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One of the earliest police cases I covered was the Standley Wesley shooting in the housing projects.

Betty Joe "Bossa Nova" Brown burst in upon a startled city council session and announced that a riot was brewing over the shooting of Wesley. The gunplay had left the young black paralyzed. Chief Ortega went on the air, claimed the young man was resisting arrest and pulled back his sports coat to show where the officer's bullet had entered Standley's stomach.

I slipped into the hospital and took pictures of Wesley's bullet wound. He'd been shot in the back.

Shocked by this new evidence, black leaders demanded an explanation from the chief, only to be told the photos were faked. The city eventually gave Wesley a multimillion-dollar settlement.

In 1991, I wrote a series on black complaints about police treatment, including the use of attack dogs on a young boy. When the then-head of the NAACP, Reverend Oscar Tillman, openly challenged Chief Ortega, the minister quickly found himself under investigation by the Valley's top cop.

Things have changed.
"Garrett is open," observes the NAACP's Fanniel. "You know, Garrett is a different breed of police chief from Ortega."

Garrett's response to Mallet's death has been taken to the streets and to the City Manager's Office by the head of the police department's community relations section, an attorney experienced in gang work, Gerald Richard.

Pastor Stewart has already been asked by the city, and he has agreed, to serve upon the citizens commission. Stewart's approach will be a mixture of common sense and caution.

"African-American males are suspect and susceptible to being stopped because of a stereotype. I want the police to do their job. Part of the problem is, many of us would be suspicious due to the statistics of young black males. But we've got to find a way to address the suspicion equitably and justly, without confrontation and arrest."

Stewart echoes the sentiment expressed by Jesse Jackson, who said even he got nervous when he heard the footsteps of black teenagers behind him.

"I wish members of the African-American community could get just as upset [as they have over Mallet's death] when our young men kill each other," says Stewart. "Young black males are killing each other. We have funerals almost every weekend in our community. How often do we have them when they are killed by a cop?"

Perhaps the police will take some comfort in Stewart's perspective. Cops rightly view citizen review with alarm, and feel the average person doesn't know what the police face. More than one officer, for example, has asked me what they're supposed to use if they're forced to abandon the carotid-artery neck hold, which normally induces nothing more fatal than unconsciousness.

A lot of people refuse to go quietly. Then what? The next level of defense, pointed out a number of cops interviewed, involves batons, stun guns, revolvers--all much more dangerous.

Pastor Stewart's words, and the influence he will wield whatever the final makeup of the commission, suggest that street cops will not be scapegoated for the crack, gang warfare and poverty that grip the inner city. Neither can the commission whitewash the clear problem of profile stops of minorities.

But if Garrett's commission is going to have credibility, the chief must resolve the conflict between his good intentions and the fact that his administration is out of touch with what is going on in the street, with what is going on in front of the Curry home.

The bottom line is whether anything will change because of Mallet's death.
Charita's mother has noticed one thing that is different.
"Since you started coming down here," Connie Curry told me last week, "the pressure has stopped. It's almost like someone knew you were asking questions."

Gerald Richard, in the chief's office, was taken aback by the remarkable list of license plates attached to police cars that have haunted Connie Curry and her family.

Asked what he intended to do about it, Richard said, "I don't know where she got that information. I have to look into it. I don't have the facts."

He can get the facts by asking some questions of his own.

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Michael Lacey
Contact: Michael Lacey