by The People’s Minister of Information JR Valrey
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BlockReportRadio.com interviews Oakland City Council President Lynette McElhaney about the most recent sex scandal sweeping OPD and other Bay Area law enforcement agencies, where over two dozen officers and agents had sex or inappropriate dealings with the same underage girl.
The councilwoman equates sex work with slavery and calls the allegations disgusting. She also stresses the need for the community to help organizations that support women and girls who have been abused by the sex industry.
M.O.I. JR: Today our honored guest is president of the Oakland City Council, Ms. Lynette McElhaney. She will be talking about the Bay Area law enforcement’s sex scandal that includes over two dozen officers dealing with a teenager.
What are your thoughts about the two dozen police officers from law enforcement all around the Bay Area – including Oakland, including the DA’s Office, the Sheriff’s Department, Oakland police and possibly other departments – who are in trouble for having sex with underage girls, disclosing confidential information inside the department. Another officer – I don’t know if it’s an unrelated case – today was suspended because his wife was helping him to write police reports.
How does the City of Oakland in your opinion expect the residents of Oakland to trust the police? We also had Oscar Grant, but look at all these issues that are rocking the police department right now.
Councilwoman Lynette McElhaney: Thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak about these things, JR. One of the things I think we all, as citizens, as leaders, as community, know there is a lot of work to be done in American policing overall, and these revelations only go to highlight the level at which you need to begin to change policing culture.
It is not enough just to say, “Put this department under federal oversight or this department under state oversight, or extend the monitoring activity.” You have to really change the culture.
You have to be about hiring good leaders and putting in good systems of accountability and creating a climate where those who serve honorably have confidence in their chain of command that they can rebuild these things and move them out. There’s no system or systems of groups of people who are going to be absolutely free of corruption, but you need a system of accountability and correction, right? and termination. All of those things need to be in place.
I’m sickened by the revelations from Miss (Celeste) Guap (who says she’s now 19 and that the abuse began when she was 16) in particular. If they are true or partially true, it really reveals that the systems and the culture within policing departments – because it extends, as you said, beyond OPD – to law enforcement as its own fraternity, where a young woman could be exploited and that be considered the norm or even noble.
And that just goes to this entire culture of rape in our society, and we have to really address that. We have to address it in our music; we have to address it in a lot of ways. And it was really troubling to me, I have to tell you, on the OPD side, once these things came to our awareness.
Apparently the journalist was able to tap into the fact that there was an internal investigation underway but that those things hadn’t been made known to us. What was troubling to me is for those other agencies, said, “When my guy had sex with her, she was 18,” as if a law enforcement officer having sexual relations with someone who is participating in an illicit activity, and a young woman, would be credible at all is just disgusting.
It’s not even about her age. This is a woman who has said that she has been in the sex trade, being exploited since the age of 12. She’s a woman who is in deep need of love, care, nurture and restoration, and to dismiss those allegations with the simple notion that it was cool because she could consent!
Well, no woman could be said to have given consent to having sex with someone who is in power. And the exchange might not have been money, but, from her mouth, protection; so that in itself is an immoral exchange.
No woman could be said to have given consent to having sex with someone who is in power.
M.O.I. JR: What they could call “coercion.” Can you talk a little about what does that mean for the Oakland Police Department, which is in federal receivership because of the Riders case in 2003, where a number of officers were involved in brutalizing the community and possibly even worse.
What does this mean for that? In your opinion, has anything improved in Oakland particularly with law enforcement?
Lynette McElhaney: We’ve seen a lot of improvement. And just to correct you a little bit, we are not under federal receivership, we’re in a negotiated settlement agreement that placed us in oversight from a federal judge and a monitor; so it’s something different and gives the City more control than a full receivership would have. That’s just a technical thing, and I want people to understand it because there would be different tools available if where was a receivership in place.
We’ve seen a number of changes in this department that have been positive and constructive. We’ve seen crime go down as arrests have gone down; so we know that we’re doing much more targeted policing, where you’re not criminalizing an entire neighborhood. We are actually going after people who are engaged in dangerous behaviors and activities.
We are being strategic around cease-fires so that we are giving men in particular – men and women – the opportunity to voluntarily say that they want to accept help and resources, job training, recognizing that some people are engaged in criminal activity because of an economic imperative.
We’ve been moving in the right direction. And so that’s why it’s really discouraging and frustrating to say that a handful, a couple of dozen, as you said, of people in a department of nearly 1,800 people could set back and undermine the good efforts of people who are really working very hard to change a very strong fraternal culture that exists when you put on that uniform.
American policing is in trouble, and we see it in every city and every jurisdiction, And one of the things that really struck me is that a small community in Florida called Miami Gardens just put together their very first police force in 2012 or 2013, and immediately, within a few years, we see the same pattern in this brand new, predominantly African American-Latino community, the same pattern, getting it from scratch, that we see in Oakland after dealing with this for 13 to 15 years, or longer than that if we look at the decades of repression that has happened through policing.
