On a sunny Sunday morning in April this year, 4 Piedmont students were on private property where 2 of them reside and the other 2 were invited guests. The children are of African American and Latino-African American mixed heritage. A Piedmont Police officer, who admittedly was not responding to a call, pulled up and blocked the driveway of the private residence, got out of his car, ordered the kids down on the curb and detained them for 15 minutes. Although my 13 year old explained to the officer that he lived at the residence; it was not until my then 17 year old son presented the officer with his valid driver’s license which displayed the address of the home, when the officer left without explanation or apology.
It is that disturbing scene and experience to which my children and their friends were subjected that I have been asking the Piedmont Police Department to explain and make sure is not repeated to any other children in our neighborhood. I filed a complaint about the incident and cooperated fully with the Department’s investigation with the hopes of finding some positive resolution that would assure the boys they did nothing wrong to elicit such treatment, restore their comfort with and trust in the police, and affirm that race is not a basis for suspicion in our Piedmont community. It’s important to point out that the investigation into this matter was conducted by an attorney hired and paid for by the Piedmont Police Department, not an independent third-party investigator.
At Police Chief Rikki Goede’s suggestion, we were in the midst of planning a meeting with the Chief, the officer, the boys and myself to foster such a resolution and craft a joint public statement, when we were all surprised and disheartened to read the Chief’s September 25, 2013 article in the Piedmont Post. Chief Goede sanitized this incident and unilaterally announced its conclusion, as she sees it. Her article contained glaring omissions about my children’s detention and the investigation that followed, implicitly casting culpability on the boys. The Chief omitted key facts: (1) the incident occurred at the home of two of the boys involved; (2) three of the teenagers were community-known Piedmont High basketball players; (3) at the time of the incident, two of the boys were dressed in conspicuous Piedmont athletic attire; and (4) the kids were merely standing on the sidewalk in front of our house, waiting to get in a car and drive to a Bar Mitzvah. Nothing in the boys’ behavior, attire or obedient response to the officer was indicative of criminal or suspicious activity. If not race, what “legitimate factors” could there have been for the officer’s detention of four African-American boys, standing outside of their home?
After the Chief’s article was published, I took it upon myself to initiate a one hour conversation with her with the hope that she would help me understand what these “legitimate factors” were by giving me a copy of the report. She refused to do that, and she also said that no apology would be forthcoming. When I asked her why she unilaterally submitted her piece to the Piedmont Post, the Chief said she was under “pressure” from the community to do something and she wanted to bring “closure.”
I was very respectful during this hour-plus conversation and listened to what the Chief had to say. I do believe that she is trying to improve the department and that she cares about this community. However, I explained to her that I am left with “what to do” after she has publically painted a picture implying that my children were somehow responsible for the officer detaining them. I told the Chief that it’s as if my children now leave the house with the words “legitimate factor” tattooed on their foreheads. I explained to her that I need to respond in some way so that the record is clear and so the community knows my children did nothing wrong. She said, “they didn’t do anything wrong” and neither did the officer. She suggested I have people call her directly if they have questions. Toward the end of the conversation with the Chief, I unexpectedly started to cry. I told her that I was not angry, but I was saddened by these events and the fact that I was unable to shield my children from this. As a community, we know no more now how to avoid having our children detained, than we did when this incident occurred.
It is important to me that something constructive comes out of this. As I told the Chief, I am invested in Piedmont. I am not going anywhere. This city will be my home for at least 6 more years until my youngest child graduates high school. I closed the conversation with the Chief by suggesting that we explore the idea of doing something - an event of sorts - with my children, other Piedmont teens and the Piedmont Police Department that would encourage a connection and awareness that we all live in this community together and we should be able to do so with a sense of honor and respect. Chief Goede was very open to this idea, and she is also making a point of her officers visiting the schools and talking with the students. I remain hopeful.