“The City of Roses has thorns,” said Pasadena resident Vance Martin at Wednesday evening’s Pasadena Public Safety Committee meeting. “It’s time to remove them.”
Martin was one of more than 50 residents, activists, city employees and police officers in attendance in City Hall chambers.
The monthly Committee meeting was led by Vice-Mayor John J. Kennedy, with Mayor Terry Tornek and Councilmember Tyron Hampton, in attendance, along with City Manager Steve Mermell, and representatives of the City Attorney’s office.
The meeting drew special attention as activists’ anger over the violent arrest by Pasadena police of Altadena resident Chris Ballew continues to boil.
In that incident, Ballew suffered a broken leg and a bloodied forehead during a traffic stop which escalated into a violent arrest which activists refer to as a Rodney King-like “beating.” Despite his arrest, the Los Angeles County District Attorney declined to file any charges, even the alleged traffic misdemeanors, against Ballew. He is now pursuing legal action against Pasadena.
Early in the discussion, which was not part of the meeting’s formal agenda, Kennedy reminded the audience that the Ballew arrest was discussed in some detail at a Council meeting two weeks ago.
Kennedy noted that Mayor Terry Tornek had told the audience then, and in his State of City Speech Monday night, that there will be an investigation into what Kennedy called an “ugly incident, for sure.”
Both Tornek and Kennedy promised changes in police training and policy.
“I hope that this event is a catalyst for change,” said Kennedy. “I look forward to the work plan that the council and the mayor require to redouble community engagement efforts and partnerships with organizations and individuals in our community, so that the possibility of something like this ever occurring again will be significantly less in the future.”
Civil rights attorney Dale Gronemeier told the Committee, “The state of the city is not good. We keep coming back to this after black men and Latino men are brutalized by the police department in incident after incident through the years.”
Gronemeier re-stated the demands of his group, The Coalition for Increased Civilian Oversight of Pasadena Police (CICOPP), which included an independent investigation of the Ballew incident, directs Pasadena Police Chief Phillip Sanchez to discipline the officers in the Ballew incident, and ask for an independent police auditor with subpoena power, among other demands.
“It’s time for major structural change in the department,” said Gronemeier.
Christopher Ballew’s long time next-door neighbor, JPL scientist Todd Jones, then questioned what he called the “algorithm” of police stops.
“This situation touches me in the heart, and it touches me intellectually as well,” he continued. “Pasadena Police may treat the citizens of Pasadena as they treated Christopher Ballew, as a suspected criminal, and they may beat them, or they may treat the citizens of Pasadena as respected people, as they should be treated.”
“The algorithm,” Jones continued, “that they use to make their choices in stopping people, seems to me, to be weighted incorrectly.”
“Change the weighing factor,” said Jones. “What is the probability of encountering a regular citizen versus the probability of encountering a criminal? You should weigh those probabilities in mind.”
Local resident and activist Ed Washatka read portions of Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech and told the committee, “That was in 1963, and here we are in 2018, and we are still calling upon our civic leaders to halt the horror of police brutality upon people of color in this country.”
Washatka added that he was a fan of filmmaker Quentin Tarantino, saying, “His films are often violent, but I can watch them, because I know they are not real, they are fantasy. I tried three times to watch the Chris Ballew video, and I had to stop each time.”
Concluding the meeting, Kennedy said, “From the bottom of my heart, I thank all the speakers who have courageously spoken out on the issue tonight, and it is my hope that the whole council will weigh in on this issue at the appropriate time.”