Roundtable: Vets React To Fallujah Loss; Racial Profiling And SDPD; Chargers In Denver; Jerry Coleman
January 10, 2014 1:11 p.m.
Tony Perry, Los Angeles Times
Megan Burks, KPBS News
Jay Paris, San Diego sportswriter
Related Story: Roundtable: Vets React To Fallujah Loss; Racial Profiling And SDPD; Chargers In Denver; Jerry Coleman
MARK SAUER: Iraq war veterans through their sacrifices were in vain as the city of Fallujah falls to a Qaeda forces. The San Diego police officials deny they have a problem with racial profiling by officers.and it's a bittersweet week for San Diego sports fans also charged advance while the city morgue table of baseball icon. I'm marks our and the KPBS roundtable starts now. Welcome. It's Friday, January 10. I'm marks our. Joining me on the roundtable today or Tony Perry San Diego bureau chief of the Los Angeles times, KPBS reporter Megan Burks and San Diego sports columnist Jay Paris. The Iraqi town of Fallujah became infamous as an insurgent stronghold in 2004. The shocking images of two charred American bodies strung from a bridge became a catalyst for two bloody battles in which Marines fought house to house to take the town. But this week Fallujah back in the hands of forces linked to Al Qaeda. Tony, many of the Marines that were killed and wounded in those bloody battles were from Camp Pendleton in this area, right?
TONY PERRY: Anbar province was one of the toughest areas of the fighting in Iraq. Around 345 Marines from Camp Pendleton dead, 115 from Twenty-nine Palms died, maybe 10 times that number injured. So as we've said many times, the Iraq war because of Camp Pendleton is a local story for us and Camp Pendleton served and sacrificed more than any other recent US for a long period of time, only in the latter stages with the American surge back did one of the Army bases surged ahead, but 345 dead from Camp Pendleton alone.
MARK SAUER: this was almost 10 years ago. so remind us why was Fallujah so important. Why was that such a pivotal point in the war?
TONY PERRY: Fallujah and Ramadhi are two of the big cities in Anbar province. Big provinces from the Sunni border to the border it was the heart of the Sunni insurgency. So when the US toppled Saddam Hussein the insurgency went after the new government which was Shia led, and they see it as a catspaw of Iran. And so away they went. Anbar province, Ramadhi and Fallujah have always been very tough and even Saddam, brutal as he was, had trouble controlling it. It's a tough area as the Marines drew also in Afghanistan the short straw, that is to say some of the toughest finding.
MARK SAUER: Remind us again what was the catalyst for this? The Blackwater USA contractors in other words were not service people. They were obviously contracting but they have the shocking images with the fellows were killed.
TONY PERRY: They did that in one of the four of course was from Oceanside. They thought they could drive through Fallujah unescorted and they were set upon, murdered and their bodies desecrated and a couple of that, one of the bridges there in Fallujah. The president of the US saw those images, was revolted by them and ordered an assault. That assault was led by Marines from Camp Pendleton. Now in the middle of that assault when the Marines were close to vanquishing the rebels who revered the insurgents who were there, the president of the US urged on by the Prime Minister of England Tony Blair called it off. And pulled out. It turned out to be the wrong decision. Six months later had to go back in again with Marines, Army and with some Iraqi forces
MARK SAUER: Another bloody battle.
TONY PERRY: For the bloodiest battle since Vietnam. And then of course lots of other fighting in Anbar, [inaudible], Haditha, all sorts of places like that, but Fallujah and Ramadhi were the two biggies.
MARK SAUER: Now the biggest news this week we are talking about is an Al Qaeda linked force has their flag over the town again. I'm reminded actually you mentioned Vietnam, Kaesong is the 60th battle we are talking about I'm reminded of a lyric by Bruce Springsteen. He said I had a brother by Kaesong, fighting off the Vietcong. He's still there, they're all gone. Isn't that what the Marines are talking about in Fallujah? We thought this we lost our comrades and now what is it for?
TONY PERRY: This is one of the dangers of military service that you could be involved in something that in the long run does not go well and be required to ask was my sacrifice, was my buddy's sacrifices worth it. You mentioned Vietnam, grievance or battles of World War II where there were enormous casualties are now being thought of as not really haven't been necessary and even some of them were thought so at the time. This is the danger of military service and as you point out the insurgents now seem to be in control of Fallujah, a little less so in Ramadhi but it's going to go back and forth a bit. And we have a back-and-forth battle the Iraqi forces in the insurgent forces that we have the tribes who once cut a deal idea with the Marines to vanquish the insurgents in '03, 04, or five, now have fallen with the Baghdad government and there seems to be this three-way battle going on. Remember we pulled our forces out two years ago. The Obama administration could not reach an agreement with Prime Minister Malki to allow some trainers to remain.
