Over the course of the summer, the City of Whittier experienced something unique to its history: protests aimed at lifting up and proclaiming that Black Lives Matter with hundreds marching in the streets. These protests organized by our youth were a response to the tragic death of George Floyd at the hands of the Minneapolis Police Department. Floyd’s death was emblematic of unwarranted and unchecked police abuse, of a code of silence, of a so-called blue line that lacks any true sense of accountability, let alone remorse for its actions.
These protests called on the Whittier City Council to reallocate funds from the Whittier Police Department into programs and services that create opportunities through investment in our community residents. The call to action came to the foot of the City Council with the spirit and belief that the safest communities have the most resources invested in its people.
The response from our City Council on the proposed reforms can best be summed up by a statement from District 1 Council Member Jessica Martinez, “It’s targeting our Police Department, which is doing an excellent job.” Part tone deaf and part wishful thinking, this was the prevailing thought among Mayor Joe Vinatieri and Council Members Cathy Warner and Fernando Dutra.
Missing from the conversation at the heated City Council meeting on July 28th was the word accountability. Arguments for providing reports to the City Council by the Whittier Police Department regarding use of force and deadly force were dismissed as being “too much work.” Turning a blind eye to the situation and pretending all is well seems to rule the day in the Council chambers. It was truly an amazing display of semantic acrobatics and outright disregard for even the idea of delving too deep into the policing practices of the Whittier Police Department.
An external audit was immediately shot down. As Mayor Pro Tem Henry Bouchot expressed in complete disbelief that the end result of the question and answer session of this particular item on the agenda was “Orwellian” in nature.
And now, over a month later, after a summer of protest, after a parade in support of the police met with protesters in which Black and Latino youth were arrested by the Whittier Police Department, there is yet another million dollar settlement to be paid out by the City of Whittier for an officer-involved shooting.
The question we have to ask ourselves is whether or not the City Council cares about what the community wants. We have gone months without public comment, inevitably silencing the voices of advocates who have called for and demanded change. Does the Whittier City Council care? We keep hearing about community engagement and community input; when and where will it take place? Are we still a democracy in Whittier?
These are troublesome questions. Our community is demanding answers. We call on the Whittier City Council to center those who are most impacted by the current policing practices of the Whittier Police Department: Namely, Black and Brown people. We call on them to consider that you cannot identify and hold accountable the bad apples if you continue to look at the bin filled with oranges.
For months, we have marched, entered our neglected emails into the public record and watched through our television screens in disbelief as our City leadership willfully chooses to ignore the calls for change. Despite all of this, our youth and people of conscience in general will remain resolute until that change comes to fruition because we believe we are stronger together.
Yasmin Ferrada, Founder / Board Member, Whittier for Compassionate Politics
Apolonio Morales, Whittier Latino Coalition
Photo courtesy Apolonio Morales.