compton ever been satisfied with either of the two? I’m not asking which of the two that you are more satisfied or dissatisfied with. No. I’m asking if you are satisfied with either the CPD or LASD service.

Most people I speak with are not only dissatisfied with policing (law enforcement) in Compton but don’t trust them either. Moreover, there is too little discussion on public safety period. If residentts feel safe, they might be more likely to shop and spend money locally. When residents feel safe, they are less likely to move away such as what happened in the 80s.

The question of trust is never asked by elected “leaders” (Bradley, Perrodin, Council) or LASD. Given that we can’t seem to live with or without police, why is the question of trust never asked? Why isn’t the question of whether Compton residents are satisfied with police services ever asked?

“NO” ON MEASURE I.