Ironically, the very thing that oversight board proponents cited as the reason for needing it – lawsuits filed against the city alleging racial discrimination by police – resulted in the council members declining to even discuss it, let alone place it on the agenda for a vote.
Councilman Reggie Moore, who strongly argued in favor of the oversight board when it was first brought to the council’s attention in November, and Councilwoman Mary Rocha, who also indicated support for it, have both been silent since then when the issue has been raised by the public. The other council members have not said anything at all about it.
After 19 speakers spent an hour debating the issue only to be met with silence by the council, Councilwoman Martha Parsons asked City Attorney Lynn Tracy Nerland to explain their silence. Nerland said that the Brown Act prevents the council from discussing an item that is not on the agenda. “A majority of the council has chosen not to place the issue of a civilian oversight commission on the agenda because of litigation that has been filed against the city,” she added.
The council was in closed session before the meeting to discuss the status of a lawsuit against the city filed by five African-American women alleging racial discrimination by the police in attempting to remove them from the Section 8 subsidized housing program and to get them evicted by their landlords. A U.S. District Court judge is currently considering the women’s request to expand it to a class-action suit including African-Americans past, present and future in Antioch who have been or will be discriminated against by the police.
The police oversight board issue was first raised at the Nov. 10 council meeting by Antioch resident Angel Luevano, representing the League of United Latin American Citizens. He asked the council to adopt an ordinance forming the board, saying, “There have been a large amount of community complaints about police misconduct. These include allegations of police brutality, racial profiling.”
At the Dec. 8 council meeting a dozen residents spoke against the formation of an oversight board, arguing that it’s unnecessary, would hamper police protection, the city lacks the funds to staff it, and it would become political. The mother of a slain police officer said to the council, “I am begging you to not to let his sacrifice be in vain by hamstringing the police department by forming this proposed civilian police board.” Only three people spoke in favor of the board proposal.
But Tuesday’s meeting saw a strong show of support for the oversight board. Fourteen people spoke in favor of it, pointing out the cost to the city of fighting the numerous lawsuits, the need for a process to hear and respond to residents’ complaints about police harassment, and the benefit of regular open dialogue about public safety issues.
“We have an emergency situation on our hand – police misconduct or alleged police misconduct,” said Frederick Muhammad, who pointed out that the city and school board recently paid $750,000 to settle a racial discrimination lawsuit out of court. “There’s multiple lawsuits pending behind that one. We will be forced to continue to settle and settle and settle. Ultimately we will lose our city due to lawsuits.
“This is alarming. We are in a recession that hasn’t bottomed out yet. It will only get worse economically. We need to save every penny that we can. We will be forced into bankruptcy. We have to come together as a community. It takes constructive dialogue. A community police relations board is in order.”
Six people argued against forming the board, one of whom was Dick Augusta, a former CHP officer who was shot while making a routine traffic stop. “As a lifetime Antioch resident, I saw it go from a wonderful little town to a monster,” he said. “The crime rate is incredible. Public safety is on the minds of everybody. They (the police) put their life on the line every single time they go to work. A lot of them are killed on the job and thousands are injured. They are human and will make human mistakes occasionally. But they do hundreds of good things on a daily basis.
“But one time when there’s a little mistake or someone gets treated wrong or something, then the race card comes out. Race or nationality have no defense in a lawful arrest. It’s against the law for people to disobey a lawful order from a police officer. That’s necessary in society. We’ve got to get Antioch back to the nice old town it once was. I’m tired of this new group that’s coming in and wanting to cause trouble. They are sue-happy for every little thing, and often they are at fault.”