Happy Independence Day! OK, two days ago. That’s the problem with a weekly column. Our family had a very Santa Monica celebration, starting of course with the Main Street parade, delightful as always. A real small town Fourth of July parade, here on the edge of a huge city.
Then we accepted our friends’ invitation to join them at their home on Fraser Avenue, whose residents lay claim to the longest-running block party in Santa Monica — 41 years! — and possibly the shortest parade anywhere. They put tables, chairs, even couches out into the street after their one-short-block parade at noon, and everyone cruised, chatting, playing games, eating each other’s food. Our hosts Pen and David were full of good stories, especially David, whose grandparents moved to that block from Utah, his parents following when he was 7, in the early ‘50s. Their house is an amazing structure from 1902, full of gorgeous dark wood and architectural surprises. Our daughter and her friends capped the evening properly with fireworks in Marina del Rey, wisely zipping past the ungodly traffic on bikes.
Speaking of small streets, I’ll bet there’s no one who can tell me where Frank Street is without looking it up. Or where Santa Monica’s smallest trailer park is. These things I discover on my ongoing walking odyssey, and soon I’ll finally compare notes with my walking guru/inspiration, Berkeley Blatz.
Two quick local music notes: the Santa Monica Pier concert series begins Thursday (though I hold out more hope for the following week’s show, and other later ones), and now at the Monica Laemmle, a great documentary on backup singers, “20 Feet from Stardom,” also featuring Mick, Bruce, Sting etc. Marvelous music history by those who lived it, and a moving human drama. Don’t let it get away; go now.
Cautionary police tales
I got a call back this week from Sgt. Richard Lewis, media liaison for the SMPD. He said he would let me know as soon as the police report had been filed in the case of the two photographers and an SMC professor arrested at the college in the wake of the shootings.
He told me the report charges the three with interfering with the police on several occasions, and that after several warnings they were arrested. The photographer I spoke to told a different story, saying they obeyed police warnings to leave a crime scene and were arrested as they were retreating.
The charge is a serious one that could result in jail time, but perhaps even more threatening for a professional news photographer, the police have asked for revocation of their press passes. That’s what they call a chilling effect, and pretty much career ending, if you’ve spent much of your life working and excelling to earn this top L.A. assignment.
Sgt. Lewis told me it’s rare that members of the media are arrested. “It’s not something we like to do,” he said, “nor do we take it lightly,” and it hasn’t happened here during his three years in media relations.
But I’m disturbed about it, in the context of two recent incidents. This week a Hawthorne police officer shot dead the dog of a man they were arresting for “interference with officer(s).” It seems to many from videos posted that Leon Rosby’s “crime” was shooting video of the police involved in a standoff with robbery suspects.
The Hawthorne Police statement accused Rosby of “interference (including) loud, distracting music (from the individual’s vehicle), and his intentional walking within close proximity to armed officers.”
Loud music? So approach the guy, tell him he needs to turn his music off, and that if he doesn’t he’ll be arrested. Walking in close proximity? If you watch the very disturbing video, you’ll see that he was down the block from the officers, and while he walked back and forth recording video it was in a straight line, never getting closer. Kids cruising by on skateboards and bikes were as close as he was.
Yes, his dog Max was an 80-pound Rottweiler, and after he jumped out of the car through an open window he ran toward his master to protect him. (Rosby had been handcuffed and was being held by two officers.) Max lunged then backed off, barking, when an officer attempted to grab his leash. Then an officer lunged at the retreating dog and fired four shots point blank.
Why always the gun? Don’t these guys carry pepper spray?
Maybe Rosby’s real problem was that he has a pending lawsuit against the department, over an incident last summer. One of the officers named in that suit was involved in the action that day.
It’s not against the law to videotape the police performing their duty in public. Some would say it’s a good thing that protects everyone against false accusations that couldn’t otherwise be proved.
Tell that to the Kern County Sheriff’s Department which confiscated phones on the spot from people who used them to record their beating to death of David Silva less than two months ago. Silva was passed out, seemingly intoxicated, across the road from the Kern County Medical Center. Was an ambulance called? No, an officer and a K-9 were dispatched, then seven more deputies “for backup,” then two CHP officers showed up as well. For a man passed out on the sidewalk.
They beat him fiercely with batons as he put up no resistance, according to multiple witnesses and as seen in a video, and the father of four died right there. (The police report claimed he resisted. And all 10 officers remain on duty.)
The deputies then followed two other people they thought had videotaped the assault into their homes and detained them for hours before they finally surrendered their cellphones, said Silva’s family’s lawyer. Sheriff Donny Youngblood said the deputies’ decision to confiscate the phones was the right thing to do.
No, it wasn’t.
There are too many instances of police officers charging “unlawful interference” on what seems like no grounds but their own self-interest, in defiance of the law, and sometimes a dog or even a man have their lives snuffed out on the street in the process while the police have unlawfully seized the evidence.
I am not accusing the SMPD of anything. But I do believe the police everywhere should be extremely cautious and certain about these types of charges, considering the terrible abuses that have occurred. There’s a difference between interfering and irritating. And then there’s that silly thing in the Constitution protecting freedom of the press. Important then, important now.
Charles Andrews has lived in Santa Monica for 27 years and wouldn’t live anywhere else in the world. Really. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org