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A Few Bad Apples or A Prejudiced System?

By Brian Myers

Last weekend in City Heights marked two radically different responses to law enforcement in diverse and lower income communities.

San Diego Police Department Community Liaison Officer David Felkins greeted residents and community groups Saturday morning outside the City Heights Community Development Corporation office on El Cajon Boulevard. They participated in an hour long walk around the neighborhood of Teralta West.

The monthly walk happens every third Saturday at various locations around City Heights. Police say it gives residents the opportunity to meet officers, discuss crime and community concerns.

Armed with trash grabbers, over two dozen residents, picked up cigarette butts and food packaging that littered the sidewalks and alleys.

Long time City Heights resident, Maria Cortez, lead the day’s walk. She told stories of the area’s past crimes, pointing out the homes that once housed drug dealers, brothels, and squats.

With continued help from the police, over the last 35 years Cortez has lived in her City Heights home, she has been able to clean up her block.

“Back in the day, it seemed like they [SDPD] were just there to do their job and then they’d leave,” she said. “But now, within the past 25 years, we’ve gotten to know the police very well.”

She credits SDPD’s efforts like the community law enforcement walk and having community liaison officers available at the mid-city police substation to establishing that open community dialogue with the police.

“We’ve got a few bad apples, but you know what, those few bad apples don’t matter to us,” Cortez said. “Because the majority of our police department, I give them a high five.”

SDPD has been able to generate good rapport with some of City Heights’ community leaders and business owners. However, racial profiling data, video footage questioning reported police accounts, and national stories of young black men being fatally wounded by police officers has others wondering where the U.S. has left the civil rights movement.

Over two dozen joined a candlelight vigil Sunday evening for Tamir Rice and other young people who have lost their lives when confronted by the police. Part of a nationwide call to rally for the three month anniversary of the death Rice, a 12-year-old black boy that was shot and killed by a white Cleveland, Ohio police officer.

Organized by local community activist DeMilo Young, the rally mourned the loss of the youth and called on participants to take action to prevent further deaths.

“A black man, woman or child are more likely to be shot by police. Why is that? We have to get to the root of that issue,” Young said. “We can’t just say we need law enforcement reform. We need humanity reform.”

The San Diego County District Attorney’s Office recently released a study of San Diego County officer involved shootings with 20 years of data. The report shows that 19 percent of the suspects were black. San Diego County has a total black population of 4.59 percent, as of 2011.

At the rally, Cathy Mendonca of United Against Police Terror – San Diego, read out loud the names of the youth that became statistics for that report.

UAPTSD and Women Occupy are petitioning to reform the City of San Diego’s Citizens Review Board on Police Practices to be more reflective of the County of San Diego’s Citizens’ Law Enforcement Review Board.

UAPTSD have organizing meetings the 2nd and 4th Wednesdays of the month at the Activist Center on Wightman Street and Van Dyke Avenue in City Heights.

Alicia Garza, of Black Lives Matter, will be addressing the goals of the national movement she co-founded and local movements in San Diego, Friday evening at the Malcolm X Library.

The next Community Law Enforcement Walk is scheduled for March 21, at a currently unconfirmed location. Details will be available on Nextdoor.com, a neighborhood specific social network SDPD uses to communicate with residents.

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