EDITOR: This article was originally published in the Volume 4, number 8, early March 1974 edition of the OB Rag.
On Monday night March 4, Ocean Beach had the largest mass community meet since the Republican Convention was scheduled for San Diego. Childcare was provided in a separate room as hundreds of residents packed the teen room and adjoining kitchen at the OB Recreation Center to discuss the topic of “violence and the police”. Volunteers chaired the meeting which began with an opening statement on the importance of the gathering, a suggested outline for the evening, and a word of thanks to the Community Planning Group for providing the room for the meeting.
Next, Attorney Tom Bowden spoke briefly on the legal rights involved when being questioned by the authorities. He then answered questions from the audience on the more technical points of those rights. “You have a constitutional right to remain silent,” Bowden summarized, “and generally it’s a good idea to exercise that right.”
Discussion then shifted to the events of Feb. 22 and the nature of police and community relations. A statement was made on behalf of Tom Kozden and Jeannie Sapienza, both arrested while observing, police activities on Abbott St. Older residents, members of the Town Council’s Police Activities Committee voiced their views. Detective De Broiler’s best friend spoke. A man who was going to become a cop explained his feelings. The Defense Conmittee for Peter Mahone made a plea for moral and financial support. Monday’s meeting was an extremely difficult one to conduct since it needed to serve the vital function of providing the community with a healthy forum for dialogue from a wide range of individual responses.
The following are some of the statements made during the course of the evening as recorded by KGB radio’s news dept.:
- “It is really important, it seems to me, for other parts of San Diego to see that at least one part of the community cares enough to have a meeting.”
- “The reason why they say this is a high crime area is because there’s more police here. When you have more police patrolling the area you’re going to find more people doing so called “wrong things”. Like in La Jolla, how many times have you seen policemen in the residential area? When you come to OB you see them everywhere.”
- “I’m really disappointed that I don’t see any representatives from the police here. Someone should be here listening to these problems, besides us. We’ve heard one another talk about them for long enough. Where’s our communication?”
- “That’s been tried by probably the most conservative organization in 0cean Beach which is the Ocean Beach Town Council. And if that organization can’t get the police down here to talk about the problem of police harassment in the community, then I don’t think we’re gonna have much luck in getting the police down here.”
- “I think it’s very important that we consider how we deal with the police too, like if any police is gonna get a negative vibration from people all the time, calling them pigs and they’re gonna associate that to that then naturally that’s just gonna make it more negative.”
- “When we talk about OB being a high crime area or a low crime area we have to think of what we mean by crime. Its a crime to smoke dope or if you’re poor to shoplift at Safeway or Mayfair. It’s a lot more criminal for people to pay $1.65 an hour to people who work all day or people that are making millions of dollars in profits. I think we’re beginning to think who the real criminals are and the kind of society we live in,… who has the bread and who doesn’t. If we lived in a society of equality a lot of things that are crimes now wouldn’t be crimes. I think that in a real way Ocean Beach is not a high crime area but La Jolla and Point Loma are.”
- “I’d like to answer your question about that pig who you said had half his face blown off: they showed a picture, of him in the paper sitting up in hospital bed saying that he was suffocating because he had so many flowers… and I went down there and saw Peter Mahone in leg irons and chains and padlocks and everything and not even shoes and you’re talking about who’s injustice…”
- “Policemen should be somebody you go up to for help, he shouldn’t be somebody you’re scared of or wanna run from because you’re afraid of his billy club on top of your head.”
- “I think the problem is on both sides. People naturally deal in stereotypes. We all think of a pig as a pig as a pig, they think of a hippie as an acid head or what not. I think the thing is that outside of this meeting , outside of being able to air your emotional upsets about the situation, which is important, something constructive should come out of it.”
By consensus those present at the meeting did not condone the violence that took place on Feb. 22, while they stressed the importance of viewing all persons arrested during the day as being innocent until proven otherwise. There was much concern throughout the meeting that the media not misrepresent the views of those in attendance. The media was frequently admonished for distorting an image of Ocean Beach in the past.
Concrete suggestions were given by people who felt that working with the Town Council’s Police Activities Committee and with local government agencies would be effective. In addition, the Inbetween staff developed a set of specefic recommendations, the Community Planning Group took a position opposing police over-reaction and abuse, and the Community Congress reactivated its Law and Justice Task Force over the issue of Police-Community Relations.
Another meeting was called for the following Thursday to coordinate constructive actions for with the situation on many different levels.
As Monday’s meeting broke up, six men in casual plainclothes were observed milling about in the lobby of the Rec Center. When approached by curious residents and inquiring reporters they refused to identify themselves.
As Tom Kozden left the Rec Center, these six men suddenly turned and followed him to the sidewalk where they grabbed Tom and arrested him on a grand jury indictment that had been issued the previous Wednesday. (SEE BOX)
All of this took place before dozens of Ocean Beach citizens who were leaving a meeting that had attempted to constructively open up channels with the police in order to improve communications!!!
