Recently a person posted on social media a photo of a man with his hand in the air in what was thought to be a Nazi salute. The post included a picture of a man making the obscene gesture. The person went on to identify the man the background as a Santa Cruz Police officer. He was not. The photo of the alleged Santa Cruz Police officer was blurred; however, the post named the officer. A community member phoned me out of concern that we might have an overtly racist cop in the department, knowing it would not be acceptable to me. I immediately directed our Professional Standards Sergeant to begin an internal investigation.
The image widely spread on social media was a false construct. The Professional Standards sergeant tracked down the original photo. The people in the photo are not, nor have they ever been, police officers or employees of SCPD. The post appears designed to intentionally ruin the integrity of a good man, and publicly shame him while attacking his employment. The evidence in this case could support a libel or claim of defamation.
Explain how defaming a cop or threatening violence toward men and women trying to do a tough job is productive toward equality and justice. A fraction of protesters even celebrate the death of police officers. How does the violence and destruction we have seen in other cities right wrongs or bring justice? Throwing objects such as hatchets, bricks, and improvised explosives at cops to hurt them does little to bring us together. It only serves to deny justice to a police officer who might be a father, mother, Latinx, Asian, or African-American person. As Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Hatred is too great a price to bear.”
The violence and vitriol expressed by some of the protesters only serves to push some cops and other community members away from the table of pursuing justice. Sadly, many of the most violent were not people of color, who experienced racism, but others seizing the moment for personal crusades.
Similarly, some cops think crime will fall if people fear the police and the power of the institutions standing behind them. This is wrong. Each community wants to know the police are on their side, in their corner, as a champion of justice for them. Unfortunately, many don’t feel that way. They view the police as something to avoid. We can do better.
Sir Robert Peel, the father of Modern Policing, said, “The ability of the police to perform their duties is dependent upon public approval of police actions.” We should take that admonition seriously. The police cannot be successful without the cooperation and collaboration of the community we serve and that depends on the public’s approval of our actions. Without actionable change the police will lose the public support.
Grammy award-winning rapper LL Cool J said, “We need to get better, not bitter.” Just as the police cannot be successful without direct and powerful community involvement, equality and justice cannot come without the involvement of the police. As a system, there has been injustice on a massive and prolonged scale. Again, LL Cool J, “There has been a knee on the neck of black men for 400 years.” Racial discrimination in all of government must end! Things must change!
To bring change and build collaboration, I recommend:
Continue to protest loudly and safely. Your words and actions are getting through to those in power. You have the attention at every level of government.
Seize the moment and guard the movement. Don’t let others hijack the movement for an ulterior motive. Change will not come overnight, but you can help put structure into place to protect those likely to be discriminated against. All options must be discussed in a thoughtful and rational way.
Practice what is preached. Violence begets violence. The police must use better crowd control tactics, and protesters must control and separate from people among the crowd who use the protest to hurt police officers. Any level of violence, by the community or the police, cannot be tolerated. It is my responsibility to protect the men and women of SCPD and the community expressing their rights.
If you have a complaint about the police, tell us. Rather than publicly slandering a person without cause, let us investigate it and report back to you. Hold me accountable for the quality and consistency in our internal investigations. Each investigation goes through an independent review by an external police auditor and then to the Public Safety committee. We will release a synopsis of each investigation to the community for review.
For us to succeed and ensure America and Santa Cruz is a just and fair place for all people, we must work together. The members of SCPD are committed to doing so. Are you?