Meeting the Police Chief
- Publication date
Description: Former Santa Ana City Councilman (1979 - 1983) Al Serrato discusses city police relations with the Santa Ana Hispanic community in 1979.
Collection Guide: OC Stories
Rights: Copyrighted. Rights are owned by OC Public Libraries. Transmission or reproduction of materials protected by copyright beyond that allowed by fair use requires the written permission of the copyright owner. In addition, the reproduction of some materials may be restricted by terms of gift or purchase agreements, donor restrictions, privacy and publicity rights, licensing and trademarks. Works not in the public domain cannot be commercially exploited without permission of the copyright owner. Responsibility for any use rests exclusively with the user.
Interviewer: Serrato, Richard
Interviewee: Serrato, Alfred
Transcript: JUST AFTER YOU WERE ELECTED CITY COUNCILMAN AND THE POLICE CHIEF CALLED YOU UP TO HAVE A MEETING. [DO YOU] WANT TO TELL US ABOUT THAT ENCOUNTER AND HOW IT WENT? Yes. The person who the Chief supported lost, since I had defeated him, and politics being politics, you like to know what the other person thinks since you're going to be working with them all these years. And so he invited me to his office. He called me up and he said, would I be able to meet him in his office? And I said, “Yes”. “Okay, you come into the Police annex, you look to the right and you'll see the stairs and a handrail. Just open the door and walk up. I'm the first office on the left.” I said, “Okay, fine.” So two days later, I showed up at the building. I opened the door. I saw the door on the right, saw the stairs, and I started walking towards the door. I put my hand on the door and suddenly I heard, “Hey, Asshole! Where do you think you're going?” And I was kind of feeling sorry for whoever that watch commander was talking to but it didn't concern me. So I twisted the handle to open it up and I heard it again, “Hey Asshole! I'm talking to you!” I said, “I've got to find out who this guy is talking to. My god, how embarrassing.” I looked around. I was the only person in the building. He was talking to me. I was shocked. So I walked up to him and I said, “Yes?” “Where the hell do you think you're going?” And I said to him, “Today is your lucky day, and let me tell you why. Your Police Chief called me up and asked me to meet with him because he wanted to get to know me a little better. The reason he wanted to get to know me better is because I am the newly elected City Councilman, which I'm sure you didn't know when you called me, 'asshole' and that's why it's really your lucky day because if I ever hear you calling any other Hispanic who walks in here, 'asshole', I will do everything I can to get you fired and if your Police Chief doesn't fire you, I will do everything I can to get the Police Chief fired for not being sensitive to those kinds of issues related to racism. Do you understand what I'm saying?” And he bowed his head down and he said, “Uh, yes I do, sir.” And I said to him, “Yes I do, Councilman.” “Yes I do, Councilman.” “I'm not gonna go and tell the Chief anything that's happened. I'm giving you a break today, but don't ever let it happen again.” So I went up and saw the Police Chief and I'm thinking as I'm walking up there, I heard that the Police were very hostile towards Hispanics and I'm getting my first taste, I said, “Oh my god.” So I go up there. He sees me there. He says, “Councilman, come on in.” I says, “Fine,”I walked in and sat down. “I'm looking forward to having this conversation with you. I just want to assure you that I will continue as I have in the past to do everything I can to maintain the laws of the City of Santa Ana. Do you have any questions of me, Councilman?” And I said, “Well, I don't have a question, but I do have a concern.” He said, “What concern do you have?” “Well, last week, before this meeting happened, by coincidence there was an incident that happened and the headline was, “Illegal Alien Roundups on 4th Street.” It was in the Santa Ana Register. And basically what had happened, as you know, is the Police cordoned off fourth street and they then began demanding that everyone show proof of their citizenship and that was wrong. We can't do that.” And he looked at me with his eyes kind of rolling and he said, “Are you trying to tell me how to do my job?” I said, “No. I'm not trying to tell you how to do your job. I'm telling you that you also, though you are the Police Chief, are required to obey the law. And I happen to have here, because I brought it with me, the legal opinion of State Attorney General... in which he clearly states that the Police are not to be involved in any stopping of people and asking them for their citizenship. That is a purview of U.S. Immigration. That is the purview of the Border Patrol. If those two agencies call the City Police for backup, that's another issue; but the Police cannot initiate that kind of a police action on their own. You cannot do it and I don't expect that to happen again.” And he said - he looked at me kind of puzzled because I'm sure no one has ever spoke to him that way before. I said, “All I'm asking for is for people to be treated equally under the law. Not any favors for Hispanics or non-Hispanics, whatever. If the law says you cannot ask - you cannot be acting in a Gestapo manner, asking people for their I.D.s - then that's the way it is and hopefully we won't hear of this again. If we do, I'm more than happy to bring this to the public when we have a City Council meeting, but I know that you'll support me on this and anyway I've got to leave.” And so I abruptly ended the conversation and I left and I'm sure he was fuming because no one had ever treated him that way before and so I said, “My god, I'm really getting a taste of being elected over here” because I never saw myself as Hispanic, non-Hispanic, just an American, you know. An American who wanted to do good by serving on an elected Council. So a couple of days later, I run into an activist in Hispanic politics and said to me, “Did you see what happened in the newspaper? Did you read about this, Councilman?” I says, “Yes, I did.” He says, “It was wrong. We have to do something. You have to blast the Police Chief. You need to go to the newspapers and blast him for what he did. It was wrong.” And I said to him, “You're right, it was absolutely wrong but I've already taken care of it.” “What do you mean?” “I've spoken to the Chief. I told him that he was wrong and that, should it occur again, you know, that I will challenge him in terms of his authority to do that.” He says, “No, no. It's not good enough. You need to do it for La Communidad. For La Raza. You need to tell him that his actions were racist, you know, that he is acting in a racist manner against La Communidad.” And I said, “You need to give me a few months to get my feet wet, you know, to build bridges. To develop networking with some people. You're asking me to get two five gallon cans of gasoline, throw them on me, and set myself on fire. What good does that do, especially if it will never happen again? What we need to do is develop new working relationships with people who've been hostile towards us in the past and let them know that they are going to be held accountable publicly on the City Council. That's never happened before, but it's going to be happening now. So, that's my decision and that's gonna be my political style in doing this. I prefer doing things behind the scenes where a person doesn't have to lose face.” I said, “The important thing is that the end result is what we all would be in agreement upon and that is that people are treated decently and fairly.”
- Contact Information
- Orange County Public Libraries, 1501 E. St. Andrew Place, Santa Ana, CA 92705, Telephone: (714) 566-3000, email: email@example.com
- 2016-05-19 18:52:35
- Copyrighted. Rights are owned by OC Public Libraries. Transmission or reproduction of materials protected by copyright beyond that allowed by fair use requires the written permission of the copyright owner. In addition, the reproduction of some materials may be restricted by terms of gift or purchase agreements, donor restrictions, privacy and publicity rights, licensing and trademarks. Works not in the public domain cannot be commercially exploited without permission of the copyright owner. Responsibility for any use rests exclusively with the user.
- Run time
- Internet Archive Python library 0.7.9