Riverside learns from ‘Lessons from Ferguson’

Published: April 30, 2015 | Posted: May 4, 2015 | Written by Aja Sanders

“How many deaths are too many deaths? One? Ten?”

Deborah Wong, professor at the University of California, Riverside asked this question several times during the opening remarks of the community forum, titled “Lessons from Ferguson.”

The event was hosted by Mt. Rubidoux Seventh-Day Adventist Church on April 9. The forum was held to discuss racial profiling, traffic stops and how to change community policing.

Sergio Diaz, Riverside chief of police and six other panelists gathered on the Thursday evening.

Each panelist was given seven minutes to give an introduction about their organization, their credentials and why they decided to participate in the forum.

Oliver Thompson, who  is a professor of Administration of Justice at Riverside City College, was one of the panelists at the forum. Thompson was also chief of police in Inglewood, California during the Rodney King riots.

“The state of California spends more money on the prisons and death row  than they do on higher education … and guess who is imprisoned. Young men of color,” Thompson said.

The way Riverside changes community policing is by changing the attitudes of the citizens according to Thompson.

“There is a master servant relationship in America, it’s called the U.S. Constitution,” Thompson said before citing the Preamble.

“Now how do we go about changing what some officers are doing? Its by citizens taking over the role of Master of the Universe, and making government the servant that they should be and are under the Constitution,” he said.

The audience clapped in agreement.

“Officers do not think about, ‘how am I going to take a life,’ but when they go through a six-month police academy, they come out of it socialized with a ‘us versus them’ attitude. Who is ‘us’?  The girls and boys in blue. Who is ‘them’? The rest of you,” Thompson said.

“Now this should be, hopefully, just the beginning of forums toward how we go about (making a) change.”

The end of his speech was given a standing ovation. One woman in the audience proclaimed, “That’s right!” as she returned to her seat.

Panelists, Waudier E. Rucker-Hughes, president of the Riverside branch of NAACP and Jennifer Vaughn-Blakely, chairwoman of The Group, an organization dedicated to advising the RPD, spoke about reducing racism and prejudices within the police department.

Diaz informed the audience on how the RPD is adding body cameras to the police force.

His presence at the forum seemed to comfort some and upset others.

A woman blurted out, “Sergio Diaz abuses his authority!”

During the question and answer segment of the forum, most of the questions from the audience were directed to him. A man asked Diaz if the police department is making an effort to help the homeless and creating more programs for at-risk youth. Another questioned about the body cameras in the RPD.

The next community forum, Policing and Mental Health, will be on May 7 at California Baptist University from 5:30 to 8 p.m.