People were outraged by the provocative actions of the plainclothes Sheriff’s officers and the intimidating presence of SDPD patrol cars waiting on nearby corners.
It was raining the night of the second meeting as over forty people crowded into the large front room of the O.B. Community School on Voltaire Street. Energy was high and as the discussion soared on about the police and the community, it became apparent that whatever came out of this meeting would have a definite impact on the future of police community relations in Ocean Beach.
As people expressed their fears and feelings, an informal list of ways in which the community could solve its problems around the police was created. Everything from the size of the new SDPD budget (a $1.5 million increase from last year) to forming anti-rape squads came out and was discussed.
Someone said, “We’ve got to get older, more established residents to come to these meetings.” Another agreed, “we have to get together as a group and try harder to get lines of communication open.” One woman concluded, “people must take control over their own lives.”
“Policemen should walk on beats,” someone said. “We must force the police to confront the community.” Another joined in, “police should live in the community where they patrol.” “People should have input into the training of police officers,” was yet another comment. “They shouldn’t wear guns….”
Other residents stressed working at the city level to change and liberalize police practices; “we have to pressure the city council, their boss,” a man added. A woman agreed, “we should change this oppressive system at local governments.” One solution expressed was to “make Ocean Beach its own city.”
After breaking down into smaller groups, the meeting evolved into the formation of four separate committees, each with the task of specifying directions the large group could continue under.
A second group will work through existing community organizations like the Town Council and the Community Planning Group.
The third committee will try to influence city government to force the police to change and assert civilian control. In addition, individuals committed themselves to do research on the local power structure and solutions that other cities and communities had found.
Finally the last committee will explore the idea of community patrols to deal with areas of police neglect like the rape situation. It was pointed out that other communities in San Diego suffered excessive police abuse, especially the Black and Chicano communites. It was advocated that alliances should be sought with these sections of the city.
In a narrow vote last fall the local Town Council created a Police Activities Committee in response to pressures by people in the community critical of police practices.
From its inception, however, the committee has been immersed in controversy and difficulty. With its chairperson, Tom Kozden, in and out of jail in what’s been described as a police frame-up, the committee is facing a possible disbanding. Many of the more conservative members of the Board of Directors see no necessity for it. They are campaigning to vote it out of existence. On the other hand, a sizeable portion of the Board and many Ocean Beach residents see the committee as one of the most relevant steps the town council has ever taken.
Yet the San Diego Police Department does not respond to it favorably. Don Johnson, the O.B. Police Community-Relations officer has been ordered by his superiors not to sit on it. Ted Kistner, president of the town council, said, “If we can’t get police to come to meetings, I really don’t see if the committee can accomplish anything.” The SENTINEL quoted Kistner as saying, “Some members of the board feel the committee should be disbanded. Possibly it will.” Such a resolution could be coming up at the next council meeting on March 21 at the Women’s Club on Bacon Street.
The committee’s original purpose was to receive complaints, offer recommendations, praise or inspect police practices, and to investigate specific incidents or actions of certain officers. Initially its members were: Dick Ridenour, former OBTC president, business and reserve police officer who just recently resigned from the committee; Lois Rhodes, treasurer of the council and Pacific Telephone employee; Tom Kozden; Bill Reedhead, an O.B. storefront lawyer; Tova Kastruba, a recent organizer of folkdances for the OBTC; Jim Huffman, an administrator at Pt. Loma College; Betty Bish, a local realtor; Frank Gormlie, an 0B activist; John Gollom, a public schools teacher; Dolores Frank, co-chairperson of the Community Planning Group; and Avis Stone, a longtime O.B. resident.
In a community where a process of polarization around the police is taking place, the town council committee is presently the mechanism for citizens to have input into how the police operate outside of individual complaints. While Johnson speaks the department line, that there are no special police-community problems, 200 residents, many of them angry, have met to talk about the police in a recent town meeting.
The central issue through all this, yet, is not really the town council committee, but a citizen review board in general, a board with the power to oversee police activities, policies and practices. A citizen board for Ocean Beach does not have to be tied to the town council.
Police, like officer Johnson, react negatively to the word ‘review’. Johnson told the RAG that, “none of the review boards across the country have worked.” He doesn’t want to see one in San Diego because it would create animousity and dissension within the police department.
As it is, the problem is larger than he implies. There already is animousity and dissension… between the people and the police. The police department is the only governmental agency without external input and criticism.
Johnson said that he thinks Ocean Beach needs what Pacific and Mission Beach now have together: a board supposedly made up od representatives of all the community and local police community-relations officer. This board, on a experimental project, meets once a month and discusses problems within the community, not necessarily police problems.
What Ocean Beach needs and what every district in the city needs, is a citizen review board to review publicly all police proceedings. Police should be responsible to the people and community they serve. The police department should be under the control of the citizens and it should serve and protect all citizens equally.