Police action at Busby Fundraiser

This is the text of my article (pg A5) from The Coast News of July 2, 2009

Going forward after the fundraiser controversy

Last Friday a noise complaint against Francine Busby's Cardiff fundraiser blew up into a full scale police action -- complete with helicopter support, massive reinforcements, fire truck and canine squad. It ended with several people handcuffed, pepper spray discharged and the homeowner jailed for resisting arrest.

Had the police (represented by San Diego County Sheriff's Deputies) been raiding a terrorist explosive cache or a major drug cartel, this demonstration of force would have been warranted, but actually the nature of the meeting was quite the opposite. The gathering was an integral component of the democratic political process, a candidate expressing her views and asking for citizen support.

Political speech is not only tolerated in America, it enjoys special protection. This principle has been upheld in diverse settings such as protecting a march by a Neo Nazi party through a Jewish neighborhood to allowing publication of scurrilous satire of a conservative minister.

Yet, last Friday, rather than the local police protecting a peaceful political meeting from a neighbor's harassment, it responded to a noise complaint, unwarranted based on city law, and used it as an occasion to disrupt the most sacred ceremony of a secular democracy, political assemblage.

While a single deputy seemed to be the point man for this excess, the immediate response from the department spokesperson, which was to ignore the fundamental injustice and defend the actions of their officers, shows that there is a deeper pathology at work. It has been referred to in other settings as the "blue wall of silence," the cohesion of a group that protects its own even in the face of wrongful acts by its members.

Let me be very clear about one thing, there is no evidence, nor do I believe, that the San Diego Sheriff's Department that covers Encinitas is corrupt or incompetent. To the contrary, from my limited experience with this agency it functions at a high level of professionalism and integrity; And that is exactly the reason that this is the time to ensure that this continues.

The police action at Cardiff just so happens to parallel the cultural divide that exists in this country.....left against right, liberal versus conservatives....a culture war that permutes all issues into stark political extremes. The deputy whose behavior caused the escalation may have just listened to some vicious political accusations, such as the commentator on Fox national television who said the current president was plotting a dictatorship. Perhaps inflamed by such fevered rhetoric, breaking up a "cell" of such a "subversive" organization, the Democratic Party, may have seemed like a courageous patriotic act.

Democracy works in two directions, top down from the federal branches in Washington, but also bottom up, from local referendums and the decisions of city councils throughout the country. Under the best of conditions, any agency given the mandate and means of enforcing laws has a potential for systemic pathologies. This toxic brew of danger and power changes people, all people, along with their groups. This has been confirmed by psychological research and a long tragic litany of excesses. The dynamics within any such police group are pernicious as well as predictable.

In many ways Encinitas is lucky that this particular wake up call came with no deaths, no riots and no deeper disruption of inter-group comity. What would be tragic is if this were to be ignored and treated as an isolated incident, and not seen as a sign of something deeper. Waiting for an internal report of this incident is exactly what should not be done. This event was of the public, and the process of investigation should include those who are not a part of the closed system that went astray.

Creation of a Civilian Police Review Board may be one appropriate step at this point. It should be staffed by those with an understanding of the challenges, difficulties as well as the temptations of those whom we authorize to use force to maintain our laws. The time to initiate this is before it is needed, before cynicism and anger has displaced the original motivation of those who don police uniforms.

Local government provides a unique opportunity for the individual citizen to participate, to help shape the incremental steps that can become a model for other locales, and just possibly have an effect on the larger culture. Of course this only happens when the existing structures-- media, office holders and general public feel there is a possibility of success.

Those of us who live in Encinitas and other nearby environs are truly blessed. With all that we have going for us we should aim for the democratic ideal, rather than accept the cynicism that is so pervasive in our society. Let's hope that this flareup at Cardiff will supply the incentive, and the light to lead us in this direction.

Al Rodbell
Encinitas CA