GLAA testimony at Judiciary Committee hearing

TESTIMONY ON RECENT UPHEAVALS
IN THE METROPOLITAN POLICE DEPARTMENT

Committee on the Judiciary

DECEMBER 12, 1997

Chairman Evans, Members of the Committee, and Fellow Citizens:

Good afternoon. My name is Rick Rosendall. I am President of the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance of Washington (GLAA), the oldest continuously active gay and lesbian civil rights group in the country. Craig Howell, a former GLAA President and our current Secretary, is also here today.

We want to thank you for calling this oversight hearing so promptly after your last such hearing on October 10. The recent enormous upheavals we have all witnessed in the Metropolitan Police Department could hardly have been imagined just 2 months ago. And in light of the sordid events at the heart of those upheavals, no one has a greater stake than the District’s gay and lesbian residents in seeing our police force institute meaningful reforms and earn public confidence again.

As we have said on many occasions before this committee and elsewhere, improving relations between the District’s police department and the gay and lesbian community has been at the top of GLAA’s agenda since our founding nearly 27 years ago. Despite many fits, starts, and setbacks over the years, we believe that we had made enormous progress on this front compared to where we were when Congress ruled everything before the advent of home rule.

That sense of progress has been profoundly shaken by the deterioration in relations since the Control Board’s seizure of the Metropolitan Police Department, climaxing with the disclosure of the odious extortion racket contemptuously known as “fairy shaking” by its practitioners. The full extent of this hateful operation has yet to be revealed. But even now it appears that an ugly streak of homophobia has been allowed to run rampant within the MPD by some of its top leadership.

On a broader scale, the District’s own elected officials bear much of the responsibility for the numerous problems now coming to light within our police department. Mayor Barry promoted Larry Soulsby as Chief two years ago with the clear understanding that as long as Soulsby was loyal to the Mayor, the Mayor would be loyal to him. In this kind of mutual admiration society, concepts like “accountability” play minor roles at best. For its part, the Council has been derelict in exercising its own powers and responsibilities by failing to provide tough oversight on a regular basis. This week’s press disclosures of abuses in overtime pay within the MPD once again raise the question: Why can’t the Council — why can’t this committee — uncover such abuses? What are we paying you and your committee staffs for? The Council’s corporate culture, despite much rhetoric and posturing, appears to remain: Don’t go looking for trouble.

But the Control Board has shown, once again, that no situation is so bad that it can’t get any worse.

In taking over the police force earlier this year, the Control Board argued that Police Chief Soulsby was too much under the thumb of Mayor Barry and needed to be liberated from petty political manipulation. Indeed, the Control Board did not hesitate in seeking to clean house in virtually every other District government agency it seized. Nevertheless, for reasons that remain vague to this day, the Control Board — led by Vice Chairman Stephen Harlan — voiced unlimited faith in the competence and leadership of Larry Soulsby. “Let Soulsby Be Soulsby!” became the Battle Cry of the Control Board. When evidence mounted through incident after incident that the department was being poorly administered and controlled, Stephen Harlan was always in the vanguard of Chief Soulsby’s most tireless apologists. When Councilmember Sharon Ambrose had the temerity to question the Chief’s abilities, Mr. Harlan publicly threatened her.

What happened, in effect, was that Stephen Harlan gave Chief Soulsby all the rope he needed to hang himself with.

At times like this, we believe in the tradition that the Captain goes down with his ship. Chief Soulsby has departed, and Mr. Harlan should follow in his wake. To use an appropriate phrase, Mr. Harlan has become a “distraction” in the battle to reform the Metropolitan Police Department. If he does not acknowledge that events have discredited his judgment, Mr. Harlan should not be appointed next year for another term on the Control Board by President Clinton.

About the only good thing to emerge thus far from the mess the Department now finds itself submerged in is that Sonya Proctor has been named Acting Chief. Last week we wrote to congratulate her on her new assignment and to request a meeting between her and some of our community’s leaders. She speedily accepted our request, and this past Tuesday she met with a delegation consisting of myself; Sharen Johnson, the new Executive Director of GLOV (Gay Men and Lesbians Opposing Violence); Darren Buckner, President of the D.C. Coalition of Black Lesbians, Gay Men, and Bisexuals; Rev. Candace Shultice, Pastor of the Metropolitan Community Church; Mickey Wheatley, attorney for the Gay Business Guild; and Jessica Xavier of Transgender Nation.

This meeting represented a very promising beginning for a process to restore what has been lost. Among other things, Chief Proctor pledged to resume the sensitivity and community relations training sessions that had been suspended this past spring, and to come to a town meeting early in 1998 to listen personally to the concerns of our gay and lesbian residents. She also heard us out on many other pending issues, such as the Department’s participation in a number of unjustified harassment actions against gay businesses, enforcement of our hate crime laws, recruitment of openly gay and lesbian police officers, reforms of the MPD’s beleaguered Homicide Unit, and establishment of an effective system of citizen review of complaints about police misconduct. We hope, and we frankly expect, that she will follow through on her commitments.

Let me interject here that since our meeting with Chief Proctor this past Tuesday, we have been informed of another incident of apparent police harassment targeted against our community. Two days after the resignation of Chief Soulsby, the police spent 5 fours in the evening ticketing over 100 cars in the vicinity of Half & O SW — the location of a number of gay-oriented businesses, including the Follies, ground zero for the extortion plot allegedly run by Lt. Stowe. Such a ticketing spree seems all the more arbitrary since there is so little signage in that area for restricted parking. Yesterday we sent Chief Proctor a letter alerting her to the situation and asking for an investigation.

A few days ago the Mayor named both Sharen Johnson of GLOV and me to the search committee to assist in the process for selecting a permanent Police Chief. For our part, we hope Chief Proctor will apply, and that she will not be automatically excluded from consideration, as some have foolishly suggested. But I am determined that the activities of this search committee will not prove to be a mere public relations exercise. A pledge of undying loyalty to either the Mayor or Stephen Harlan must not be among the requirements for our new Chief. In fact, the selection process for a permanent Chief would be enhanced by the speedy removal of Stephen Harlan from the picture. Ultimately, the voters of the District of Columbia have the power to decide Mr. Barry’s political destiny; ridding our city of Mr. Harlan’s baleful influence is the responsibility of those who imposed him on us.

Thank you for your attention. We would be glad to answer any questions you may have.

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