LANCASTER –More than 200 residents converged at the Center of Light Church in Lancaster Tuesday night for a chance to speak directly with investigators and attorneys from the U.S. Department of Justice.
“The purpose of tonight is to hear from you, to hear from the community,” Justice Department lawyer, Charles Hart, told the crowd. “This is your opportunity to get your voices heard.”
The public meeting was hosted by The Community Action League (TCAL) as a means for the Justice Department to take direct testimony from residents for the federal investigation into alleged discriminatory policing by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Lancaster and Palmdale stations, as well as the separate investigation into alleged harassment and mistreatment of Section 8 recipients in the Antelope Valley.
The Justice Department announced its investigation in August (read it here), two months after the Public Counsel Law Center, on behalf of the NAACP and TCAL, filed a federal lawsuit against the cities of Lancaster and Palmdale. The lawsuit claims black and Latino families using Section 8 are victims of constant, unbearable harassment at the hands of housing authority investigators, sheriff’s deputies and local politicians. Read more here.
Tuesday, DOJ attorney Hart said his department was “authorized to investigate allegations of discriminatory policing on the basis of race or national origin, as well as allegations of improper procedures.”
He said investigators would document residents’ stories at the meeting and then follow up by researching the cases. He could not give a timeline for the investigation, but said it would be moving quickly and his department would be thorough.
An investigator from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development was also on hand to take testimony from residents. Catherine Ross-Perry, from HUD’s San Francisco office, said she was investigating complaints that involved targeted discrimination against people using Section 8 housing vouchers.
Residents were asked to form lines, based on the nature of their complaints. Residents who had complaints involving Section 8, met privately with investigators and attorneys in one room, while residents with complaints involving Lancaster and Palmdale Sheriff’s deputies, met privately with investigators and attorneys in another room.
TCAL Board Member, Pharoah Mitchell, said the meeting lasted about two and a half hours. He said federal representatives were able to talk to every resident who had a story to share.
“I think it was a very productive meeting and the community got a chance to really be heard and taken seriously,” Mitchell said Wednesday. “These were legitimate complaints that the Justice Department needed to hear.”
“There were white people, there were black people, there were Hispanic people, these were people of all colors making complaints,” Mitchell continued. “You mean to tell me that all these people who have legitimate complaints are all criminals? Only a fool would think that way.”
At Tuesday’s meeting, federal investigators also gave out contact information for residents who were not able to attend the meeting, but still wished to have their complaints documented. Those residents can contact 877-218-5228 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.