So, when I look at the Miami Gardens piece and I look at racial profiling, a police chief there who was engaged in a sexual relationship with an illicit sex worker, with all kinds of allegations that can undermine credibility in their brand spanking new police force, I know that it is beyond OPD. But we have to do what we can within OPD to establish a culture and climate for change internally, and hopefully that is so successful that it speaks to the rest of the nation in terms of: How do you make it work? How do you overcome the ignoble kinds of behaviors that have happened when people have that much power?
So it is important to me to acknowledge that there are many men and women who have joined OPD since 2013 who came in with noble intentions, noble obligations, who are serving honorably in a very difficult city with limited resources and high demand. And our job has been to make sure that they are well-resourced, well-trained and provided for so that we can get to the place where the community can have trust, confidence in this department with high accountability and transparency.
The investigation that is underway needs to be thorough and swift, and I appreciate that the City Administrator is bringing in an investigator to investigate our investigation and an external auditor to look at all of it so that we can learn from this very unfortunate set of circumstances. What did we need to know, and how could we know it, and what’s going to be different?
How do you overcome the ignoble kinds of behaviors that have happened when people have that much power?
I’m looking at asking the court to give and grant the City Council more access internally to personnel decisions and internal investigations. Right now people are talking about expanding authority to the monitor, but if the monitor alone were sufficient, we wouldn’t be still trying to get into compliance after 13 years.
I want to acknowledge the good work of my team, of the council members who are in their first term, because John Burris and Jim Chanin will let everybody know that from 2013 till now, we have had the most significant progress getting into compliance. When I got elected, we had 22 tasks that were incomplete out of 51 that were identified in the negotiated settlement agreement. Today, as I speak to you, we are down to the last two – two that are out of compliance and a third one that is in partial compliance.
And we were actually, prior to the release of this information, in the process of negotiating a transition agreement that would have given more authority back to the City, because, ultimately, the fixes aren’t going to happen from the outside. We need to get more Oaklanders on the force. We need more women on the force.
We need to really work to change this culture and to make sure we are embracing 21st century policing in a powerful and positive way, and that policing powers are limited and rare and directed and targeted to the people who are doing significant damage and causing harm to our community.
So, I’m looking forward to the day that we can get back the $2-3 million that we’re spending on oversight and invest that in job training and resources into restorative justice systems like my desire to establish a Department of Violence Prevention that will really deal with prevention, intervention and community restoration and we don’t have to rely so much on the policing side of this. And I believe that the healthier we become as a society, the less types of opportunities there are for these types of abuses to happen.
M.O.I. JR: Last question – and I know you have to go – but last question and I wanted to take it a little bit off the grid. Let me start with this: Because I have daughters, I don’t think there’s any place for pedophilia, period, period.
What does this mean for you as a councilwoman in terms of dealing with sex workers and possible police pimping of sex workers. Is a possible solution to deal with the legalization of sex work and look at it in a different kind of way if we see that the people who are supposed to be enforcing laws against sex work are inherently imbedded within the trade itself?
Lynette McElhaney: My focus has been, since 2013, to bring awareness to the fact that there is no such thing as a child prostitute, that we really need to see our children as being exploited and this is the manifestation of modern-day slavery in our time. We encourage people to go to Nancy O’Malley’s HEAT (Human Exploitation and Trafficking) Watch so that we can stop it.
We are coming against human trafficking and we really want people to see it as human trafficking and understand that this is a very serious issue and that if you call yourself buying sex from a slave, we call that rape. It is no different than the rape that happened that was considered legal even though it was immoral during our earlier history, before emancipation.
So that’s been my focus and I think that what we see, even in communities where they have legalized sex work, we continue to see children being exploited. We’re continuing to see women and young women kidnapped and abused, and so that is a shadowy industry. It is really deep and a troublesome thing.
I think we need to stop looking at it through just the lens of criminalization, where we criminalize women and we don’t stop the system that allows women and girls to be fully exploited and placed in these dangerous situations – and this has been going on for decades.
If you call yourself buying sex from a slave, we call that rape. It is no different than the rape that happened that was considered legal even though it was immoral during our earlier history, before emancipation.
So right now my focus is on saving our babies, and I hope that, again, people go to the Heat Watch website, that they donate to groups like MISSSY, that we are given the opportunity to save our children.
And when I look at this young woman who has brought forward these allegations, my heart goes out to her. We know too many girls that need to be rescued. We know that Oakland sits as a hub of some of the most disgusting and perverse behaviors and we’ve become at the epicenter of this crisis, and it is really something that we have to address.
As you all know, I passed legislation – the council unanimously passed legislation that I brought forward – to make the commercial sexual exploitation of our children a priority and to train all of our workers. And that’s where we should be focused on – saving our girls, saving our boys, making sure that they’re safe and that they have an opportunity for restoration when we emancipate them from that system.
So thank you for the opportunity to speak to this, and again I appreciate people who are looking out for our children. We recognize that we have a lot more work to do and we’re committed to getting that work done in terms of holding people accountable who have engaged in criminal activity and making sure that we uphold all of the noble people that serve in OPD and that’s where we are, OK? Thank you.
The People’s Minister of Information JR Valrey is associate editor of the Bay View, author of “Block Reportin’“ and “Unfinished Business: Block Reportin’ 2“ and filmmaker of “Operation Small Axe“ and “Block Reportin’ 101,” available, along with many more interviews, at www.blockreportradio.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.