Open Letter to CCPD Chief Cid: Structural Change is Not a Personal Attack

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Dear Chief Cid,

On October 2, 2020, you used the Nixle system to broadcast a statement to the Culver City community. You explained that you find it “disheartening to witness members, or groups, of our community make personal attacks on each other, including police labor groups toward community members and community members toward police professionals.”

Although you do not identify the incidents that dishearten you, we presume these include the September 30 facebook post and paid advertisement by the Culver City Police Officers’ Association (CCPOA). That post highlighted our photographs, attacked us by name, and included information about our salaries, which are neither paid by Culver City nor relevant to any pending public policy decisions concerning the Culver City Police Department (CCPD).

We appreciate your statement’s acknowledgment of the importance of promoting a democratic culture that upholds the right to dissent, including “perspectives [that] are critical of the Police Department.” As members of the Culver City community, we are all accountable to the principle and practice of respectful but rigorous debate. In this spirit, we are writing to explain why we found the subtext of your statement to be harmful.

Your statement implies that we had personally attacked members of CCPD, giving the impression that CCPOA’s actions were merely a tit for tat. Indeed, the CCPOA has explicitly defended its conduct in precisely these terms, claiming that it was responding to “a personal attack on CCPD and our profession.”

In fact, our critiques of CCPD practice have consistently focused on the institution of policing. By equating our structural critiques with CCPOA’s personal attacks, your statement operates both to rationalize the CCPOA’s post and to dismiss evidence-based calls to reimagine public safety in defense of Black lives.  In other words, your statement trafficks in a false equivalence that protects the status quo.

To illustrate the point that a structural critique does not amount to a personal attack, we note your own clear rejection of the CAHOOTS mobile crisis response model as a potential substitute for armed police response in many situations involving mental health crises, houseless people in public spaces, and other situations of public “disorder” not involving threats of violence.

The CAHOOTS model relies on trained medics and crisis counselors. Does your rejection of this model constitute a personal attack on medics and crisis counselors? Of course not. And the same is true with arguments of the sort we have made, which run the other way: against reliance on armed police and in favor of other types of response.

Similarly, an argument that police compensation is higher than necessary, compared to relevant benchmarks, is a public policy claim about budget priorities, not a personal attack on the individuals whose salaries may be affected. Of course, it matters to those individuals, and they have genuine interests that should be taken into account, just as do the people who might get hired by Culver City were funds reallocated to hire new or different staff.

Likewise, observations by us and others that policing systematically imposes harms on people who are stopped, ticketed, arrested, or subjected to violence are not personal attacks on the officers engaging in those actions.

In many cases, officers are imposing legal forms of harm and violence that the criminal legal system instructs and empowers them to inflict. That is precisely why the uprising for Black life has focused NOT on reformist efforts to control the behavior of individual “bad apples” but instead on structural change that counteracts the systemic and historic harms of policing.

Furthermore, calls to grapple with how policing’s systemic harms represent institutional and structural racism must not be deflected with appeals to personal good faith, nor with attempts to take anti-racism off the table by mischaracterizing it as a personal attack. Such critiques simply do not rely on claiming that individual officers self-consciously harbor racial animus, even if some do.

As part of the Million Dollar Hoods project, one of us (Kelly Lytle Hernandez) has documented the extraordinary racial disparities in CCPD arrests, and the drivers of those disparities in precisely the low-level offenses that make up the bulk of CCPD arrests. Rather than reply to this research and similar structural critiques and evidence-based analyses, CCPOA personally attacked us.

While CCPOA has the right to express its opinions and positions on political matters, their choice to do so by attacking individuals – rather than arguments — comes at a great cost to the public culture of respectful debate and healthy dialogue in Culver City.

Ironically, what seems to have most provoked CCPOA’s ire was a salary report that neither of us authored. Regardless, what matters is that we have criticized the institution of policing in Culver City and that the union established to advocate for (and operated by) CCPD officers responded in this way.

Any individual who wishes to question the CCPD budget or practice now has reasonable cause to fear a personalized attack should their experiences, opinions, or even data challenge positions held by CCPOA.

In turn, CCPOA’s retaliation has created an environment of fear and intimidation that inhibits critique of CCPD. By embracing the same false equivalence that CCPOA has used to justify its attacks, your statement contributes to this toxic environment. This form of political suppression could be most severe for the persons and communities most vulnerable to policing in Culver City, namely Black and Latinx residents and non-residents, especially the young.

We recognize that you hold no direct authority over CCPOA statements or actions. Nonetheless, there is a clear and close connection between CCPD and CCPOA. In fact, the CCPOA capitalizes on its close identification with CCPD. The Facebook page from which it launched its attacks has as its banner photo the facade of the CCPD headquarters, emblazoned with the City’s words “Culver City Police” — NOT Culver City Police Officers Association.

Furthermore, the CCPOA lists its address as the CCPD headquarters and its hours as “always open,” a clear reference to police patrol, not a CCPOA office. This, as well as CCPD’s own policy regarding on-and-off duty conduct [see 332.5.4(h) and (m)], requires that you, as the Chief of Police, explicitly distance yourself and CCPD from the CCPOA’s pattern of retaliation.

Therefore, we call upon you to use the same Nixle system to retract and correct your Oct. 2nd statement. You should clarify that structural analysis does not constitute an inappropriate “personal attack.”

You also should clearly repudiate the specific personal attacks recently made by CCPOA on persons challenging CCPD practice, including both the attack on us and the previous attack video targeting John Kent and Kelly Kent, as well as Culver City Action Network, a video littered with provocative falsehoods.

These are intense times, and structural change is, by definition, disruptive, including to people whose livelihoods are, in good faith, invested in the status quo. But that same status quo is a daily, and often deadly, threat to many lives, especially Black lives. We must not flinch from any of this as we seek a better future for our entire community.

Sincerely,

Kelly Lytle Hernandez
Noah Zatz

cc:
Mayor Goran Eriksson
Vice Mayor Alex Fisch
City Councilmember Daniel Lee
City Councilmember Meghan Sahli-Wells
City Councilmember Thomas Small

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