MARK SAUER: Leave people behind.
TONY PERRY: They've been out of there for two years. Some CIA but not large forces. Now the question is what can we the US do for them? There's talk of equipment, there's talk of guns, fire power.
MARK SAUER: No talk of sending forces back.
TONY PERRY: There will be no forces, no boots on the ground. Might be again the CIA people who don't exist, they might be there although in a large-scale battle you need numbers and we're not going to send numbers.
MARK SAUER: Is it just because it is a local story because the reasons you outline of the national the LA Times and the New York Times ran stories in the paper earlier this week. We've been talking about this and some people will blame President Obama, some people will blame President Bush for going in in the first place but as you say nobody's talking about the remedy being going back in with forces.
TONY PERRY: That will not occur. Lots of blame to go around. Pick your target and make your case. That's not unusual my goodness we are still debating what really happened on D-Day June 6, 1944. So these disputes go on and on. But one of the quotes that I read from one of the Marines who fought there is that this is like a sock in the gut. We fought, we bled, and now this. Well, that's true. That's absolutely true and there's no papering over. Again it's a risk of military service. I give you Vietnam and Korea and even World War II.
MARK SAUER: Go ahead. Were you going to say something, Megan?
MEGAN BURKS: It seems with modern warfare it seems like there's more risk, there could be less closure, that makes me wonder what about PTSD.
TONY PERRY: It means PTSD is going to be longer. It means PTSD will still be with us for long time. Even people at the VA here will play the early stages that the Iraq war where there was a lot of gunfire on the TV news it kicked off the PTSD in Vietnam veterans because they would watch it on CBS NBC CNN and it would pick up their issues. It's going to be with us a long time.
JAY PARIS: Tony, I'm wondering about the parents of the fallen and I'm sure when it first happened the pride, no matter how bad they felt, the pride they had that their sons and daughters were doing a goal and accomplishing something, now this is like...?
TONY PERRY: It's agony. I will give you the company line. I talked to a Marine officer who said these parents have to remember and hold onto the idea that their sons, to a lesser extent their daughters had enlisted after 9/11 or reenlisted after 9/11. That is to say when their country need them they came running. That's a very hairy chested for you and me here to talk about but very hard if you've lost only, one of your only son's but you have to remember their sons and daughters answered the call. And did what their nation wanted them to do and fought honorably and fought bravely. It has ended up to this and I think Fallujah and Ramadhi you still go back and forth is one thing, but never lose touch with the fact of the honor and the bravery and that they came running.
MARK SAUER: Well that was the last question I wanted to ask. We can expect this to be in the news going to go back and forth, nothing is settled. Fallujah Al Qaeda has the flag up now but next week or next month who knows.
TONY PERRY: You've got to remember that something. This isn't isolation and it's right next to Syria and there's back-and-forth between fighters of Syria and Anbar province the Western extension of Iraq and there are deep thinkers who say this is really what the insurgents want, they call a caliphate, and part of Syria and Iraq maybe not all of Iraq, but certainly a bar we are going to be out this, we people who read these things we are going to be at this for the rest of our lives.
MARK SAUER: The same question comes up in Afghanistan. We are sending another question contingent where the final contingent?
TONY PERRY: The final contingent will be about 4000 strong. 140 of them in the advance unit there will be a Marines. The next year after and after they can cut a deal with Pres. Karzai but this will be the last large number, the last command presence and don't forget that as they were in Iraq the Marines from Camp Pendleton in Afghanistan were given a tough slogging. They were given Helmand province again, home of the insurgents and it's been tough.
MARK SAUER: We're going to leave it there and I'm sure we'll have much more of this story. If there ever was a police chief of a big American city who is sensitive to the problem of racial profiling it was William Lansdowne in San Jose, Lansdowne launched a program to gather demographic information at a traffic stop when he became chief here in San Diego in recent years something happened and racial profiling was suddenly no longer a concern for the San Diego Police Department and that has led to some costly problems. Right and it seems that chief Landsdowne came to believe I guess the problem is taken care of but a lot of folks according to your story don't believe them.
