"Every once in a while, your gut is going to tell you that individual ... doesn't look right. Trust your intuition ... Trust it, and call us and let us do our job." This was the message that Police Chief Bob Jonsen gave to Menlo Park residents at a community meeting to discuss residential burglaries. While undoubtedly well-intentioned, his message was deeply flawed in that he failed to even mention the issue of race. There was no reminder to residents that people of color are not, by definition, "suspicious." There was no statement from him about the importance of residents examining their own personal racial biases before making that 911 call. Race must no longer be the elephant in the room. Race is integral to policing in the 21st century.
Ms. Bradshaw's second article in the same issue ("Wrongful arrest suit: Racial profiling alleged") described the racial profiling lawsuit filed by Francisco Guevara, who alleged that a Menlo Park police officer racially profiled him in August 2015. The truth of that allegation will be decided in federal court. What I found most striking about the article was the boastful statement by Menlo Park City Attorney Bill McClure: "We've never had any case where an allegation of racial profiling was upheld or validated ... [Racial profiling] has been a non-issue." Since the city of Menlo Park does not have independent oversight of its police department, we are left to rely entirely upon the word of Mr. McClure that all is well in his city, that racial profiling doesn't exist, the experiences of Mr. Turner, Mr. Faraji, and Mr. Thomas, notwithstanding.
In Menlo Park, as in every city on the Peninsula, save San Jose and Palo Alto, complaints of misconduct from the public, such as racial profiling or excessive force or discourtesy, are investigated by the very agencies against whom the individuals have complained. In other words, in those cities, the police police themselves; there is no independent civilian oversight. As a result, we have no idea how many complaints of racial profiling have been filed against the police in Menlo Park, whether the complaints were investigated thoroughly, and whether the findings were objective and unbiased. Independent civilian oversight would give us that information.
Martin Luther King Jr. once said, "The time is always ripe to do right." As Ms. Bradshaw's articles demonstrated, the relationship between communities of color and the Menlo Park Police Department could be far better. Independent civilian oversight of the Menlo Park Police Department would be a major step in building a better relationship. The time is ripe for the city of Menlo park to do right.
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