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Lawsuit Raises Questions About Race Relations In The San Diego Police Department

Lawsuit Raises Questions About Race Relations In The San Diego Police Department
Lawsuit Raises Questions About Race Relations In The San Diego Police Department
Lawsuit Raises Questions About Race Relations In SDPD GUESTS:Dan Gilleon, attorney at Gilleon Law Firm. He is representing Sergeant Arthur Scott. Detective Sgt. Ben Kelso, president, San Diego Black Police Officers AssociationLei-Chala Wilson, past-president, San Diego chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People

I am Maureen Cavanaugh. It's Monday, January 26. Here are some of the San Diego stories we're following in the KPBS newsroom. San Diego is bracing for the ripple effect caused by flight cancellations back east. More than 5000 East Coast flights have been pulled to a major winter storm. Consequently nurses in California have approved a contract they say improves patient care and health and safety protections for nurses. And boost pay. About 18,000 nurses went on strike last November and another strike was planned for last week before the agreement was reached. The San Diego city Council today will consider whether to approve a 20 year lease to loan arrangement for a privately held 18 story office building in the Civic Center complex. It's a deal that sees independent budget analyst content is being rushed. Listen for the latest news through the day right here on KPBS. Our top story committee edition eight 100-year-old newspaper cartoon has provoked a lawsuit against San Diego police to prevent and renewed Austins about race relations within the department. The cartoon is a racist depiction of San Diego's first black police officer the lawsuit claims that when Sergeant. Arthur Scott vice president of the black police officers Association complained about the image the department retaliated by transferring him out of the southeast division. An image of the cartoon can be seen on our website and for more on the lawsuit Dan Gilleon joins us is the attorney for Sergeant. Arthur Scott. Dan will come to the program. ________________________________________ Thank you for having me. ________________________________________ This cartoon is a purely handed after please training session. Can you tell us about the cartoon and how it was used. ________________________________________ It's a racist cartoon. I don't think anyone is denying that. It dates back to the early 1900s and it was back then just a racist depiction of officer McCarter who was the San Diego's first black police officer. At least supposedly he was the first one. This training occurred it was required training. As part of a 40 hour training session for lieutenants and sergeants. Otherwords the supervisors. The guy so go out and supervise other officers. They were being taught history course at this please be sample a retired lieutenant. Lieutenant. passed around this depiction of officer McCarter in the context of this is officer McCarter and here are the first black police officer and back then black police officers had to police their own areas normally but this officer McCarter did a great job and was able to gain the respect of the community and was able to police the Chinese community. All that is fine except that this cartoon he passed out to depict the first officer was extremely racist. It used language that was stereotypical of the language you would hear supposedly by the Chinese American the way that they would talk. There is a derogatory term used about Chinese Americans. In the image of officer McCarter himself was a monkey walking in uniform with a large baton and gone. The context was not about race relations. It wasn't like this lieutenant was saying this is what we cannot do. Or look how far we've come. Look at how deplorably -- deplorable the racism was in the past. In the newspapers and so forth. It wasn't anything about that it was just about officer McCarter. At a minimum it was very poor judgment on the part of this lieutenant to pass this around. It was offensive. It did offend multiple police officers that I've talked to. ________________________________________ Didn't let me stop you. I want to find out how did Sergeant. Scott complained about the use of the picture? ________________________________________ The following day he did what he was to do. He went to his own supervisor and also be this professor in charge of training. And he said Lieutenant. , this is on acceptable. You cannot do this it's not right. This should often been part of the training. That's where it should have ended. That is the way things work. Sometimes people make mistakes and their insensitive or whatever. And someone complains and you can grow from that. That's where the should have ended. But it didn't. Apparently this got back -- lieutenant is in -- initially the lieutenant that my client complained to defend it but then eventually acknowledged that it was offensive when he showed it to his wife and his wife Québec and sit said the obvious which is this is offensive. By the way I don't think that anyone is going to dispute this is offensive. There's not many media outlets that have blurted out. It should have ended there but the day after when he complained to his lieutenant. ________________________________________ It got escalated up to the chain of command all the way to the seven for the pleas to permit where an assistant chief Tom Jarvis found out about it. Things got bad for my client. And that happened couple of weeks later when my client was at the command office for a different reason. He popped his head in to talk Jarvis's office to say hello and thank you for something else that's when Jarvis said come in here and sit down I want to talk to. And you're complaining about this cartoon. He tries to defend it ________________________________________ And I will have to stop you for time reasons. I have to go through my questions. Sergeant. Scott says that he was transferred out of southeast division. As a result of complaining about the use of this picture. What is his lawsuit seeking? ________________________________________ Any lawsuit that is filed in a civil court the only thing you can ask for his money. That does not mean that's what the case it settle for but if the city decides to take this thing all the way to trial the only thing we're going to be able to ask jury for his money. ________________________________________ That the reference ________________________________________ It's about retaliation. And the story obviously is longer than what our bigger than I can explain ________________________________________ I want to ask you that. Does this reference this one incident? Or does he claim a larger problem within SDPD? ________________________________________ There is a larger problem. I think it primarily healthy Police Department handles issues like this. In other words I think another example what type of to the narrow gate situation back in May 2013 when mural would be painted at police headquarters and some white officers complained there were too many black faces in the mural. That rubbed many people the wrong way. But the problem with that was that chief Zimmerman had an opportunity to talk about this and get everyone together and resolve it. Without any hard feelings. Instead it just allowed to fester. This was a related situation to that. I think the story and lawsuit will explain how they were related. I can tell you quickly chief Jarvis suddenly appeared one morning at a southeastern lineup of officers and actually referred to the three anonymous people who spoke to channel 10 as cowards because they had gone to the media. Obviously chief Jarvis held a resentment for that. A few months later this happens and he basically overreacts and retaliates. That's what this case is about. ________________________________________ Thank you so much ________________________________________ People can't complain about something that's we take a step back and side ________________________________________ Thank you so much will be following this I'm speaking with attorney Dan Gilleon thank you very much for joining us. ________________________________________ NQ ________________________________________ We invited the Police Chief Shelley Zimmerman to join us and she declined. She issued a statement which said in part the allegations are being taken seriously and there would be no further comment at this time. 30 now is Detective Sergeant. and Kelso president of San Diego lack please officers Association. And then welcome back to the program. ________________________________________ Thank you. ________________________________________ With me attorney Lei-Chala Wilson past president of the San Diego range of the NAACP. ________________________________________ Think you for inviting me ________________________________________ The plaintiff in this lawsuit Sergeant. Arthur Scott is the vice president of the black police officers Association. Is the group supporting this lawsuit? ________________________________________ The group absolutely supports Sergeant. Scott and we would support any officer that would come forward and bring something of this magnitude to the attention of the placed apartment. ________________________________________ Sergeant. Brian Pendleton is a leader with the national Black police officers Association. He