Police brutality elicits unified community response


Denis Perez / The Advocate

Berkeley police officers form a line in front of a Mine- Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehi- cle during a protest at Martin Luther King Civic Center Park in Berkeley on Aug. 27. Police depart- ments across the country have begun to militarize their tactical units.

By Ryan Geller, Advocate Staff

Despite the nationwide protests over the deaths of Freddie Gray and Michael Brown no changes have been made to address racism in policing here in Contra Costa College’s administration of justice program.

The re-training of police departments and the transformation of racist police culture was the mantra of major media outlets, community groups and many law enforcement experts at the time of the protests.

The public outcry was so intense that it prompted President Obama to develop a guide to policing reform known as The President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing.

Rick Ramos, administration of justice department chairperson, said that the ideas outlined in the President’s Task Force have been around for some time going back to the Clinton era.

“We are too small of a college (to address racism),” Ramos said.

Ramos’ vision of the administration of justice department is intellectual preparation for law enforcement careers. He said that education around racism in policing should be dealt with at the academy level.

“My goal is a basic understanding of how to survive in the police academy. I teach essentials, good conflict resolution skills and how to critically analyze a situation,” Ramos said.

The administration of justice department does have a course called Community Relations and Cultural Issues that accounts for three credits out of the 18 needed for transfer and the 21 needed for the associate of science degree.

According to the syllabus the course contains eight sections entitled Recognizing Diversity, Prejudice and Discrimination, Management of Aggressive Behavior, Hate Crimes, Sexual Harassment, Conflict Resolution, Domestic Violence and Community Policing and Crime Reduction.

On the CCC campus there are many different visions of what community policing might look like.

Dr. Agustin Palacios, La Raza department chairperson, said “Anybody who becomes a police officer should be familiar with the histories of the communities that they work with. It has been a challenge for police unions to admit that there is still racism. Especially during this time, we all need to have the in-depth analysis of race that ethnic studies can offer.”

Nzinga Dugas professor of African-American studies at CCC said, “African-American studies departments work for justice in many ways, but to take an active role in how justice is administered, that would be interesting. That would be historic.

“What if police lived in their communities? What if different things attracted people to careers in law enforcement? Many people have been calling for a way to revisit what it takes to be a police officer. What if we said we want police to have a healing role? What if we all became partners in addressing racism and inequality?”

Lavelle Lewis, an art major at CCC, said, “Safety, understanding and getting to know the communities they police is important because people don’t really feel safe around cops.”

Markel Woods, a computer science major at CCC, said that officers need to get to know the community and what they have been through, if they are going to improve trust.

Lt. Thomas Holt of Police Services said community colleges are important places for conversations and feedback so officers can learn how the community wants to be policed. Holt’s policing style is about being open with students and faculty on law enforcement issues.

Ramos, who investigated officer misconduct for nine years as a member the Richmond Police Commission, has marked concern for officer safety. He spoke of an incident in which his son won accommodation for taking a 9mm with a silencer from a man without killing him.

“It’s nice to be able to do that, but then you want to go home at the end of the night too.

“In some situations, there is just no de-escalating. The bottom line is that when people get violent the only way to control them is with violence. My students who come from the inner city often have better discretion. We have a lot of students of color in our program and the local police departments hire a lot of them because they are needed.”

Alonso Saravia, a CCC police aide, said, “I think you can get a better understanding of people by knowing their history and background. Cultural information can give us an understanding of why people think a certain way. Just working at CCC has changed my mindset. We are very diverse so it gives me a chance to open my eyes and be good to people.”

Among some communities in the Bay Area, there is a deep distrust of police. Many community groups are turning to alternatives to policing. The organization Stop Urban Shield recently held a resource fair in Oakland in which first responder skills like self-defense and fire safety were featured because many people are not comfortable calling the police.

Tash Nguyen, a community advocate with the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, said, “Communities of color cannot depend on the state to protect them. In the era of Trump, we have attacks like the travel ban, immigration, and Betsey DeVos trying to derail our public education system.

“On top of this it’s very unpredictable when a community member calls the police. At the end of the day families and community members are first responders. Why not train ourselves with the full awareness that police violence is common in black and brown communities.”

Beth Goehring, president of the CCC Academic Senate, said the process for developing and modifying programs and curriculum is complicated and involves transfer standards for the UC and CSU systems.

The Academic Senate is responsible for curriculum, but that responsibility is delegated to the Curriculum Instruction Committee, which is made up of CCC faculty members.

“Funding is tight and with guided pathways I don’t think creating innovative courses that might not have transferability is a priority,” Goehring said. “CCC did recently develop a new public health program that has standardized curriculum attached to it.

“Community colleges are wonderful places to voice opinions. The best way to do that is through enlightened professors who empower students. We want students to open their minds and have something important to say.”