The CHP’s Thug Life: Justice for Marlene Pinnock

CHP BeatingWhen a white California Highway Patrol (CHP) officer used 51 year-old Marlene Pinnock’s body as a human punching bag, he was continuing a bloody tradition of uniformed thugs who’ve assaulted black women with impunity. The unidentified officer’s attack on Pinnock (who is reputedly mentally ill and homeless) was captured in a horrific video by motorist David Diaz.

Pinnock was lucky to have escaped with her life. In 1999, a fifty-something African American homeless woman named Margaret Mitchell was killed by an LAPD officer after an alleged street altercation over a shopping cart. Mitchell’s murder spotlighted the inhumane treatment of homeless people of color. African Americans are half of the county’s homeless population yet the complex mental health and socioeconomic issues that they face make them more vulnerable to long-term homelessness than white transients.

Mentally ill homeless African Americans are more likely to be criminalized for their condition. They are less likely to receive treatment, therapy or medication for their illnesses and are often misdiagnosed. Nationwide, African Americans are also more likely to be diagnosed with schizophrenia than are whites. But time and again when mentally ill black people “act out” or “meltdown” in public their symptoms are reductively perceived by law enforcement as dangerous, threatening and criminal.

At a recent community meeting that I attended with CHP commissioner Joseph Farrow, my father Earl Ofari Hutchinson of the L.A. Urban Policy Roundtable, Lita Herron of the Youth Advocacy Network, and Paulette Simpson of the Compton NAACP–as well as activists from the SCLC and the National Action Network–expressed their outrage over Pinnock’s brutal beating while contextualizing L.A.’s long history of officer-involved murder and abuse in communities of color.

In contrast with the LAPD and the L.A. Sheriff’s department, Hutchinson and Herron noted that the CHP has had relatively few incidents of racial misconduct. Yet with a 69% white and an approximately 7% female officer population, it’s clear that the CHP has serious “diversity” problems. For many people of color, the overwhelmingly white culture of the agency (according to CHP stats there are only three female chiefs of color in the agency and African Americans comprise 3.5% of all its employees) means that Pinnock wouldn’t have gotten a beatdown if she’d been a white middle-aged woman with mental health issues. Black women, be they mentally ill, elderly, disabled or otherwise, are never proper victims; while white women, the Western ideal of beauty, innocence and femininity, are always perceived as such.

sikivu hutchinsonThis is starkly borne out in the criminal justice system. Nationwide, black women are overrepresented in the prison population, often receive harsher sentences if they are darker skinned and have the highest rates of suspension and expulsion in K-12 schools.

There is no question that a video with an older defenseless white woman lying prone on the ground being knocked senseless by an officer of color (or a white cop, for that matter) would’ve had the entire nation up in arms demanding the officer’s immediate termination and prosecution. Although the agency pledged to do a thorough and swift investigation, activists have called for a probe by the Department of Justice and the appointment of a special prosecutor—all recommendations that Farrow claims to be comfortable with.

CHP Beating

Marlene Pinnock

When questioned about whether the agency’s training procedures were “culturally competent”, Farrow showed a three-minute video clip showcasing stats which underscore the gravity of the state’s mental health crisis. Mentally ill folk are more likely to die at the hands of law enforcement. Over one-third of the homeless suffer from mental illness, and, shamefully, the L.A. County jail system is the region’s largest “mental health” facility. It is no coincidence that a significant number of those housed in county jails are African Americans afflicted with some form of post-traumatic stress and/or mental illness.

After the beating Pinnock was arrested, put on a 72-hour hold and is currently at the hospital. Despite the CHP’s claim that she did not suffer any injuries from the assault, her family says that she is recovering from severe injuries. The officer is currently on paid desk duty. And as the history of excessive force investigations have shown, law enforcement thugs and criminals have a snowball’s chance in hell of getting prosecuted much less convicted.

The public can keep the pressure on the CHP for full transparency in its investigation by pushing for the creation of a citizen’s advisory panel. It can also join the call for a federal probe of the beating and the appointment of a special prosecutor.

sikivu-hutchinson-250Finally, it can push the CHP to make good on Farrow’s claim that the agency wants help recruiting and retaining a diverse workforce comprised of more people of color, white women, disabled and LGBT folk.

Contacts:

  • CHP Commissioner Joseph Farrow (c/o Chief Calvin Aubrey cdaubry@chp.ca.gov, 916-843-3002)
  • U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte (c/o Bruce Riordan, bruce.riordan@usdoj.gov)

Sikivu Hutchinson
BlackFemLens

 

Published by the LA Progressive on July 9, 2014
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About Sikivu Hutchinson

Sikivu Hutchinson, Ph.D. is the author of "Imagining Transit: Race, Gender, and Transportation Politics in Los Angeles," "Moral Combat: Black Atheists, Gender Politics, the Values Wars and the forthcoming Godless Americana: Race and Religious Rebels," and the recently released book "Godless Americana: Race and Religious Rebels."

Comments

  1. The Nose Knows says:

    [The] Reverend is correct in equating the race card with lazy thinking. In simplest terms, you have a woman who was walking where she shouldn’t have been. You can add the adjectives Black and crazy but they add little to the facts. And you have a cop administering a beatdown to the woman for walking in the wrong place. (So much for getting off with a warning.) Whether he is black or white shouldn’t matter either. Whether he is a sadistic thug or not does matter but may not affect the outcome.
    The Black Community has gone into hand-wringing mode again and are using Hutchinson to trot out facts, figures and unsupported conclusions that bear little relation to the case in point. For instance:

    Nationwide, black women are overrepresented in the prison population,
    We’ve moved from an LA freeway onramp to the nation. What does overrepresented mean?

    often receive harsher sentences if they are darker skinned
    Often? How often? This is a problem but not the CHP’s. Oh, how dark?

    and have the highest rates of suspension and expulsion in K-12 schools.
    Compared to what, boys, Asians…?

    Hutchinson and her group are quick with some laudable recommendations to make the CHP more diverse, sensitive, and accountable. Where are their recommendations to help Black high school girls stay in school?

  2. ReverendDraco says:

    WTF? Racist much? Playing the race card every time something untoward happens is lazy thinking.

    The cretin didn’t beat the shit out of her because she’s black & he’s white – he did it because he’s a lowlife, psychopathic scumbag who gets his jollies from hurting people. That’s why he became a pig – so he can feed his mental illness with impunity instead of facing summary execution. . . which would be his fate, had she been a member of my family.

    The saddest part of this is, all the people who drove by and watched. . . but didn’t stop to save the poor woman from her criminal attacker. To me, this is unconscionable – I couldn’t have just driven by. . . my conscience won’t allow it.

    Here’s to the hope that her family does the right thing – by *ending* this cretin.

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