also saw the cartoon in the same training session. He is quoted as saying he was somewhat offended but understood the context of the picture. Let me ask you both starting with you then could this be an overreaction on Sergeant. Scott part? ________________________________________ It's hard for me to give a measure to a level of defensiveness in any thing like this. A picture like this speaks for itself. In terms of what its content and the message it wants to bring. I was not present during the training session to see if any sort of contextual dynamic was added to it when they laid it out. In that regard because one person was offended picture is offensive. It's respective of anything else one person walked away and others -- because I have taken calls from numerous members who have since now seen the photograph and they are offended by it. In that regard I don't think you can say that there is a level of context that would allow the picture to not be affected. ________________________________________ Lei-Chala to you did Sergeant Scott overact? ________________________________________ I don't think you overreact. I think he acted appropriately because he believed the cartoon was offensive and many others do but he took the appropriate reaction by contacting his Sergeant. And expressing his view. I think the Police Department overreacted that they retaliated against him if true for exercising his right to launch a complaint. ________________________________________ Ben we talked at length about the department's efforts to eradicate racial profiling. In its outreach to communities of color. Looking internally, looking within would you say there is a problem of racism within the SDPD? ________________________________________ I would say that the department is still a microcosm of the rest of the nation. There will be times where race relations and issues of cultural sensitivity will come up. The department struggles at times with them and others times they are better. This is one of those ones that obviously we got behind on interbeing out in front because you would have thought that someone seeing that ahead of time would have known that there would be some sort of adverse reaction from someone. Unfortunately they are behind on it. ________________________________________ Dan Gilleon referenced an incident that happened last year the southeastern division about a mural that was put up. Apparently some officers came forward to tell the media that there had been complaints among other officers at that station. That there were too many black faces in that mural. That mural was subsequently taken down the Police Department -- the breast had reasons for they said it would should not have been a poster or panel. Taken that into consideration and what has just happened, Ben do you hear from black police officers that there is perhaps a feeling within some station houses that things are not right for them? ________________________________________ I believe that is always a perception of anyone who is a member of an organization or a community like law enforcement was traditionally been against bringing different people in. The San Diego police department has grown and developed like other nation -- other departments in the country and people of color have come in and women to grow as law-enforcement officers. They have struggled with that but I think things like this help prompt discussions of how we keep working towards getting a fair and equitable workplace ________________________________________ Lei-Chala had this incident like this resonate throughout the larger black community? ________________________________________ I believe a lot of the community if they have seen the cartoon and I believe many have -- they are offended at the only validates their views that the Police Department is racist because if you have a Sergeant. or lieutenant who is doing training and is sending out that message the message goes all the way down to the patrol officers. I think their belief is see I told you the department is racist because look what they are training their officers to look at. ________________________________________ Since the summer our nation has been focused on the use of police force against African-Americans. There have been demonstrations here in San Diego and all across the country. Now we have this allegation. Lei-Chala, what is your opinion? How do think Police Department need to change? ________________________________________ One way they need to change is that are training. This training I believe was supposed to be on diversity and it did not send that message. I also believe that you need more people of color at higher levels. Otherwise a sends the message to those who are lower and also to the community that they don't trust African-Americans or other people of color to have leadership roles or maybe we're not good enough for those rules. That is the message but the tide changed. Her training and even at the Academy. Training frequently on diversity issues, cultural competency and this having more people who look like the community they serve. ________________________________________ How would you change it? ________________________________________ I agree with the things that Lei-Chala has stated in terms of training and of the things and cultural sensitivity. I think another aspect that we often don't talk about in having that discussion on cultural sensitivity is racial micro-aggression. Those issues that people develop growing up that they may be even unaware of that represent some form of stereotyped or bias. Peggy McIntosh talked about having an invisible backpack. And a form of racism so to speak that it's not conscious. It's something that you don't even think of that you had learned all the way growing up in your life and you don't want to think of yourself as exhibiting any racism behavior because on its face it does not seem that way. But when you get to the underlying context of why one person gets one thing a certain way another person doesn't or why certain people are treated -- I know myself. Standing on street corner not dressed in a suit like I am and so forth a person could drive by and lock their doors because they think I could represent something that is thriving to them just by looking at me. Despite looking at something I cannot change what is my skin color. ________________________________________ How do we unload that invisible backpack? Is it unfair to expect the Police Department be the only ones to do that? Should this dialogue not be in a larger context than simply the Police Department? ________________________________________ I certainly believe it should. I think the fact that this action has come forward people are having these discussions. They are having them what they say are or not they're having them in a living rooms with their kids. It's what we need to do. We have reached the point we started to say that the way a person looks -- their race is no longer important. But it still is. It's still a part of a person's identity and when we start saying things like I don't see race then I think you are being continuous because this the first thing you notice about a person. ________________________________________ And Lei-Chala ________________________________________ I would agree. I like the fact Sergeant. Kelso used the term micro-aggression. I know sometimes I could it implicit bias. I've read other articles were they say that in approved police harms you have to start in elementary school. That's where bias are developed. And just recently this for your uncle came home crying because no one wanted to be her friend because she was black. This is at age 4 where bias starts. The Police Department can only pick from those who apply in the community. That racism is there and I can't implicit bias in many times people just don't realize it. They say I am not a racist but they react certain ways aced on a person's skin color. ________________________________________ I think that what people have in their mind today about racism and what being racist is is over. If you are not a member of the Ku Klux Klan wearing a white hood you are not racist. And not recognized that there are levels of everything. ________________________________________ Quickly let me ask you Ben you last word. How to to see the department move forward from this? ________________________________________ I would like to see the department do more reaching out more outreach to the different subset groups within the organization to talk about these issues. Talk about racial micro-aggression about community relations and cultural sensitivity. And those things are coming. I don't want to sit here on the radio today and say that the San Diego police to permit is racist and they don't care about these issues. They take these issues seriously but she has said that she takes this issue seriously. And she's looking forward to cooperating in the investigation. As the president of the BP only I also look forward to the oncoming investigation and the talks to come out of it. ________________________________________ We have to leave it there for now. I've been speaking with Detective Sergeant. Ben Kelso president of the San Diego black police officers Association and attorney Lei-Chala Wilson asked president of the century ago branch of the NAACP. Thank you both for much. ________________________________________ Thank you.

