Palo Alto leaders reaffirmed the city's stand against racial profiling Monday night, publicly condemning the practice and vowing to investigate whether it's being practiced in Palo Alto.
In an emotional meeting attended by nearly 50 area residents, the City Council unanimously passed a resolution condemning racial profiling, calling it the first of many steps the city will take to reassure the community after Police Chief Lynne Johnson's controversial comments on Oct. 30.
"The resolution before us is just the first step," Mayor Larry Klein said. "Much, much more needs to be done. Much more interaction between our communities needs to occur."
But despite the resolution, more than a dozen residents of Palo Alto and East Palo Alto continued to call for Johnson's ouster. Johnson has been under fire since she stated at a community meeting that her officers are instructed to stop and have "consensual contact" to identify African-American men.
Though she has repeatedly retracted her statements and apologized, city leaders have continued to receive letters from residents and community leaders railing against what they perceived to be the police department's indiscriminate targeting of individuals based on race.
Eric Stuart of East Palo Alto was one of several black speakers who said they routinely get stopped by the Palo Alto police when they drive through the city. He was also one of several to call for Johnson's firing.
"You can change the policies all you want, but if you don't change the people you'll get the same results," Stuart said. "She shouldn't be chief of police. She should've been fired a long time ago."
Betty Ann Bryant said her son was pulled over by Palo Alto police for having the light on his license plate go out on the day he got his driver's license, which was also his 18th birthday.
"There is a dirty, dark secret right here," Bryant said. "Racial profiling does exist in Palo Alto. I don't know how you're training your officers, but my son, on this 18th birthday, got introduced to the police department."
Council members John Barton and Pat Burt acknowledged hearing complaints from black co-workers who said police trailed them for apparently no reason. Each expressed regret at not taking personal action to address this issue before it became public 11 days ago.
Others members of the audience, including former North County supervising district attorney Jay Boyarski, defended Johnson, arguing that her comments on Oct. 30 truly were a misstatement that ran completely counter to her distinguished record in the department.
"Chief Johnson has been a leader against racial profiling," Boyarski said. "She has done as much as any police chief in this area to establish policies that forbid racial profiling."
Monday's resolution was the first of several steps City Manager James Keene outlined for repairing the damage caused by Johnson's comments.
Keene has also asked the city's independent police auditor, who reports to Keene and the council, to review the department's policies to make sure there is "zero tolerance" for racial profiling.
Meanwhile, Johnson will continue meeting with various community groups and congregations to continue the department's dialogue with the black community.
The council passed Monday's resolution after many comments but little debate. Members also agreed to add language, proposed by council member Yiaway Yeh, requiring a quarterly review by the council of the police department's data on stopped vehicles.
"Now, therefore, be it resolved that the Council of the City of Palo Alto hereby expresses its commitment to ensuring that Palo Alto is a community that encourages respect and tolerance and a place where all residents, visitors, employees, Stanford students and others feel welcome and at home and therefore reaffirms its opposition to the practice of racial profiling," the resolution states.
(Staff Writer Gennady Sheyner can be e-mailed at [email protected])