A new series features honest conversations with police chiefs of color
Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Tuesday, Feb. 1. I’m Justin Ray.
When I got my driver’s license as a teenager, the first thing my mother said was, “That’s exciting. So here is what you do when the cops pull you over.”
I was upset by the comment. Not only did it put a damper on my accomplishment, but I hated the pessimism: Yes, we were one of the few Black families in our suburb, but I did not believe the world was that racist.
Two weeks later, I was indeed pulled over.
I will never be able to confirm what role race played in the situation. What I do know is the experience was terrifying. I would later have two other experiences that shaped the way I saw law enforcement and motivated me to create a new series featuring police chiefs of color.
The first happened as a child. I will always remember an officer who visited my Fresno elementary school as part of a D.A.R.E. program. His stories about locating drugs on criminals, hopping over fences to get bad guys, made all of us kids think he was the coolest thing. Sure, we had seen action movies with daring heroes, but he was real and in the flesh.
He was especially meaningful to me because he was Black. The image of a man who looked like me who wasn’t on the receiving end of law enforcement was valuable to me.
The second event is something I’ve debated whether I should ever discuss in a piece of writing. But I want to briefly do so because it was important to my understanding of law enforcement.
My cousin took the life of an officer before being shot and killed by police. As you can imagine, it caused a difficult period for my family. For that reason, I won’t go into it more, but I bring it up because it forced me to understand how dangerous the profession is.
Because of modern conversations about race and policing, I was curious to hear how police chiefs of color think about topics such as incarceration, racial disparities in policing, and what they believe are misconceptions about law enforcement.
Today, I have published my first interview in a series of three talks with police chiefs of color in the Golden State. I spoke with Oakland Police Chief LeRonne Armstrong about how being a person of color affects how he approaches his job.
“Every day, I bring my experiences of being a Black man first,” Armstrong told me. “When people say racial profiling doesn’t exist, I know point blank that’s not true. I’ve been racially profiled myself. I’ve had white people lock the doors as I walk by their cars and I’m thinking, I’m the safest person to be around.”
Armstrong also discussed his department’s meme scandal, the hardest part of his job and the unique challenges of policing in the city. You can find the full interview here.
And now, here’s what’s happening across California:
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‘Up your game and make better tacos.’ A taco truck operator was arrested after allegedly vandalizing a competitor’s stand. Los Angeles Times
An Inglewood teacher was arrested on suspicion of killing a 21-year-old woman in 2005 after DNA and fingerprint evidence allegedly linked him to the slaying, authorities said. “I didn’t do this,” suspect Charles Wright told The Times. “The thing is, everybody that knows me knows that I used to sell bags and clothes out of my car. ... That’s the only possible way it could happen.” Los Angeles Times
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POLITICS AND GOVERNMENT
An important bill for California workers. The measure, AB 1192, would mandate the collection of 18 job metrics in various categories from the state’s largest private-sector companies, those that employ 1,000 or more people in California. The metrics are broad and deep, including pay, hours, scheduling, benefits, advancement, safety, turnover, equity and the number of full-time versus temp or independent contract workers. If successful, it could change the way companies perceive their own job offerings, and allow prospective workers to know what they’re signing up for. Capital and Main
Gov. Gavin Newsom, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and other California leaders faced criticism after they were photographed without face masks at Sunday’s NFC Championship game at Inglewood’s SoFi Stadium. Los Angeles Times
‘It’s like he’s in prison.’ I wanted to highlight some important reporting from the Fresno Bee. The paper revealed in October that Fresno County was holding youth in a Child Protective Services office building. Now, the Bee reports that in Madera County, a minor with severe mental health issues has been housed for about two to three months in a visitation room in the Child Welfare Services building, where social workers report to work. Fresno Bee
CRIME, COURTS AND POLICING
Sacramento police said they arrested a man whom they believe is connected to recent explosions caused by homemade bombs. Evidence obtained by authorities led them to arrest Cody Tristan Wiggs, 23, who now faces a felony charge on suspicion of possessing a destructive device or explosive in a public place, as well as a misdemeanor. No one was injured in any of the blasts. FOX40
‘This is my worst nightmare.’ A 20-year veteran of the Stockton Fire Department was shot and killed Monday morning while putting out a fire. A suspect and a gun were recovered, according to the Stockton Police Department. Fire Capt. Max Fortuna, 47, was shot while responding with firefighters to a Dumpster fire around 5 a.m. A 67-year-old suspect was arrested and a firearm was found at the scene, according to police. Los Angeles Times
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HEALTH AND THE ENVIRONMENT
Modesto City Schools have stayed open amid the latest wave of the COVID-19 pandemic by having people take on different positions. A senior district official spent a week as a principal, followed by stints leading middle and elementary school classes. While districts have changed their policies in order to keep students safe and in school, they’ve still faced high student and staff absences. “Everyone is just pitching in. Everyone’s saying, ‘I’m just so glad schools are open,’” Superintendent Sara Noguchi said. Modesto Bee
Thousands of Oakland Comcast customers lost service Sunday while trying to watch the NFC Championship game between the 49ers and the Rams. A Comcast spokeswoman said that at one point, anywhere between 10,000 and 20,000 customers were without service. The company claimed that gunfire near Eastmont Mall in East Oakland damaged Comcast equipment, causing the outages. ABC 7
San Francisco police have said they’re “closer than ever” to solving the case of the Doodler, a serial killer who terrorized San Francisco’s gay community in the 1970s. The San Francisco Chronicle covered the case on its daily podcast, including the recent update that a probable sixth victim has been identified. San Francisco Chronicle
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Los Angeles: Overcast 64 San Diego: Overcast 62 San Francisco: Cloudy 60 San Jose: Sunny 61 Fresno: Sunny 58 Sacramento: Cloudy 60.
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Today’s California memory is from Helene Krongold:
The air was clear as I piloted my small airplane south toward L.A. My co-pilot and I were enjoying a leisurely flight home after participating in the annual all-women’s Palms to Pines Air Race from Santa Monica to Bend, Ore. I navigated toward Mt. Whitney for a closer look at its majestic summit; but to our dismay, fluffy cumulus clouds occluded the view. Suddenly, the clouds parted and brilliant rays of sunlight landed on the snow-covered peak. The clouds quickly closed up again, but that ethereal view has never left my mind’s eye.
If you have a memory or story about the Golden State, share it with us. (Please keep your story to 100 words.)
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