Cartoon shown during a SDPD training session
This early 1900s cartoon contains racist content.
To view PDF files, download Acrobat Reader.

A 100-year old newspaper cartoon has provoked a lawsuit against the San Diego Police Department and renewed questions about race relations within the department.

The cartoon is a racist depiction of San Diego's first black police officer, Patrolman Frank McCarter. The lawsuit claims that when Sgt. Arthur Scott, vice-president of the San Diego Black Police Officer's Association, complained about the use of the image, the department retaliated by transferring him out of the Southeastern Division.


Police Chief Shelley Zimmerman, who declined to be interviewed by KPBS, said in a statement that the department will take the allegations "very seriously."

"We will fully cooperate and support any and all investigations into this matter," Zimmerman said.

Arthur Scott vs. City of San Diego
The lawsuit filed in San Diego County Superior Court by Arthur Scott against the City of San Diego.
To view PDF files, download Acrobat Reader.

The lawsuit said the cartoon was passed around in a training class without historical context on race relations.

Scott, 43, said after he complained to a supervisor he was later passed over for a promotion, pressured into taking an undesirable transfer and threatened with disciplinary action "based upon frivolous allegations of misconduct."

Dan Gilleon, an attorney representing Scott, said the cartoon offended "multiple police officers."


"I don't think that anyone is going to dispute that this is offensive," Gilleon told KPBS Midday Edition on Monday.

Lei-Chala Wilson, past-president San Diego chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said the cartoon validated the perception that racism does exist with the San Diego Police Department.

"I think their belief is, 'See, I told you the Department is racist,'" Wilson said.

Wilson said the police department can address the perception of racism by having better trainings and having a more diverse leadership.

"You need more people of color at higher levels — having more people who look like the community they serve," Wilson said.

Detective Sgt. Ben Kelso, president of the San Diego Black Police Officers Association, said the police department can also address what he calls "racial micro-aggression" — the stereotypes that some may have of other people without consciously knowing it.

Corrected: February 22, 2024 at 8:50 AM PST
The Associated Press contribute to this story.