Elected CA Dems duck issue of police treatment of minorities

Elected CA Dems duck issue of police treatment of minorities

rodney.kingAs protests in Oakland, Los Angeles and San Diego have shown, there are many Californians who are upset about what happened in Ferguson, Mo., with the police killing of an unarmed African-American youth. They’re also much more broadly concerned about how police treat minorities, including here in the Golden State.

This is no surprise. California was home to the largest protest over police brutality in U.S. history: the 1992 riots after a Simi Valley jury mostly cleared four LAPD officers for their videotaped beating of Rodney King.

But do the Democrats these Californians elect to office ever do anything about it? Do they pass laws cracking down on police misconduct or encouraging outside investigations when there are credible examples of a police department treating minority communities with hostility?

I know of no substantive policies of this kind enacted by the Democrat-dominated Legislature in the past 20 years. After a 2006 court decision (Copley Press v. Superior Court) further insulated law enforcement officers from accountability, activists attempted to get the Legislature to rewrite state law. They got nowhere. The result:

An investigation by ColorLines and the Investigative Fund at The Nation Institute has found that the decision, combined with state laws that protect police privacy, has blocked the public from knowing whether local police officers have engaged in misconduct, or a pattern of misconduct, even when such misconduct involves officers inappropriately shooting civilians. …

“Now, you don’t have to worry that your dirty laundry or allegations about your dirty laundry will be on the front page of the newspaper,” the attorney representing the local Deputy Sheriff’s Association, Everett Bobbitt, said at the time. In her dissent, Justice Kathryn Werdegar argued in a dissenting opinion that the ruling “overvalues” police officers’ privacy concerns, and “undervalues the public’s interest in disclosure.”

Combined, Copley and the Bill of Rights mean California has the tightest restrictions on public access to police disciplinary information in the country. “Copley differs greatly from laws in the rest of the country,” said Philip Eure, the head of the District of Columbia’s Office of Police Complaints and a former president of the National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement. Copley, Eure said, is “rather extreme” in its public records restrictions and has “caused alarm in the oversight community.”

Issue a focus of elected Dems in New York

Now of course not just Democrats but Republicans and independents should be worried about police misconduct or mistreatment of minority groups. But in California, it is Democrats who have the political power and Democrats who have a strong hold on the support of African-Americans and Latinos — the groups most likely to cite systemic police mistreatment.

So why don’t elected Golden State Dems do anything about this issue?

One reason is plain: The huge political power of police unions, which are courted by both parties.

One reason should be plain but isn’t: The assumption of California’s elected Democrats that African-Americans and Latinos will always vote for them, so they don’t have to tend to their concerns about cops.

Bill de Blasio was elected mayor of New York after a campaign in which he directly addressed the concerns of black voters about police behavior. He may not be following through on his rhetoric, but he at least he brought up the issue. It remains a big issue with the progressive bloc on the New York City Council.

Will an elected California Democrat take the issue and run with it? We shall see.

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