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Days of Dialogue Opens Conversation on Police-Community Relations in South L.A., Gets an Earful

"Hands Up, Don't Shoot" Friends and family members of Ezell Ford shoot a music video decrying police brutality. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog LA

“Hands Up, Don’t Shoot!” Friends and family members of Ezell Ford shoot a music video decrying police brutality. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog LA

Dialogue was great, said a young man from Youth Justice Coalition as we left the Days of Dialogue on Police-Community Relations in the Aftermath of Ezell Ford and Michael Brown event held at Dr. Maya Angelou High School in South L.A. last night, but what he cared about was action.

It seemed to be a sentiment shared by many of the approximately 200 people that participated in the conversation hosted by 9th District City Councilmember Curren Price and Days of Dialogue, an organization founded in 1995, in the wake of the O.J. Simpson verdict.

The sentiment was particularly strong among the youth. They see themselves reflected in the cases of Michael Brown, Ezell Ford, Omar Abrego (a graphic video of Abrego on the ground can be seen here) and, most recently, Clifford Alford, the young man mistakenly identified as a potential robbery suspect and brutally beaten by police while handcuffed on October 16, just two blocks from the school where the event was held. And they are tired of fearing that they could be next.

But these frustrations with law enforcement and fears of being victimized by those who feel at liberty to abuse their authority are nothing new.

When Patricia, the facilitator at the table where I sat with a dozen community members, asked us to give voice some of these concerns, she didn’t have to ask twice.

Helen, an African-American woman in her 70s and a life-long resident of South L.A., related a story about having stopped to ask the police for directions because she was lost only to have them run her plates instead.

“I didn’t ask them for that,” she said wryly.

She then went on to describe how her mother had sat her and her siblings down while they were still little kids to tell them that, because of the color of their skin, they would always have to make sure to move slowly and keep their hands visible at all times when interacting with the police.

For another young African-American mother at the table, those lessons still resonate today. During a recent routine traffic stop, she said, she had panicked and stepped out of the car with her hands up, announcing that there were babies inside.

“Kids move so fast and they’re not good at keeping still,” she explained. She had been afraid that any sudden movements the kids made might have prompted officers to open fire first and ask questions later (as happened recently in South Carolina, when a trooper shot a man after instructing him to retrieve his license).

To someone who has never experienced profiling or had a negative encounter with law enforcement, those sorts of reactions might seem like paranoia or even bias on the part of the speakers. For the participants in the dialogue, however, it was clear their apprehension and distrust might be better described as a trained response to years’ and years’ worth of, as participants put it, being “terrorized,” “pre-judged,” “abused,” “disrespected,” “harassed,” and “left unprotected” by officers. Read more…

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Law Enforcement and Bike Safety: Top Cops Must Innovate, not Prevaricate

LAPD protects the bike lane in front of headquarters from sun and rain elements that could damage the paint job. Police cars parked in the bike lane, First Street between Spring and Main in downtown L.A.

LAPD protects the then-buffered bike lane in front of headquarters from sun and rain elements that could damage the paint job. LAPD cars parked in the bike lane on First Street between Spring and Main in downtown L.A.

If you approach LAPD headquarters from First Street, City Hall is reflected in the windows. This was designed into the building intentionally, to remind cops that they’re not there to serve the police department itself; they’re to serve the people of Los Angeles.

When I first moved to downtown from Los Feliz in 2009, I was thrilled to find a new bike lane on First Street between the Civic Center subway station and my new home in the Arts District. The portion between Spring and Main Street, in front of LAPD, was curbside with a wide buffer on the left to put space between moving cars and cyclists.

But it was always blocked by parked police cars.

It seemed outrageous to me that cops, out of laziness or contempt, could get away with sabotaging the bike lane on a stretch of street that runs between LAPD headquarters and City Hall, right in front of their bosses. So I started taking pictures of the cars. I went to an LAPD bike meeting. I met some sympathetic cops who suggested, among other things, that LADOT should put in bollards to keep all cars, including police cruisers, off the lane. One had warning notes put on the police cars. My photos were bounced up the chain of command. And we started a real, bona fide internal-affairs complaint. And, after many months, it seems I succeeded in embarrassing the police brass.

The result.

Instead of letting officers know that parking on bike lanes would not be tolerated, police leadership worked quietly with then LADOT chief Jaime de la Vega to remove the buffered lane. I knew about this in advance, because a city official leaked it to me with the hope that Streetsblog and other bike-advocacy groups could shame the LAPD.

