LANCASTER – Leaders from various local civil rights groups gathered for a community press conference Tuesday morning in response to a Justice Department investigation that revealed discriminatory policing and racial bias in the Antelope Valley.
“The report from the Justice Department confirms what we have said all along, that African Americans and Latinos have been the victims of racial profiling in the Antelope Valley,” said V. Jesse Smith, President of the AV-NAACP. “It confirmed also that those who are a part of Section 8, in fact, were targeted because they were Section 8 vouchers [holders], and they were targeted because many of them happen to be African American and Latino,” Smith continued.
The Justice Department Civil Rights Division on Friday (June 28) announced the conclusion of a nearly two-year investigation, which found that deputies from the Lancaster and Palmdale Sheriff’s Stations routinely targeted African Americans and Latinos for stops, seizures and excessive force and that local deputies and housing investigators intimidated and harassed African-American housing choice voucher holders.
In a letter to Sheriff Lee Baca detailing its findings, the DOJ stated that “racial intolerance” was “an unfortunate part of the history of the Antelope Valley.” The report cited multiple examples of racial bias, from the 1960s, when “African-American families who wanted to live in Lancaster and Palmdale were directed to the historically minority neighboring community of Sun Village…,” to an incident in 2010 when an “LASD deputy took photographs of luxury vehicles in a home’s garage during a Section 8 compliance check, and sent them to the administrator of the ‘I Hate Section 8’ Facebook page,” which resulted in the home being vandalized with racial slurs. Read the DOJ’s findings letter/report in full here.
“As I read the report, I literally, literally came to tears, because while I knew that racism existed, I didn’t know it was that pervasive,” Smith said.
“We look towards the day when Latino immigrants and U.S. born citizens alike can walk the streets of the Antelope Valley without fear, and some of us, without terror,” said Javier Flores of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC).
Sheriff’s officials disagree with many of the DOJ’s conclusions, but said the department was committed to working closely with the DOJ to assess what, if any, changes need to be implemented. Read the LASD’s statement of intent here.
The County Housing Authority has also committed to making changes and to paying “monetary damages to persons whose fair housing rights were violated in the course of HACoLA’s enforcement of the voucher program in the Antelope Valley from 2004 to at least 2011,” according to a statement of intent by the County Housing Authority. “The Parties will negotiate the exact amount of monetary damages,” the statement reads. Read the County Housing Authority’s Statement of Intent here.
A recent news story in the LA Times put the figure at around $12.5 million dollars.
“They deserve even more as far as I’m concerned,” Smith said, before adding that the situation was about much more than money. “What Section 8 folks and people of color experienced, being harassed by the police, money can’t compensate that because that’s going to live with them for the rest of their lives. But it will provide for them some measure of justice and some measure of comfortable living.”
The Justice Department’s investigation was launched in August 2011 (read more here), just two months after the local NAACP and other civil rights groups filed a federal lawsuit claiming black and Latino families using Section 8 were victims of constant, unbearable harassment at the hands of housing authority investigators, sheriff’s deputies and local politicians (Read that complaint here).
Though not named in the federal lawsuit, the County of Los Angeles reached a settlement related to the allegations in late January of 2012 (Read more here). The City of Palmdale settled about a week later, but did not admit to any wrongdoing and called the lawsuit “frivolous.” (Read those details here). Lancaster Mayor R. Rex Parris, the most vocal critic of the lawsuit (read more here, here and here), announced that the city was resolving the lawsuit in October of 2012. (Read more here).
Both local sheriff’s stations have also undergone changes since the Justice Department investigation began. Each has created its own Community Advisory Committee to strengthen the partnership between the community and law enforcement. (Read more here and here). Earlier this year, new Sheriff’s Captains were announced for each station, as well.
Civil rights activists are calling for an independent Citizens Review Complaints Board, which will assure the public that complaints against deputies are investigated completely and fairly.
“The citizens have got to feel empowered that when police misconduct takes place out here, they have some kind of authority to be able to rectify the situation and hold law enforcement accountable,” Smith said, adding that the citizens review board must have subpoena power.
The civil rights groups will be holding an “educational meeting” next week that focuses on the DOJ’s conclusions.
“For the purpose of educating the community on what the report actually entails and then where do we go from here…” Smith said. “If you were a victim of racial injustice, you are going to be compensated for that in some form or fashion at some later date.”
He says the meeting is also open to residents who may disagree with the way the Section 8 program is administered. Those residents are welcome to the meeting, so that community leaders can address the misconceptions about the Section 8 program, Smith says.
“What we want to say is, ‘not every person who is on Section 8 is a criminal, not every person who is on Section 8 is African American or Latino, and not every person on Section 8 is bringing down the community…” Smith said, adding that the Justice Department’s report revealed that there was no connection between Section 8 and crime in Lancaster and Palmdale.
The first in a series of educational meetings to address the DOJ’s findings will take place at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, July 10 at a location to be announced, the group said. Activists are hoping that representatives from local law enforcement will attend the meeting, as well.
Civil rights organizations taking part in Tuesday’s press conference included the Antelope Valley Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, The Community Action League, the Merit Commission, the local chapter of the Nation of Islam, the HELPER Foundation, the League of United Latin American Citizens, One Way Up, and the High Desert Alliance of Black School Educators.
UPDATED 7/10/13: The community meeting to address the DOJ’s findings has been rescheduled to a date in August, according to AV-NAACP President V. Jesse Smith. The exact date, time and place will be announced in the near future, Smith said.