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Big Trouble in Little Antelope Valley

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Posted on Aug 25, 2013
Rennett Stowe (CC BY 2.0)

By Bill Boyarsky

(Page 2)

Professor Gary Blasi of UCLA Law School joined the team and sent his students into the Antelope Valley to gather evidence for a lawsuit. They set up tables where people congregate and heard their stories. They interviewed others and examined official sources for a report that helped frame a lawsuit filed by the Community Action League, the California NAACP and Antelope Valley residents, represented by Public Counsel, Neighborhood Legal Services and others.

In spirit, although without the extreme violence, it was reminiscent of the South in the civil rights movement days.

A major development was a report by the special sheriff’s department monitor, Merrick Bobb. He found that 64 percent of obstruction of justice arrests—known as “contempt of cop”—made by deputies stationed in the Antelope Valley were of African-Americans, who constituted only 17 percent of the population.

Then the U.S. Justice Department stepped in and investigated the conduct of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.

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The federal investigators upheld the complaints of the Community Action League, residents and the findings of the law school students: “We found that LASD’s Antelope Valley stations have engaged in a pattern or practice of discriminatory and otherwise unlawful searches and seizures, including the use of unreasonable force, in violation of the Fourth Amendment, the Fourteenth Amendment, and Title VI (the Civil Rights Act provision banning discrimination in programs that receive federal assistance, such as Section 8). We found also that deputies assigned to these stations have engaged in a pattern or practice of discrimination against African Americans in violation of the Fair Housing Act.”

In the end, the lawsuit was decisive. In a settlement, the sheriff’s department and the housing authority agreed to stop the outrageous targeting and harassment of Section 8 residents and to respect their fair housing rights.

I talked to Parris, who so effectively used his trial lawyer’s oratorical skills in the fight against Section 8 residents. But he has made activist Muhammad a city commissioner. And he said that if “I had had people of color on my council, we wouldn’t have been sued by the Justice Department. They would have said ‘Rex, you have to soften it.’ ”

The founders of the Community Action League are pleased by what happened, but wary. “Things are better but haven’t changed that much,” Mitchell said. “Civil rights is still a big issue in this county.”

That’s the way it is in the rest of the country. The 50th anniversary of the March on Washington is a time to note how the country has fallen far short of King’s goals of jobs and freedom.


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