It didn’t work. Read more…

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LAPD: No Public Record Evidence That Bike Lanes Delay Emergency Response

Los Angeles Police Department Captain Jeff Bert testifies against North Figueroa bicycle lanes at Councilmember Cedillo's Bike Lane Community Meeting on May 8, 2014

Los Angeles Police Department Captain Jeff Bert testifies against North Figueroa bicycle lanes at a May 8, 2014, community meeting. Based on LAPD’s response to a public records request, Captain Bert’s anti-bike lane assertions were not based on any LAPD analysis regarding bike lanes. Photo via Fig4All Flickr

There is new evidence that the testimony given by a Los Angeles Police Department captain against a road diet on North Figueroa Street was, similar to Metro and LAFD testimony: not based on any actual LAPD evidence.

LAPD Captain Jeff Bert appeared in uniform at the May 8th public meeting hosted by Los Angeles City Councilmember Gil Cedillo. Captain Bert stated that the planned North Figueroa road diet bike lanes would impair police emergency response times. Recently the L.A. Times reported that Cedillo had stated that “local fire and police officials told him it [N. Figueroa bike lanes] could pose a safety problem for emergency response vehicles.”

Los Angeles City Bicycle Advisory Committee Chair Jeff Jacobberger submitted a public records request letter [pdf] asking the LAPD for any documentation Captain Bert had referred to and, indeed, “[a]ll documents referring or relating to any analysis or evaluation by LAPD of whether bike lanes impair emergency response times.”

It will come as no surprise that LAPD’s response [pdf, and embedded after the jump below], similar to LAFD’s, cites no documents that make any connections between emergency response times and bike facilities.

While the LAFD response was a one-page letter basically saying “no records found,” the LAPD response was five pages. LAPD included past data backing up Captain Bert’s statement that LAPD’s Northeast Division already has longer emergency response times when compared to other divisions throughout Los Angeles. For April-May 2014, Northeast Division averaged 8.2 minutes, slightly higher than West Los Angeles Division’s average of 8.1 minutes, and just over a minute worse than the citywide average of 6.9 minutes.

LAPD’s letter further stated that “no other information was located” pertinent to Jacobberger’s records request.

Now that Gil Cedillo has made his full North Figueroa flip-flop official, the latest emergency response time revelations are perhaps not so timely. Maybe by showing agency representatives’ anti-bike-lane testimonies as unfounded, uninformed, and misleading, these representatives might show some reluctance to get in the way of public safety projects in the future. Time will tell. Read more…

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Gatto and Englander Stump State Legislation for Hit-and-Run Alert System

Assemblymember Mike Gatto speaking on the importance of reducing hit-and-run crimes.

Assemblymember Mike Gatto speaking on the importance of reducing hit-and-run crimes. Behind Gatto are, left to right, LACBC’s Eric Bruins, two LAPD representatives, L.A. Councilmember Mitch Englander, and Finish the Ride’s Damian Kevitt. Photo: Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

At a press conference on the steps of Los Angeles City Hall yesterday, state and local legislators joined forces with local non-profits to draw attention to efforts to stem the tide of hit-and-run crimes. The press conference focused on A.B. 47 – a proposal to create a new emergency alert system to notify the public to help apprehend hit-and-run suspects. The alert system would use existing state-controlled sign boards on state-controlled freeways, so it will require state legislation.

Assemblymember Mike Gatto enumerated the gruesome hit-and-run statistics: 20,000 hit-and-run collisions take place in L.A. County each year; 4,000 of these result in death or serious bodily injury; only 20 percent of fatal hit-and-run perpetrators are arrested. Gatto relayed the story of a similar alert system in Colorado which resulted in the city of Denver increasing their apprehension rate from 20 percent to 75 percent.

Gatto is the author of A.B. 47 and also A.B. 1532 which would suspend drivers licenses of perpetrators of hit-and-runs. Both of these bills passed the State Assembly in June, and now await State Senate approval. If A.B. 47 passes the Senate by the end of August, and is approved by the Governor, then hit-and-run alerts could begin in January 2015.

Los Angeles City Councilmember Mitch Englander called L.A. hit-and-run crimes “an epidemic of biblical proportions.” Englander emphasized that fleeing a crash scene should never be called an “accident.”  Englander was one of the proponents of official L.A. City support for hit-and-run alerts in concept (approved), and for A.B. 47 specifically (introduced, pending council approval.)

