POLICE CHIEF RAMSEY HAS MUCH TO DO YET
[from July 1999 issue]
When we penned last month's commentary about police behavior, under the same title as above but without a hint there would be a "Part Two," we had no inkling that we would be revisiting the subject so soon. In fact, our comments had barely been published when we received a call from Jose Acosta, the commander of the Third District, who assured us that he was extremely concerned about the incident we revealed and was taking short-term and long-term steps to address it and related deficiencies. (For a summary of that conversation, we refer to the Editor's Note we added to the on-line version of our June 1999 editorial, and may be read by clicking the "More Editorials" link below.)
But now we find it necessary to once again raise serious questions about police behavior. This time, the incident, which was reported on page eight of the June 24, 1999 Washington Blade newspaper, is truly of great urgency because of the strong possibility that police actions of the nature reported could lead to acts of violence and worse.
In brief, what was reported--and we have independently confirmed the accuracy of the Blade's story through our own sources--is that during the Gay Pride Day parade a resident of a co-operative apartment building at Massachusetts Avenue and 13th Street was observing the parade with his pet snake draped over his shoulders while standing in his building's "front yard." This spectator was observed by a police officer assigned to Gay Pride Day duty (apparently it is a coveted assignment, and the officer in question had put in for this duty, as he has in the past). The officer, however, concluded that the law prohibits a person to be on public space with "wild" animals and ordered the resident to go inside his building. The trouble with the officer's instant legal analysis, as often is the case when poorly trained officers attempt to act as Assistant Corporation Counsel, was that he was totally wrong on the law inasmuch as the snake had been bred in captivity, and this 19th century law applies to animals that have been captured in the wild.
But what ensued was the real problem. The officer apparently did not care for the snake-owner's attitude when he tried to inform the officer that he was not in violation of the law, and, furthermore, was standing inside what was essentially his (and the other owners') front yard and not out on the sidewalk.
Well, the situation went from bad to worse when the officer forcibly grabbed and twisted his arm and shoved him up against the side of the building and then proceeded to utter anti-gay slurs.
Of course, the matter is being investigated and the officer denies all and his superiors say he is an outstanding officer, one of the very best, even a trained and effective hostage negotiator. (That last bit of information does make us a tad apprehensive.) But from independent sources we have obtained a decidedly different picture. What we may have here is a homophobic--or worse--police officer.
If this were simply an isolated instance we might not be so concerned, but for years we have been hearing reports of police brutality directed toward gay persons. There is ample anecdotal evidence to convince us and many others in this city that the department is laced with officers who are antagonistic toward gays or, at least, seriously deficient in sensitivity training. No matter what the explanation, the mayor and police chief ought put this matter at the top of their agenda. To deal with dangerous attitudes like those displayed by the officer in question and to weed out those who cannot or will not apply the law properly and are not committed to upholding fundamental human rights is clearly a matter of great urgency. After all, this is a city of minorities in control. Employees of the police department (yes, they are employees and we pay their salaries) need to accept this reality. If they don't like it, they can take a job in another jurisdiction. (Serbia, maybe?). Better to deal with these issue now and not after someone gets killed thanks to an out-of-control police officer.