POMONA — Charging Mayor Donna Smith and members of the city's police force with "acts of racism," the president of the Pomona Valley branch of the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People this week called on Smith and other City Council members to enact reforms to improve relations between police and the black community.
In remarks to the City Council Monday night, NAACP Branch President Harold Webb cited the recent shooting of a black suspect and four instances in which the NAACP allege the police used excessive force, racial slurs or abusive language against blacks, none of whom were subsequently charged with any crimes.
However, Webb directed much of his criticism toward Smith, whom he chastised for an Aug. 15 incident in which she brandished a shotgun at an 18-year-old college student who was standing by his car after parking in front of Smith's house.
Smith has said she believed the student, who is black, was a drug dealer. The district attorney's office declined to file charges against Smith, citing insufficient evidence.
"The example you are setting for the police and the city administration concerns us gravely," Webb told Smith. "We must ask you--do you perceive all blacks as a threat? Have you stereotyped all blacks or Hispanics you see in the city or in your neighborhood as threats or dope pushers?"
Webb asked Smith to make a public apology to the student, Eric Johnson, who was present at the meeting. He also asked her to assure the city's black citizens that she does not perceive all of them as criminals.
Smith apologized to Johnson but denied her actions were racially motivated. She stressed that her neighborhood has long been a haven for drug trafficking and that gang members who sell drugs in the area have repeatedly threatened her life.
"I don't know why you would think I would stereotype anyone by race," Smith replied to Webb. "I belong to the NAACP and you know that. . . . The incident that everyone keeps bringing up was definitely not racial."
Smith, who is of Arabic descent, added, "I am probably more a minority than anyone in this city."
This response did not mollify Webb.
"What we have here is an act of institutionalized racism," Webb told Smith. ". . . The (incident) was unbecoming of a mayor. You were exonerated. You look at these people who go to court every day on lesser offenses and they get taken away."
According to police reports, Johnson said he and a friend, later identified as Tyrone Horn, had just left work on Aug. 15 when they drove to the 1500 block of Palomares Street about 10:15 p.m. so that Horn could visit his girlfriend. After Horn got out of the car, Johnson drove up the street looking for a place to park, and found one in front of Smith's house.
Shouting Match Ensued
Johnson said that when he got out of his car to catch up with Horn he saw Smith standing about 25 feet away, shouting obscenities and pointing the shotgun at him. Smith denied using profanities, but both parties agreed that a shouting match ensued, in which Smith accused Johnson of buying or selling drugs and he denied it. The argument ended when Johnson agreed to move his car.
Smith stressed that when she confronted Johnson in her driveway, "I did not walk out of my house as mayor, I walked out as a private citizen." She added that she earns $400 a month as mayor and spent $1,000 of her own money to consult an attorney after Johnson filed a criminal complaint.
In the two months since Smith's altercation with Johnson, Al Rameriz, director of the Miracle Music Ministry, has circulated flyers denouncing the mayor as a virulent racist and demanding her resignation. Several ministers have also threatened Smith with a recall drive.
"As you know, the community is highly incensed," Webb told Smith. "We at the NAACP have considered asking for your resignation, but . . . (we) decided to ask for your support and public commitment to not only white Pomonans, but to the youth and citizens of the black and Hispanic communities."
Hire More Minorities
Webb called on Smith and her colleagues on the council to support proposals by the NAACP urging that the Police Department hire more minority officers and that the city establish a citizens' oversight committee to investigate complaints against police.
Smith said she favors a citizen review committee, as well as continued efforts to hire more minority officers. However, she said the council could not vote on the matter this week since it was not on the agenda. Smith directed Police Chief Richard M. Tefank to prepare a report on the matters mentioned by Webb and present it to the council at its next meeting Oct. 26.