Hit-and-run survivor Damian Kevitt emphasized that Gatto’s bills may not end these crimes, but fear of apprehension and penalties could create “a moment of thought where drivers think about what they’re doing.” Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition’s Eric Bruins emphasized that these hit-and-run proposals key to creating a culture of greater street safety for everyone.

With gruesome hit-and-runs taking lives daily on L.A. streets and sidewalks, passage of these proposals is urgently needed.

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LAPD Crackdowns and Complete Streets: City’s Pedestrian Advisory Committee Puts its Foot Down

The city' pedestrian advisory committee has had trouble attracting crowds, but even this medium-sized attendence is an improvement and a sign that Livable Streets advocacy is starting to include pedestrian safety as a major issue. Photo: Roger Rudick. Caption: Damien Newton

The city’ pedestrian advisory committee has had trouble attracting crowds, but even this medium-sized attendance is an improvement and a sign that Livable Streets advocacy is starting to include pedestrian safety as a major issue. Photo: Roger Rudick. Caption: Damien Newton

Thursday afternoon, in a fluorescent-lit conference room on the third floor of the east building of City Hall, Sean Karmody, a police sergeant, addressed over 20 people at the Los Angeles City Pedestrian Advisory Committee about jaywalking tickets. He stressed that police traffic enforcement’s “biggest priority is to reduce hit and runs.” He also said of the 500,000 or so tickets issued each year, only five percent are given to pedestrians.

PAC- and just outside--LAPD car parks on bike lane--of course

As LAPD representatives talked the importance of safety for all transportation modes, an LAPD car blocked the bike lane outside of the meeting. Photo: Roger Rudick

But Brigham Yen, pedestrian advocate and editor of “DTLA Rising,” wasn’t having it. “Cops in LA grew up driving. They look at crowds of people crossing the street in downtown and all they think is: `they’re stopping those cars from making a right turn!’” he said. “Instead, they should be celebrating the rebirth of a pedestrian environment.” Miguel Luna, representative for CD #13, complained that pedestrian tickets target minorities.

Another attendee remarked that LAPD isn’t part of the solution to better pedestrian and cycling access; it’s part of the problem. Just outside the conference room, there were police and LADOT cars on the bike lane on Los Angeles street. Karmody said its good to make the department aware of such infractions.

Jennifer Charles, a 43-year-old architect from Sherman Oaks, represents CD-4, which includes parts of Hollywood and the Valley. Originally from Virginia, she lived in New York City for five years. “I loved not having a car,” she said. In 1997, she came to LA to study architecture. “LA doesn’t have to be New York, but there’s no excuse for it not being more walkable and bikeable.

Despite their advocacy, half of the attendees drove to the meeting; City Hall is only a few hundred feet from the Civic Center subway station. City Planner Claire Bowin gave a presentation on the mobility plan and the “Complete Streets” initiative. She said some streets will be re-designed to promote pedestrians, bikes or buses, but many will remain primarily for “vehicles.” Read more…

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There’s Still Plenty of Questions About the “Eric Garcetti Crash”

From the Times's security cameras you can see the quickly arriving squad car, the Mayor's SUV but barely the crash victim.

From the Times’s security cameras you can see the quickly arriving squad car, the Mayor’s SUV but barely the crash victim.

The LAPD, Mayor’s Office and to some extent the media are downplaying the significance of yesterday’s afternoon car crash in Downtown Los Angeles involving the Mayor’s SUV. Driven by an LAPD officer, the vehicle was driven into a pedestrian inside of a crosswalk causing her hospitalization. The the officer and his passengers were traveling east on 2nd Street towards City Hall when the crash occurred at Spring Street.

A video of the crash was taken by L.A. Times security cameras, but the resolution is so grainy and the actual collision occurs off-screen.

The LAPD dismisses the crash as “minor.” And with reports already streaming in that the woman was “crossing against the signal” it is possible that the city will use this crash as justification for its widely panned pedestrian stings.

But a look at the facts of the case show that instead of this being a lesson about safely crossing the street, it could turn into a lesson for the LAPD on how it desperately needs to improve the way the department investigates crashes. Here’s a rundown of some problems with the investigation as reported:

Problem 1: The LAPD Blamed the Victim Before Completing the Investigation

From the Los Angeles Times:

Police Cmdr. Andrew Smith said the woman appeared to be crossing 2nd against the light when the accident occurred, but further investigation was needed.

