Past is prologue
Former NAACP presidents hope to clear the air at meeting with Pasadena police chief
By André Coleman 11/05/2013
In a potentially historic gathering, former Pasadena NAACP presidents plan to meet with Police Chief Phillip Sanchez to discuss a number of issues they believe have led to friction between African Americans and local officers, including the lack of civilian oversight of the department.
On Monday, ex-Presidents Del Yarbrough, Charles “Buddy” Bereal and Joe Brown, who stepped down in March after leading the organization for 12 years, requested the informal get-together with Sanchez, which Brown said will be an “issue oriented” discussion on everything from everyday struggles of people living in the African-American community to police interactions with minorities.
“The climate in our community is not what it should be,” said Brown. “We want to share with him how each of us has dealt with his predecessors during these types of issues.”
Sanchez, who took over as head of the department in 2010, said he would meet with the group and hoped to establish a dialogue that would be beneficial to the community.
“There is always value in dialogue to identify the problems and concerns and then working together to develop strategies for solutions,” Sanchez said. “The knowledge of our community members is formidable. They have historical perspective and some of the issues we are dealing with today have been dealt with in the past. If the issues are in the realm of the Police Department I can address them. If not, I am still a stakeholder that can raise awareness and develop strategies that can mitigate those concerns as a collaborative stakeholder in voice.”
The group decided to request the meeting after getting together last Friday at an undisclosed local business. If a meeting is held, it will be conducted at a neutral location yet to be selected.
Former NAACP President John Kennedy, who became the organization’s youngest president when he was elected to lead the group at the age of 25 in 1987 and now represents District 3 on the City Council, will not attend the event.
Former interim President Charlie Johnson, 101, also will not attend the meeting due to health issues, but will advise the group on the meeting.
NAACP President Gary Moody, who took over for Brown, also will not attend, primarily because Moody could be hampered by NAACP bylaws if he attended without first consulting with the organization’s members.
However, Moody told the Weekly that the NAACP would definitely be interested in the results of any meeting that takes place.
“The expertise of the past presidents lends a lot of wisdom,” Moody said. “They were not presidents of the NAACP for nothing. I am definitely interested in hearing from them.”
Formed in 1919, the NAACP Pasadena Branch is one of the oldest advocacy groups in the city, and Yarbrough, Bereal and Brown have been among the group’s most successful presidents, breaking down barriers in education, local hiring and minority relations with the Police Department.
Bereal was elected president in 1994, 20 years after he sued the city over claims of racial discrimination. The lawsuit resulted in an overhaul of city hiring policies, enabling more African Americans and Latinos to gain entry-level positions in the city Police and Fire departments and other skilled trade posts.
In 1998, Yarbrough was elected to lead the organization and relied on his roots as an educator to rally members to become more involved with the Pasadena Unified School District. Yarbrough worked to unify the group at a time when it was severely fractured and running a $20,000 debt. Two years later, the group had come together and the debt was wiped out.
Brown, who was elected the group’s president in 2000, worked to close the communications chasm that existed between the Police Department and minorities living in Northwest Pasadena.
“We bring wisdom to the table,” Brown said. “We want to see Sanchez continue to lead the community and continue to move forward.”
Brown said the reason for the meeting is not exclusively about Kennedy’s recent call for consideration of forming a civilian oversight board to oversee of the Pasadena Police Department, although that will be part of the discussion.
“This is not just about John Kennedy and Chief Sanchez,” Brown said. “This is bigger than Northwest Pasadena. This is about the community and building bridges going forward. Civilian oversight of the Police Department is one of several subjects we will be discussing, but that is not the reason we are meeting with the chief.”
In September, the council rejected an effort by Kennedy to bring a discussion of a feasibility study of civilian oversight of police before the board.
Two weeks later, a Pasadena police officer shot and wounded Paris Holloway, 23, in the arm, leg and back after Holloway allegedly fled to the Kings Villages housing complex after an encounter on Hammond Street and Sunset Avenue.
According to police, Holloway was on parole for felony assault, which allows police to question him at any time. According to Pasadena police spokeswoman Lt. Tracey Ibarra, Holloway produced a weapon at the end of the pursuit. According to police, a loaded handgun was recovered at the scene.
In August, investigations by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and the Pasadena Police Department cleared Officer Kevin Okamoto and Detectives Keith Gomez and William Broghamer of claims that they either individually or together attempted to influence witness testimony, inappropriately used an informant and failed to provide a copy of a search warrant when asked. Other claims against the officers included harassment, unlawful arrest, submission of a misleading police report and inappropriate recording of a jailhouse conversation.
The department is also waiting for the results of a probe being conducted by the Office of Independent Review of the March 2012 officer-involved shooting death of unarmed Kendrec McDade, 19, who was killed by police officers Matthew Griffin and Jeffrey Newlen.
Since 2008, African American and Latinos have made up 90 percent of the 1,464 juvenile arrests, according to information obtained by the Pasadena Star-News. However, 80 percent of those contacts were not initiated by police officers, according to Sanchez. Police, he said, were actually responding to calls for service.
Kennedy’s calls for discussion of a feasibility study of civilian oversight of the department were shot down by his council colleagues, but have gained support from other elected officials, including Pasadena Unified School Board President Renatta Cooper, PUSD Board member Mikala Rahn and former Pasadena City College Board of Trustees member Jeanette Mann.
“I would like to at least see them study it,” Cooper told the Weekly. “Not having civilian oversight creates a perceptual problem. If we had it, it would eliminate some of the arguments. I would be willing to serve on such a committee.”
Relations with local police are not the only issues facing minorities in Pasadena. African-American residents have long been calling for more citizen involvement in the process to select a developer to complete the $8 million renovation of Robinson Park. That city project had come under fire for not hiring more local residents to work on the project. The same was true of the recent renovation of the Rose Bowl. So far, only 10.2 percent of the workers hired to renovate the Rose Bowl have been from Pasadena, well below the 15 percent goal set by the Pasadena City Council before the $180 million project began.