The US Justice Department held a press conference Friday to announce its plans to investigate racial discrimination in the Antelope Valley. The following is the full text of the announcement given by Assistant Attorney General Thomas E. Perez:
“We are here to announce the expansion of our ongoing civil rights investigation into allegations of discriminatory behavior in the Antelope Valley communities of Lancaster and Palmdale. The Antelope Valley has undergone a dramatic and remarkable demographic transformation in the past two decades.
In Lancaster, between 1990 and 2010, the population grew over 60% from roughly 97,000 to over 156,000 residents. The majority of this growth is attributable to growth in non-white population. Between 1990 and 2010, the percentage of African-Americans increased from 7.2% to over 20% and Latinos increased from 15% to 38%.
The rate of population growth in Palmdale was even greater. Between 1990 and 2010, the population grew by approximately 122% from about 69,000 to over 152,000 residents. The percentage of African-Americans increased from 6.1% to almost 15% of the population, and Latinos went from 22% of the population to 54% of the population. African-Americans and Latinos now comprise almost 60% of the population in Lancaster, and almost 70% in Palmdale.
Across America, equal housing opportunity is not simply a core value; it is the law.
The Civil Rights Division enforces the Fair Housing Act. The Act prohibits discrimination in housing on the basis of race, national origin and other protected categories. This law, which was passed in the immediate aftermath of Dr. King’s assassination, is a cornerstone of our nation’s civil rights enforcement. The promise of America – the promise of freedom and equal opportunity – is possible only when we have the freedom and opportunity to live where we choose.
Earlier this summer, the Department of Justice opened up an investigation of the city of Palmdale, City of Lancaster, and the Housing Authority of Los Angeles County pursuant to our authority under the Fair Housing Act.
The investigation was a response to allegations that the cities and the housing authority have engaged in a systematic effort to discriminate against African American and Latino families, including those who hold Section 8 vouchers. In particular, we are investigating serious allegations of systematic harassment of African-American and Latino residents of these communities, including whether certain leadership in these communities adopted a policy or practice designed to drive certain residents out of the community . We have drawn no conclusions, and the investigation remains active and ongoing.
Based on our preliminary review, we have decided to expand our investigation to also focus on allegations that the Lancaster and Palmdale stations of the LASD are engaged in a pattern or practice of discrimination on the basis of race or national origin. Our determination was made after careful consideration of data and other evidence, including extensive conversations with individuals in Lancaster and Palmdale, as well as representatives from community organizations.
Neither Lancaster nor Palmdale have their own police forces. They contract with the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department. In the matters we are investigating, Deputy Sheriff’s were frequently working alongside city officials. We are analyzing arrest data in the Palmdale and Lancaster stations. These stations appear to have disproportionately high rates of misdemeanor and obstruction arrests compared to the rest of Los Angeles County. While the rates of felony arrests are similar to elsewhere in the county, the two cities appear to have unusually high rates of misdemeanor arrests, and particularly high rates of arrests of African Americans.
In interviews with affected individuals and community representatives, we heard troubling accounts of allegedly unjustified stops and searches. We will be investigating whether there is a pattern of racially motivated stops and arrests.
We intend to peel the onion to its core, and gain a precise understanding of what is happening in these two areas.
We will also examine allegations that, as part of any discriminatory policing, LASD deputies have tried to identify certain categories of Section 8 tenants during routine traffic violations and routine police business. We will investigate allegations that LASD has conducted warrantless searches of African-American families’ homes under the auspices of the housing authority compliance inspections. During our investigation, we will determine whether such actions are part of a pattern or practice of harassing or intimidating African American families in Lancaster and Palmdale.
The investigation of the LASD is being conducted pursuant to our authority under Section 14141, which is the police reform provision enacted in the aftermath of the Rodney King incident that gives the Department of Justice the authority to investigate patterns or practices of the deprivation of constitutional rights or violations of federal law.
The Civil Rights Division’s Special Litigation Section conducts these civil pattern or practice investigations to determine whether there are systemic problems in a police department’s practices and procedures that are resulting in the violation of people’s basic rights.
Over the last 15 years, the Division has brought in teams of seasoned attorneys, staff and law enforcement experts to work collaboratively with police departments and communities across the country to address systemic problems and identify and implement comprehensive solutions that accomplish three goals: 1) reduce crime, 2) protect the rule of law, and 3) enhance public confidence in law enforcement. These goals are not mutually exclusive; they go hand in hand.
Our investigation has been and will continue to be thorough, fair, independent, and it will also be collaborative. We will engage a wide array of community stakeholders. I personally informed Sheriff Baca of our investigation, and from the outset he has been forthcoming and cooperative. I appreciate his cooperation, and we look forward to learning from the sheriff’s department and community stakeholders.
Our goal is clear: to find the truth and figure out what is happening in Lancaster and Palmdale.
Throughout this process, we will provide real time feedback to the Department, so that if there is a good idea that can be implemented immediately, LASD has the opportunity to do so. Our lines of communication have been and will continue to be open; our goal is to fix problems, not fix the blame, and we view the LASD and the community as partners in this important effort.
At the conclusion of our careful review, we will provide you with a thorough and independent assessment of our findings. We have not drawn any conclusions at this time; rather, we will follow the facts where they lead us. If we identify problems, we will work collaboratively with all stakeholders to fix the problems.
We have the greatest respect for the members of the LASD, and all law enforcement officials, who work tirelessly to protect their communities. I am optimistic that, working together, we can ensure that the LASD is providing the citizens of Lancaster and Palmdale with the services and protection they deserve, while also respecting their constitutional rights.
We look forward to the Sheriff Department’s cooperation as the Civil Rights Division conducts its independent investigation, and hope to work collaboratively to forge comprehensive solutions to any problems that we may find.