The LAPD biasses its own investigation by stating the “probable” cause of the crash without all of the needed information. We don’t know if the officer had a chance to speak with the victim in the crash or what further investigation was needed. We do know that the officer assigned blame to the largest media outlet in the city before the investigation was completed.

We also know…

The Times video showed only part of the scene because of the camera’s angle. It appears to show the pedestrian was struck as Garcetti’s SUV was passing a pickup truck stopped in the crosswalk. Read more…

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Why Is Hitting a Car Still Considered More Serious Than Hitting a Person?

How do we get LAPD to treat crashes involving cyclists and pedestrians as seriously as those involving cars? For the record, the LAPD claimed repeatedly and publicly that this Hummer had full license plates. Photo: Luis

On Sunday, July 28, I was playing in the back yard with Sammy when we heard a horrible sound of twisting metal come from the front of the house. Grabbing my phone, I ran out of the house to see if anyone was hurt in what was surely another car crash at the corner of Federal and National. A dazed looking man wobbled out of a truck, and a less woozy looking man was already out of his car walking over to the truck. Not seeing anyone on the phone yet, I pulled mine and called 911. Moments later, I heard sirens. When the firetrucks arrived, I went back in the house. Everyone was fine and the authorities arrived.

Later that night, an LAPD investigator called me back wanting to know if I had witnessed the crash. I had not. He thanked me for calling and I wished him luck.

To their credit, the LAPD was taking the crash seriously. Good for them.

Sadly, this doesn’t happen everytime there is a crash. At Biking in L.A., Ted Rogers recounts the story a Melanie Freeland, a bicyclist that was hit by a car earlier this week right in front of two LAPD officers. While both officers agreed that the vehicle driver made an illegal turn, the Department is not issuing a ticket. The frustrated cyclist followed up with the LAPD on the phone and immediately after the crash, but can’t get the Department to take her case seriously.

I called the Central Traffic Division and asked to speak with the Watch Commander on duty yesterday. As I probably should have guessed it was [the Sergeant she’d spoken to at the scene].  I explained to her my phone conversation with [the desk officer] and she stated she did not know why he would state it was a rear end incident when it wasn’t.  We talked at length about why a citation would not be issued for this offense.  She stated that in order for a traffic citation to be issued two criteria must be met. An LAPD officer must witness the incident and be trained in traffic laws (taken the special course in traffic). Because the [traffic officer] didn’t witness the incident it did not meet the two criteria. Secondly, the officer who did witness the incident is not trained in traffic laws, so again it does not meet the criteria.  Thus it is now my understanding, due to the letter of the law that it is not possible for the LAPD to issue a citation to the driver who hit me.

Read more…

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Response to Venice Boardwalk Crash Should Be Model, Not Outlier

Screen grab of the top picture of Alice Gruppioni and her husband Christian Casadei from Leggo, a newspaper in Italy.

Saturday in the late afternoona, Nathan Lewis Campbell got in his car and created carnage on the Venice Boardwalk. The 38-year-old native of Colorado drove on to the boardwalk and swerved through the area injuring dozens and killing Italian Alice Gruppioni, a 32 year old newly waling barefoot on the beach next to her husband. They were on their honeymoon.

Later, Campbell abandoned his car and sauntered into a Santa Monica Police Station to turn himself in. The psychopath’s bail is set at $1 million and he is being held on “suspicion of murder.” Unlike a recent high-profile hit and run in Gardena, Campbell is unlikely to be released on his own recognizance.

There are literally hundreds of stories covering this crash circulating the Internet, from CNN to the L.A. Times, from ABC to Yo Venice!, from CBS to Leggo in Italy.

All of the major power players are giving an appropriate response. Local Council Member Mike Bonin and Mayor Eric Garcetti are promising an infrastructure improvement, the media is treating the case with the solemness it deserves, the LAPD is talking about murder and not “accidents.”

The reaction to this devastating crash should become the template for how the city and those in power react to a crash of any sort, but especially a hit and run crash. Whether it be state law, a culture of lawlessness on the streets, a lack of serious investigation  by the LAPD, a lack of urgency by the City Attorney or District Attorney, poor road design, or any of another thousand reasons, the City of Los Angeles is not a safe place to walk and ride a bicycle. At least, it’s not as safe as it could and should be.

If the city truly wants to honor the memory of Alice Gruppioni, it should make a point that the response to this weekend’s tragedy becomes the standard response, and not an outlier. Read more…

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Recounting Sunday’s Justice For Trayvon March, Taking to the Freeway, & Thoughts on Urbanism & Racial Inequities

Justice for Trayvon march walking eastbound across all lanes from the Crenshaw entrance of the 10 freeway.