MEGAN BURKS: The problem of chief Lansdowne is still there but is followed by the wayside we asked chief Lansdowne why has this form by the wayside he said nobody has really come to me and said this is a problem in the community this is something we want you to address but I've heard from a lot of you things city-Southeastern San Diego that they feel racial profiling is an issue and for this story we actually talked to the president of the NAACP, a detective sergeant in the police department who is black and also we heard from Councilman Dave Alvarez who said at a mayoral debate that this is a problem. That unless you've been racially profiled you don't know that it happens.
MARK SAUER: Okay we're going to get into a lot of that first one to play a clip. And who is interviewed about his experiences.
NEW SPEAKER: It's not unusual can I have your license or registration it's usually for me, it's are you in again, are you from such and such gain. Are you on parole? Are you on probation? Are you carrying a weapon? Do you have drugs in your car? Before they even asked for my license.
MARK SAUER: All right, tell us about that young man?
MEGAN BURKS: So that is idea came after work he he is a 26-year-old engineering student who spends a lot of time working going to community groups in southeastern San Diego. His aunt lives in city Heights so he drives through Toronto time and he says he was pulled over there 10 times last year for a lot of the reasons that you know, that seemed you know that he was speeding and maybe he didn't think he was speeding and that sort of thing.
MARK SAUER: 10 times in one year.
MEGAN BURKS: 10 times in one year and none of those resulted in a citation or anything.
MARK SAUER: Just pulled over. Tony were you pulled over 10 times
TONY PERRY: Speaking as a middle-class middle-aged white guy who grew up with the placement is your friend kind of thing I do not see it as a problem. On the other hand, if I was a young man of color living in the middle of the city
MARK SAUER: Pulled over 10 times in a year, yeah.
TONY PERRY: Talking last time yesterday afford to the interim Mayor he said he hasn't heard of this problem he's been out a lot recently and represents one of the districts he said however after talking to the chief you realizes that we better start keeping these numbers if there is a perception out there and gathering these numbers will dispel that perception most would and I think the chief is with that idea.
MEGAN BURKS: That's the thing is it's all about perception as the San Diego Police Department does have a lot of programs and ways to reach out to diverse communities but the fact is you are not going to get everybody into those programs you are not going to reach everybody so the best thing you can do is just to be public and say we are doing everything we can do. And the chief has recommitted to re- collecting data but up till now they have not been doing everything that they are a large urban police departments are doing to combat racial profiling.
TONY PERRY: I would disagree to this extent that I don't think that if the San Diego police as I believe are not doing this, they are not avoiding racial profiling because of numbers or even a threat that numbers will be gathered it's because of leadership from the top. And the leadership from the top certainly Lansdowne has said we don't do this. And that work goes out. That strikes me as more important. Leadership from the top strikes me as more important than numbers. Numbers are great, let's gather them. But if leadership you only have to look at some cities that are having similar problems with police leadership Los Angeles Seattle New York to see what it looks like when you don't have the people you want at the top.
MEGAN BURKS: All these men in city Heights in southeastern San Diego are not hearing the chief's directives to his assistant chiefs and Capt. So we've got to make a public statement. We are doing this, we are following best practices and we are making sure that this is happening.
TONY PERRY: I noticed that your keep the statistics yes but New York also has stop and frisk. One of the most controversial items imaginable into several separate between the police and the new Mayor who once attended. So again I think we are blessed in the city that we have from what I can tell a very good police department that is responsive. Do they do all things at all times? No should they have been gathering the numbers probably let's gather them and see if there's a problem or if not let's use them along with that rich to dispel.
MARK SAUER: Megan, how did you get into the story because you cover City Heights, what got you under the story in that area?
MEGAN BURKS: I've been reporting in City Heights for about three years and I hear it a lot I talk to young people a lot in city Heights is a yeah I was pulled over last week for broken tail light I went home and my taillight wasn't broken. It's hard to prove you know it's proving a residence were against an officer's word and if you pull the documents sometimes it doesn't match so we decided let's not play this game lets you see what is our department doing.
MARK SAUER: What has the chief's response been? I know he didn't really want to be recorded or, on camera necessarily for your story. He did sit down for an interview he did answer questions and took notes obviously you quoted him in a story but he's a little [inaudible] about this.
MEGAN BURKS: He gave us a really long interview that originally was supposed to be recorded for broadcast. This is KPBS we do TV and radio and he backed out on that part, and so what you hear is me sort of paraphrasing what he said in the story.
