Drug Raids Cause Turmoil
By Henrietta J. Burroughs
East Palo Alto Today
Written November 5, 2009
Upset residents spoke to the East Palo Alto City Council at its Tuesday, November 3 meeting to voice their outrage over the drug raids that were carried out in East Palo Alto earlier that morning. The raids, which were said to have resulted from months of investigations by the U.S. Justice Department, targeted two East Palo Alto homes, one on Fordham Street and the other one on Baylor Street.
Nine of the eleven speakers, mostly from the Pacific Islander community, vented their anger and frustration to the city council during the council’s Community Forum session.
They decried the fact that the raids were held at all and they complained about the way the families and their living arrangements were depicted in the media. They also questioned the extent of the involvement of the East Palo Alto police department in the two raids that took place.
The first speaker, Patricia Finau, said that she was a resident in one of the targeted houses and, she not only objected to the raid itself, but she also voiced her anger over the way the raid was handled, especially since she said the person the agents were seeking didn’t live in the home and there were no drugs found by the agents on the premises. She considered the raid a form of harassment.
Dallas Teo said that the execution of the raid was a horrible way to embarrass the families. “If this were an ongoing investigation, one would think that there would have been something found,” he said.
Speaker after speaker talked, during the community forum session about the personal humiliation the raids brought to the Pacific Islander community and to the specific families involved.
After listening to the personal stories that were shared, Mayor Ruben Abrica, Chief of Police Ron Davis and Council member Carlos Romero expressed their sympathies to the families over what had happened and said that they
would look into the circumstances surrounding the drug raids as more details became available.
Abrica said that he felt badly and wanted to apologize to those in the community who might feel victimized by such incidents.
“Sometimes it happens to Pacific Islanders, sometimes to African Americans, sometimes to Latinos, sometimes to poor people…[T]he way people are portrayed and their culture is portrayed and the way people are even mistreated in the process of conducting these type of raids, we have to at least speak up on it,” he said.
“I want to thank those of you who came today to bring this to our attention,” Romero said.” He assured those who spoke that the council would do “whatever we can do to figure out in the future from the press perspective, how… to make sure we’re not preyed upon [by the media], which may have been what occurred today,” he said.
As to the media outlets that were on the scene at five in the morning when the raid occurred, Davis said that he was shocked that reporters were everywhere and he stated that he did not know who had notified the media outlets.
Several of the speakers took issue with the reports that appeared in the press. In contradicting news reports that stated that the house raided on Fordham Street had 20 children living in it, one mother Molly Tau said that the home held only 11 youth and six of them were hers.
Tau told the council that her children, who had been doing well in school, now find it difficult to attend school. Through tears, she asked the council, “Why does the media…why do you put us out there as animals? How can a mother answer to her children to explain what’s going on?”
Millicent Grant, the executive director of the East Palo Alto Senior Center, said that years ago, her own house was the subject of an unjustified raid, so she knew how the families felt. “It looks as if you’ve been raped of your privacy, your dignity, your pride --all wrapped up in one have been taken away. So I know how these people feel,” she said.
Most of those addressing the council, directly questioned the role and involvement of the local police department asking how, if the East Palo Alto Police has jurisdiction in the city, can another law enforcement agency come in and conduct raids without the involvement of the local police? “How,” one person asked,” could the police department allow the raid to happen the way it did and not know about it or be involved in it?
In responding to questions about his department’s involvement in the raids, East Palo Alto Police Chief Ron Davis said that he was informed of the raid before it happened. He stated that while he and his department accept responsibility for what happens with respect to law enforcement within the city, the East Palo Alto Police Department does work with other law enforcement agencies.
He said that the Justice Department, which conducted the raid had a warrant from the State Attorney General’s Office, which allowed federal agents to operate within the city without the East Palo Alto Police Department’s approval. He recommended that the families involved had a right to find out what the warrant contained that triggered the investigation.