On the Sunday morning of July 14th I caught word of a rally and march calling for justice for Trayvon Martin on twitter to take place at 4:00pm meeting at Crenshaw Blvd. and Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. I came out to see and hear what people had to say, and I wanted to feel the reality on the ground as it truly exists, unfiltered by the truncated flyover coverage that accounts for so much of broadcast news.

I also came out with the dual hats of documenting and live blogging, but also lending my own presence to the frustration that our society remains unfair and unjust, far too often shaped unequally along racial lines. I’m not entirely neutral here, but neutrality doesn’t really exist, and perhaps most especially from some sources that attempt to claim otherwise.

I’ll admit upfront I’m no expert on the legal system, and I was not following every turn of the Zimmerman trial (or was it really Trayvon on trial?). Writing from the perspective of a white male currently living in Santa Monica, I am not confronted by the same kinds of prejudice or systemic structural disparities and expectations in my personal life that a Black male would experience in our society.

I can recognize that institutional racism exists, but I cannot speak from the same place, I do not carry the same burden. As an idealist, the fundamental unfairness of this dynamic does burn at me, it angers me, but such feelings must pale in comparison to how it must feel to carry the weight of presumed guilt by simply existing as one’s self. When I was a teenager I sometimes walked or biked alone at night on the suburban streets and pedestrian paths where I grew up, but I was never perceived a threat or stalked by law enforcement or civilian self styled authorities. It never crossed my mind that I might be confronted over imagined crimes simply because of how I looked and where I was going.

From the night of February 26th, 2012, in Sanford, Florida, to the protests and rallies across the country following the acquittal verdict, the street as public space has been a central part of this story. Trayvon Martin, returning to the home he was visiting, was followed, presumed suspicious, presumed guilty of something, with no evidence as such, for the very act of walking down the street with the “wrong” appearance, in the “wrong” place. He was thought to be surely up to no good because of appearance and prejudice.

In much of the popular urbanist discourse the goal of complete streets is invoked, usually to denote particular design features or characteristics. But if there are people in our society who cannot even walk without presumed guilt, than I would contend that no street can be truly “complete”. No sidewalk, no bike lane, no ideal tree canopy, no parklet, can correct for social paranoia empowered by firearms and flawed legal institutions. The street is a social construct foremost. Design features and infrastructure are important, but always secondary. Read more…

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If You Expect Justice to Be Served on LAPD Sgt. Yanez, Prepare to Be Disappointed

(Author’s note: there is some editorializing in this story. The opinions are mine. Unless Bell is quoted saying something, don’t put my words in his mouth. – DN)

Following last Monday’s story detailing the likely role an LAPD Sargent took covering up his daughter’s deadly hit and run crash, Streetsblog received a lot of email. Letters from friends of the slain victim, Jesse Dotson, were the most common. But a depressing interchange with attorney Allan Bell, retired police officer and the Senior Trial Attorney at The Law Offices of Allen J. Bell & Associates, shows that the deck is stacked against justice when it comes to prosecuting Sgt. Arturo Yanez for his role in covering up his daughter’s crime.

Just a reminder, Jesse Dotson, by all accounts a decent and optimistic family man, was killed by a dangerous driver who left him laying in the street.

For those of you unfamiliar with the story, in late June Jesse Dotson was bicycling to work when he was struck by a hit and run driver. The car belonged to Vanessa Yanez, the daughter of LAPD Sgt. Arturo Yanez. Four hours after the crash, Yanez reported her car stolen and returned to a lot near her house. The crash occurred 16 miles away.

When the Gardena police charged Vanessa Yanez with a host of crimes, including vehicular manslaughter, bail was set at $100,000 but she was released on her own recognizance despite the fact that the police believe she killed someone, ran from the crime, and lied about a stolen car.

As for Sgt. Yanez, he lives with his daughter and actually owns the car that killed Dotson. He either believes his daughter’s ridiculous story and is one of the worst investigative officers ever, or he is complicit in the scheme to report the car stolen. Gardena police state they are not investigating Sgt. Yanez, but LAPD opened its own investigation.

I was relieved that LAPD was investigating, but Bell set me straight that there is little good news for fans of traffic justice.

First, Bell easily refutes my claim from last week that the LAPD review could strengthen Gardena’s police department’s case against Sgt. Yanez. Read more…