MARK SAUER: I should say I believe he may be coming onto Midday or KPBS at this time on the radio and television next week. So, you brought it to his attention, tell us what is the high point of his reaction here? Is he going to change it and reinstate some of the Democratic information gathering?
MEGAN BURKS: We approached the department in October and asked if they are collecting racial profiling data if they are recording a race of people who their officers pullover. And at first the Sgt. In their own department who handles that sort of data did say that they had been collecting it. Indeed about 16,000 of these stock cards have been filed last year, but that is only about 1/5 of them, one of five stops that have been recorded for citation
MARK SAUER: So a small percentage, right.
MEGAN BURKS: So about shortly after we make the initial contact the memo went around the apartment think we are going to start collecting this data again. We spoke to Lansdowne about that asked him why and he said there's a lot of controversy with what's happening in New York about stop and frisk. So we're going to be proactive about it.
MARK SAUER: Let's talk specifically about a notorious case Dante Roland Cheryl Robinson give us a brief overview of that.
MEGAN BURKS: This is a young black couple pulled over in City Heights in May of 2010. And initially the officers checked their license plate and checked it was a stolen vehicle. The problem was that the officers typed in the wrong number.
MARK SAUER: There was a mistake initially there, so they just let them go and said sorry folks there's been a mistake.
MEGAN BURKS: They initially had the right instinct and went up to the window and said sorry I made a mistake, but then they said license and registration and a federal judge ruled last year that that was a violation of this couple's fourth amendment rights. But we also wanted to highlight this story because it shows just why you need to have trust with your community. This couple have had run-ins with the police before. Shannon had had a run-in with this particular officer before so when something started to smell fishy, they got out their cell phones, they called for a supervisor and it escalated to involving 10 patrol cars, helicopter, teasers and pepper spray.
MARK SAUER: And ultimately the taxpayers had to pay off on that one, right?
MEGAN BURKS: Yes the city Council agreed last month to pay $450,000 to the couple in the settlement for this case.
MARK SAUER: Okay and that was granted one example of a not very common thing but a notorious example of what we are talking about.
MEGAN BURKS: We talked a lot of criminal justice experts who said you have to have trust in the community because that's how you are going to get your witnesses to talk that's how you're going to get people to participate in law enforcement.
MARK SAUER: And you're going to get out and take a look at this for yourself you were telling me.
MEGAN BURKS: Right after the show I have a police ride along.
MARK SAUER: We can look forward to more stories on that. All right. It's a time of joy and hope and mourning and reflection in San Diego sports this week the Chargers had a late-season victory wave in Denver for a playoff showdown with the Broncos this Sunday but that's tempered with the loss of Jerry Coleman, for decades the voice of the San Diego Padres. Jay, let's start with Mr. Coleman, officially know as the Colonel. What made Jerry so popular?
JAY PARIS: He was every man in the day and age of you know, guys pronouncing everything perfectly and looking the part he would have his malaprops, and he would say pitchers were throwing up in the bullpen where he didn't mean they were throwing up in the bullpen they were throwing up in the bullpen and he was just a common man, very humble. But what trumps all that especially in this town is his military service. Here's a guy who played in six World Series he was the MVP of the World Series---
MARK SAUER: Heckuva ballplayer in his own right.
JAY PARIS: And that's about the six graph when you read about what he did and what he meant and did so, the only major leaguer to fight in World War II and the Korean War. Ted Williams served in both, but did not---
MARK SAUER: Many major leaguers served in both---
JAY PARIS: 120 missions which is way off the charts and table of figure and there's been a lot of change in the Padre organization but Jerry has really been the constant over four decades.
MARK SAUER: Yeah it really was and is going to be a sad sad day in March as we open the season here. I've interviewed Jerry and known him off and on for years. Anybody who's done anything at all with him knows he is just a genuine guy. What you heard on the air was what you got. He was just the most friendly and caring guy you'd ever hope to meet.
JAY PARIS: He did the CBS game of the week for 22 years, was a star in New York.
MARK SAUER: They didn't stick him on the network just because he was a clown and somebody to make fun of. He did a very good job.
JAY PARIS: To this day anybody who ever talked to him, his proudest it was when he got his wings. He was a Marine's Marine and he said that made him who he was and the Padres do such a great job including the military, especially on Sundays with the military guys. He would beam on Sundays and toward the tail end of his career he cut down quite a bit but he always worked the Sunday afternoon game and it was baseball under the sun. That's what Jerry loved when the Marines were up in the right-field corner and they would play the hymn, you know and the national anthem he would stand ramrod straight and he was a flat belly Marine all the way.
