Panel addresses discriminatory treatment of blacks
THE SANTA CLARA
January 15, 2015
As the nation recovers from the events in Ferguson, Miss. and the anger sparked by Eric Garner’s death, over 250 students, faculty members, staff and locals crowded into the Williman Room last Thursday to listen to a discussion regarding the issue of race and police brutality.
The Markkula Center for Applied Ethics and the Office for Diversity and Inclusion sponsored the event called “Race, Law and Justice: A Conversation about Unarmed African American Men Dying in Encounters with the Police.”
Judge LaDoris Cordell and Santa Clara Associate Provost for Diversity and Inclusion Aldo Billingslea spoke candidly and from personal experience about the issue of race and discriminatory treatment.
Billingslea, who began his remarks lightheartedly by introducing himself as an “expert black man,” said that several years ago he began counting the number of times he was stopped by the police: 36.
According to Billingslea, the police gave him excuses such as “Sir, one of your tail lights is not as bright as the other.” He said the color of his skin is the only true explanation for this treatment.
Billingslea also discussed the unfortunate necessity of “the conversation” that every African American family has about what to do during a police confrontation, a discussion that is foreign to most white households.
Cordell spent most of her time advocating for increased transparency and accountability in the “administration of justice.”
Upset with the secrecy that shrouds police action, Cordell, who serves as the Independent Police Auditor of San Jose, asserted that this confidentiality breeds distrust among the public, particularly in minority communities that are disproportionately affected by police shootings.
“There is simply no case for secrecy in our justice system,” Cordell said. “If we the people do not have trust, we have no reason to abide by the law.”
In a call to arms, Judge Cordell asked the audience to become engaged in local politics. Retired Los Gatos Police Chief Scott Seaman encouraged citizens to get to know their police force.
“I am jaded,” Cordell said. “But I am also ever hopeful knowing that you, the people, can make change.”
Santa Clara District Attorney Jeffrey Rosen explained the difficulties and complexities of prosecuting police shootings.
Describing the relationship between the police and the DA’s office as “collaborative but not cozy,”
Rosen stressed that his office is as impartial as possible when deciding whether or not to prosecute in cases of police shootings.
Citing the recent prosecution of several officers for fraud, rape and possession of explicit photos of a minor, Rosen argued that police are not above the law and that his office works to ensure that everyone is brought to justice. He added that police shootings are not exempt from this mission.
Retired Los Gatos Police Chief Scott Seaman echoed Rosen’s sentiments.
Defending the difficulty of police work, he explained the importance of maintaining a positive relationship between a community and its police force.
“I like to tell people of the community, you are letting us be your police department,” Seaman said.
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