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Government and People
|TESTIMONY BEFORE THE PUBLIC SAFETY
& JUDICIARY COMMITTEE OF THE COUNCIL OF THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA
Hearing Topic: Police "Checkpoints" in the Trinidad
Date: Monday, June 16, 2008
Councilmember Mendelson, I thank the Committee on Public Safety & the Judiciary for convening this hearing today.
Early this month, the Metropolitan Police initiated a strategy of uninformed and racially offensive policing in the Trinidad community. On this occasion, the Metropolitan Police set up a roadblock which stopped most of the automobiles passing through the intersection of Montello and Owens Streets. This roadblock was in a black working class neighborhood. The roadblock did not stop buses. The roadblock did not stop government vehicles. The roadblock block did not stop pedestrians and people on bicycles.
Although the police set up the roadblock for the alleged purpose of stopping violent crime, the roadblock had no reasonable link to either an intelligent effort at preventing crime or an intelligent effort at investigating crime. Rather, the police roadblock targeted the legitimate activity of driving through a working class black community called "Trinidad". At the roadblock, the police stopped most automobiles and asked all riders inside: (1) to identify themselves; (2) to explain their purpose for being in the Trinidad neighborhood; and (3) to identify all Trinidad residents and businesses the riders planned to visit. If I am not mistaken, the police chief boasted that the Metropolitan Police collected and stored this information as a form of "intelligence" or as a database on Trinidad residents and their visitors.
At no time when the police stopped automobiles did the police reasonably believe or even suspect that anyone passing through the roadblock actually committed a crime or was about to commit a crime. The police had no reasonable basis for either suspecting or believing that automobiles stopped at the roadblock contained illegal drugs, illegal weapons, or other contraband. In other words, the police simply assumed, and quite wrongly assumed, that all people driving through the Trinidad roadblock planned to commit a crime and would admit to their criminal intentions when stopped by the police.
However, this police action made no sense. In a black working class neighborhood, the action was racially offensive. Moreover, it altogether violated the automobile passengers' fourth amendment right to be protected from unreasonable police intrusions. The action also violated the automobile passengers' first amendment right to associate freely with Trinidad residents and businesses. At the end of the day, what the police learned from the Trinidad roadblock did not aid them in the investigation of any felony offenses, whether violent or otherwise. Moreover, nothing learned by the police from the roadblock aided the police in the prevention of any felony offenses, whether violent or otherwise.
In the meantime, the government which employed roadblocks in Trinidad is the same government that failed to prosecute and fire the two police officers who murdered 14-year-old Deonte Rawlings on September 17, 2007. The government which employed these roadblocks is the same government which failed to remodel and fully fund Spingarn High School, Ruth Webb Elementary School, and Julia Hamilton-Hardy Middle School, all of which serve the Trinidad community. This is the same government that has failed to complete the reconstruction of Samuel Wheatley Elementary School on Neal Street, N.E. In other words, while the government set up police roadblocks which served no intelligent purpose in Trinidad, this same government has historically failed, and still fails, to provide excellent education for the Trinidad neighborhood.
The local government has however established a beautiful new recreation facility at 1310 Childress Street, N.E., in the Trinidad neighborhood. The facility is called the "Trinidad Community Center". It has a gymnasium, a so-called "summer camp", an outdoor basketball court, a park, a playground, a weight lifting room, and other valuable assets. However, during this summer, from 9:00 a.m. until about 6:00 p.m., no person older than thirteen years old, including teenagers, can use the indoor facilities or the recreational staff on the premises. Moreover, even among the children from six to thirteen years old who can use the Trinidad Community Center this summer, these youngsters must pay $75.00 every two weeks in order to use the indoor facilities from 9:00 a.m. through 6:00 p.m. There is no fee waiver allowed for poor children. Yet, of all the facilities for young people in Trinidad, this Trinidad Community Center and the juvenile prison at 1000 Mt. Olivet Road are the only new, well constructed, and well endowed facilities set aside by the municipal government for some purpose, whether good or bad, for Trinidad youth.
In summary, Trinidad neighborhood schools lack adequate facilities, well stocked school libraries, excellent teachers, including highly competent special education teachers, and other necessities which must be provided for learning. In contrast, the city government sponsored unconstitutional roadblocks and a new but elitist recreational center which the poor cannot afford. In the place of good education, the Trinidad neighborhood received the same of sort of racially offensive and unconstitutional policing which grossly offended black and Puerto Rican communities in New York City.
Unfortunately, these practices evidenced the city government's apparent hatred for competent and well funded black public school education, while at the same time these practices proved the city government's disdain for the human and civil rights of the working class black residents making up a majority of this city's population. This racially offensive pattern of discrimination has no place in the District of Columbia and should be terminated immediately. Quite frankly, these practices, whether manifested in police roadblocks or in poorly managed and inadequate public education, should not only be terminated, but should never be resurrected as municipal policy in the District of Columbia.
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