Paul Boisvert: Independent, citizens’ council review of police conduct
There has been much discussion recently about inappropriate police actions toward marginalized communities and the need for accountability. This reminded me of my own experience some 35 years ago.
As a gay man coming out at that time, it was considered “radical activism” to do so. The gay community was much more marginalized in the 1980s and the police were not always accepting, let alone supportive or respectful.
One evening, when I was walking home in the “gay ghetto” of Long Beach, I was assaulted by two guys with knives. In a struggle, some tendons in one of my hands were severed. When a neighbor called the police to report the life-threatening assault, four officers responded. As I stood bleeding, their questions were about why I was walking in “a known gay area, so late at night” (It was 11 p.m. on a Friday night — hardly a time when someone should fear walking home from a local pub). Meanwhile, my assailants who were on foot, continued their getaway without any police pursuit. I was finally taken to a hospital after their very disturbing interrogation.
I could only assume that my treatment was because of their personal distaste for me as a gay man and decided to report it to Long Beach Police Internal Affairs as inappropriate and inhumane.
I was warned by an attorney friend that I should not file my claim with anyone other than Internal Affairs. He said, “Be careful. They will try to take your report from you and file it in the trash.” True to his prediction, an officer on duty offered to take my report and pass it on. When I refused, he called the captain of the watch who also offered to take the report from me. Again, I refused. I was finally escorted to Internal Affairs where I submitted my claim.
When I called them several weeks later to request a status on my claim, I was advised, “We do not release information on internal investigations — even to the victim/claimant.” I was dumbfounded to learn that I had a right to complain, but was not entitled to know the result.
Although things are better for gays and lesbians these days, the point of writing about this so many years later is that this is not the case for other marginalized communities — especially people of color, those who are transgender and those of Muslim faith. There seems to be a continuing culture within law enforcement agencies that allows some officers to treat these marginalized communities with disdain, if not disrespect and/or abuse.
Of course, such assertions have been challenged by the police administrators and officials. But, if they are correct, then what concern should they have with allowing an independent, citizens’ council review claims about inappropriate, abusive or illegal behavior in order to hold offending personnel accountable?
It would seem that only those few peace officers who are committing such acts would have anything to fear.
Paul Boisvert lives in Grass Valley.
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