MARK SAUER: But he never wanted to say it was a career. He was there he was doing his job.
JAY PARIS: He was doing a job. I look back on it now and I was fortunate I did a Memorial Day column last Memorial Day and what he left me with was the name Max Harper and I remember that name now whenever I think Memorial Day. He said it wasn't about him. It was about guys like Max Harper who didn't return back and when he came home from the Korean War the New York Yankees had a day for him Jerry Coleman day. That morning of that day he got a call from Max Harper's son-in-law and said I have Mrs. Harper on the line here, did her husband really die because in Korea a lot of guys that were in Korea a lot of guys that got shot down were captured behind enemy lines. I had to tell this woman with five children that yes, her husband was dead.
MARK SAUER: We're going to have to leave that side and on this note the Padres have scheduled a memorial for Jerry Coleman at Petco Park 10:30 AM and the doors open an hour earlier for that memorial. Let's shift gears now to football. As recently as December it seems like this was a lost season for the Chargers. They were going nowhere now they are in round two of the playoffs. How the heck did that happen?
JAY PARIS: Crazy. You always say sports is the best reality TV going and it's been around for a long time. They lost to the Bengals who debuted last week the first part of December they were five and 7, 2 games under 500.
MARK SAUER: Nobody was looking for the Chargers.
JAY PARIS: You needed binoculars to see the spot in them playoffs lineup. They did their part but other teams faltered down the stretch and they got hot at the right time and really it's been such a weird year and that there were absolutely no expectations and we know around here when the expectations are high and they fall short everybody still this is the complete opposite nobody saw this coming.
TONY PERRY: I have a question. Phil Rivers, Antonio Gates certainly DJ [inaudible] those are professional football players you see them on the street and you say that's a professional football player. Danny Woodhead 5 foot eight, can't grow a beard and but here he is when we need 5 yards Danny is right up the middle.
JAY PARIS: He's got a Justin Bieber haircut too. He looks like he ought to be throwing your paper.
TONY PERRY: How did we get him?
JAY PARIS: We got him as a free agent. There was no stamp [inaudible] marquee at the box office they said he's a versatile back who can do a lot of different things, but when you pull up to an opposing stadium he's not the first guy that gets off the bus. He's not going to intimidate anybody but he's been such an important cog in the offense. Mike McCoy the rookie coach is the offensive mind that's where he's got his strength and he's had a lot of things moving around he's been a big plus.
MARK SAUER: We had several blackouts here that is we didn't sell out so they didn't have enough tickets, lukewarm for this team, but everybody's on the bandwagon this week.
JAY PARIS: There's people turning their ankles getting on the bandwagon, dusting of T-shirts and lightning bolts all around town. It shows the unifying effect a sports team, especially a winning team can have. Let's face it, San Diego has a lot of transplants a lot of fans rooting for other teams from somewhere else. It seems like everybody's rooting for the Chargers this week.
MARK SAUER: Even if they advance the odds are not good. Its 10 ½ points 9 ½ points against Denver this week but even if they were to beat them were not going to have a home game here, but does it mean for us. It's exposure good for San Diego?
JAY PARIS: The exposure is good. The economy, bars and restaurants will be packed they were back to 60 the last seed in the playoffs. They will not have any home games they play the winner of two Indianapolis Colts Patriots game, but it bodes well into tickets for next year and also get some traction on the new stadium talk which has been in muddled waters for about a decade now and maybe that gets traction moving forward.
TONY PERRY: It takes the civic discussion away from potholes and deficits and mayors who did odd things. It gives us something at least until Sunday afternoon to hope for.
JAY PARIS: This is a headlock people will talk about. You put the headlock on a different football player.
MARK SAUER: Will it rub off on the Padres? Can we have fortune for the Padres with the Chargers late success?
JAY PARIS: We'll see. The Padres have been spending a little money this year so, hopefully. But I suggest everybody, go to the Jerry Coleman ceremony. If you haven't visited his statue right outside at Petco Park, it's a good opportunity.
MARK SAUER: All right. Well that wraps up another week of stories at the KPBS roundtable. I'd like to thank my guests, Tony Perry of the Los Angeles times, San Diego sports columnist Jay Paris and KPBS reporter Megan Burks. A reminder, all of the stories we discussed today are available on the website KPBS.org. I'm Mark Sauer. Thanks for joining us today on the Roundtable.