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Moreno Valley Black Barbers Showed Courage Under Pressure

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I was not going to respond to the settlement reached by ACLU and the Black barbers in Moreno Valley against the city police department until my reporter said current Police Chief John Anderson wanted to respond and defend their position. As we strive for what is fair and balanced, we are more than happy to tell all sides of the story.

One thing that prompted me to write this editorial is the chief requesting that a reporter from the Press Enterprise sit in on the interview to report out as well. I have nothing against the PE because Ron Redfern and I have a wonderful relationship as well as his staff. When Chris Levister told us that they wanted to have someone in the room who would be more than likely be Anglo, it brought back memories of the reason the Black press was born in 1827. Our mantra is “Pleading our own cause,” to speak for ourselves, because for too long others spoke for us. I wonder how Chief Anderson would feel if Chris had requested that the U.S. Justice Department, Civil Rights Division send a Black representative to the meeting to see if he would tell the truth? I am proud of the fact Chris told him in a very professional manner her qualifications and that she would not meet with him on the issue that he had with the coverage of an article that ran in our newspaper. From my training in Discrimination Law from USC Law School this is one of those typical slips of the tongue from people who tell you they do not have a discriminatory bone in their body, which may be true. What I have learned from the many racial complaints I have investigated is that our society has played some mean tricks on people and how they feel and treat people of color. In his eagerness to correct one problem of racial profiling he made another by insulting the reporter there to help him tell his story.

Since the issue has come up I want to focus a little attention on the business owners of these barber shops and the courage they displayed under the pressure of these public agencies and some members of a doubting public. These are brave citizens trying to live out the American dream of being an entrepreneur where racial discrimination confronts them at every turn. Yet they proceeded anyway investing their entire life savings and reputations in pursuit of that dream.

Barbers have been the most respected in our community, they have historically been up there with the teachers and preachers. They are in a business that is built on public trust that those who walk through the doors are honest hard-work- ing people seeking a professional service. Their customers are doctors, lawyers, ministers, church members, teachers and other community leaders. However, some people come there seeking to do other panhandling business as well. But more than likely, it’s an honest business.

My cousin John ran a barber shop in-between two juke joints run by my uncles in Trenton, North Carolina. Cousin John was a farmer and a Steward at St. Matthew AMEZ Church and my uncles did not attend church at the time. Boys in the community would stop by the barber shop on Saturdays to see if anyone wanted a shoe shine to get ready for church on Sunday. Someone else would stop by to solicit workers to help put in their crops and yes being that close to the juke joint occasionally some one would stop in to see if someone wanted a drink of illegal moonshine. Nothing was wrong with that unless the seller did not work for Sheriff Mallard, who owned the moonshine still. I say that to show my understanding of the kind of customers a barber has to endure while following their dream. The same kind of things happened to my cousin Little Strayhorn in Harlem, New York, where he had a barber shop.

Back to MoVal on April 2, 2008 the barbers were faced with a raid led by the police into their establishment where customers were asked to show identification and checked for outstanding warrants. Other compliance agencies tagged along according to Russ Heimerick of the Department of Consumer Affairs. On that day, the pressure was on the barbers to eithergive up on their dream or fight back. They decided to organize and fight. With the leadership of Lorenzo Griffith they sought the help of the ACLU for legal advice and the Black Voice News to tell their story.

Just like a good football quarterback under pressure from a big defensive line bearing down on him, he sticks with the game plan. This is what the barbers did, they organized and put together a plan of action. As some customers left, they stuck with the plan. As the city denied any racial profiling of them, they stuck with the plan. As family members felt the sting of humiliation, they stuck with the plan. As former chief of police Rick Hall said we did nothing wrong, the barbers stuck with the plan.

Well on November 2, 2010 the case was settled in the Black barber’s racial profiling raid with the barbers being vindicated and receiving a financial package of $99,000. Now the current chief John Anderson is eager to put this behind them and move on to mend relationships with the Black community, we agree that this is the right direction.

Let me offer you my suggestions. The next time you need a haircut walk into one of the shops and when they say whose next take your seat and while getting the haircut start a conversation with the barber. Barbers are like bartenders they love to talk especially when cutting hair. When done, offer to treat him to lunch at his favorite eating establishment. I am even suggesting you go and attend several of the Black churches in MoVal to further get a flavor of the way we live and communicate with each other. Also communicate openly and honestly with the Black employees on your staff. They might tell you things you need to hear because remember they get their hair cut at a barbershop owned by Blacks. In doing this you will see a community made up of doctors, lawyers, teachers, business owners, corporate employees, enlisted and military officers and yes, some who are out there to make a hustle. Do all of that while reading the latest copy of the Black Voice News.

Yes my hat is off to the barbers for organizing, developing a plan and sticking to that plan while showing courage under pressure.

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