Almost a month after an incident that left local demonstrators Fahren James and Victoria Patterson baffled and distressed, a gathering of approximately 80 people met at Garfield Park in South Pasadena on Sunday, August 9, to address the confrontations with Joe Richrceek — a repeat offender and criminal with an extensive rap sheet dating back to the 80’s, who spat and assaulted the protesters on two separate occasions — and the subsequent response from local authorities.
Serving as a reminder that the road towards reform is only just now being covered, the 90-minute rally was also a catharsis for those who continue to feel unjustly treated by a criminal justice system deeply embedded with perceived systematic flaws, one that all speakers present that day were quick to point out failed to administer proper repercussions for Richcreek.
Amongst those who spoke were: London Lang, organizer and protester who began the demonstrations in South Pasadena; Fahren James, sister to Lang and fellow organizer/ protester, also one of the victims in the Richcreek case; Victoria Patterson, a protester who has stood in solidarity with James and Lang since June, also victim of the 1st incident; Ciera Foster, actress/activist who formerly served as Director of the United Nations Women’s Los Angeles Speaker’s Bureau; protestor/witness, Michelle; and Jim DeSimone, the Civil Rights lawyer helping the group of activists in the Richcreek case.
The demonstration also comes a month after the newly formed Police Reform Subcommittee had its first virtual meeting via zoom, on Thursday, July 16, a meeting that was a platform for discussion about many of the city’s issues in relation to local law enforcement and members of the community — a relationship that now has become more tenuous due to publicly scrutinized actions taken by the police department in recent years — the session reached its capacity of 72 people, which included victims and supporters of the police, city council members, and SPPD personnel.
Posters calling for police reform, solidarity among citizens, and large format print-outs of Joe Richcreek’s rap sheet and the SPPD incident reports were displayed for those in attendance to see.
Marking what is now over 70 continuous days of protesting at the Fair Oaks-Mission intersection in South Pasadena since June 1, Lang first spoke to the crowd, opening with the gratitude he held for his sister’s vigilance in helping keep what he started alive. He then conveyed the meaning about the now famously-known sign he has held since day one, “When I first started the protests here in South Pasadena, I made a sign that said ‘We are not toys’. To me that means we are not something you mess with when you are bored. We are not your crash test dummies. We are not something that you kneel on for 9 minutes to see if we stay alive or not.”
Lang reminded everyone what the origins of the movement were as he asserted the push for equality, mentioning SPPD’s support, and the reciprocal act of showing respect to them by way of discouraging negative messaging against police. Speaking to the crowd, he explained that they didn’t want “any officers to be offended by any sign” or to create conflict. “I can assure everyone here, there is no ‘cop hate’ at the protests — that have been going on for 69 days,” he said.
Lang was referring to the public-pushback that arose during the citizen’s arrest of Richcreek on July 10. Immediately following the incident, the arresting officer, Corporal Randy Wise, lectured and scolded Lang in what Wise described as an “anti-police” group for bringing “cop hate” to South Pasadena. Disheartened, Lang remarked that he had thought of Officer Wise “as a friend” something which he now is “not so sure.” Telling the crowd that he hoped SPPD would “be the good guys so that other departments could look to them as an example.”
Many have objected to Officer Wise’s accusations towards London & the protesters; in contrast often citing the cooperation and avoidance of derogatory bias against officers practiced by the demonstrators.
One of those who joins in the chorus is that of Victoria Patterson who says Wise “arrogantly and disingenuously invalidated Fahren and London,” by allegedly falsifying police reports, and refusing to assist the victims in a professional manner, analogizing “Imagine first responders at the scene of an accident rushing to comfort the person whose car struck a pedestrian while the pedestrian lies bleeding on the street.”
According to James and Patterson, no revisions have been made to the original police reports which, according several testimonies, are fraught with inaccurate information and in Patterson’s words “ biases, especially against Fahren making her, the victim, sound like the suspect.”
Discrepancies continue to mar the timeline and veracity of the police reports that were released by the South Pasadena Police Department.
According to the presenters, the timeline also given for when the reports were both taken and received by the victims are also in question, as the dates recorded in the SPPD documents do not reflect the interviews (or lack thereof) conducted. A miscommunication was assumed between authorities as when requests were made for said reports by Patterson and a colleague, it yielded no hard paperwork, only that the officer was unaware of the situation, further deepening incredulity that reports were filed at that time.
Adding to the dissatisfaction surrounding Richcreek’s hasty release, Patterson also cited a third time that Richcreek threatened a protester — this time with a pipe lodged under his arm — at the same intersection, on July 19, just barely a week after the previous assault. “He’s free to harass people and the fact that he isn’t suffering consequences for his lifetime of anti-social behavior speaks to the exact white privilege that the BLM protests address,” she says.
Patterson also wrote a detailed account of the encounters and what she describes as “racist framework”. She also emphasizes the role that many in the community she believes ought to take when witnessing the injustices that take place with the subterfuge of progress, saying “I’m here to support the cause. I believe in this. I speak as an ally.”
Another ally, who had driven 6 hours to lend her support as a fellow activist was actress Ciera Foster, who told the crowd that we are now “in a paradigm that is now literally good versus evil.”
Also contributing to the notion that police reform is essential to sussing out the good cops from the bad, Foster said “I do not believe, no, in fact I know all police are not bad. I know that because I know that all people are not bad.” An air of caution was stipulated when she questioned, “Why is it that we are continuously having to accept these things and apologize when the people that are supposed to protect us are killing us?”
Foster used the recent controversy in which a gang called the Executioners, comprised of Sheriff deputies in Compton, had systemically abused their power to harass people for decades, as an example of the kind of underlying corruption that is pervasive in our criminal justice system to this day.
Closing on an optimistically unifying note, Foster told everyone, “2020 is not canceled. 2020 is the year that we have been waiting for. Each one of you is walking, breathing, living history. We as a community have to galvanize every time these in justices happen. Please know if you keep showing up, I’ll keep showing up.”
As the the case is being reviewed by the DA, Richreek has a court date on October 9. Civil Rights attorney, Jim DeSimone, joins Patterson and James in pursuing the case against Richcreek as well as a separate case against the LAPD officers who shot Fahren James in the back at close-range with rubber bullets during the Fairfax protests in late May.
DeSimone explained his stance and reason for helping the protesters saying “They’re (African Americans) treated with a lack of dignity and disproportionately murdered. They’re killed. 630 people have been killed in the city of Los Angeles over the past two years.”
DeSimone also took an opportunity to relativize the situation to AB 731, a bill that he says he has been pushing for almost a decade that “hasn’t gotten any traction”. The state civil rights law, he says, is to “decertify any police officers found guilty of excessive force, so they can’t just go into the police department down the road and then hurt somebody else.” A step that he sees as necessary in taking actions for police reform.
In regards to how the arrest of Richcreek was handled, DeSimone also expressed dismay, claiming that the case is grounds for hate crime, amongst other charges. “There are laws on the books which say that spitting is an assault when it’s done with a malicious intent,” he says, “In the middle of a pandemic, he (Richcreek) should have been immediately prosecuted for that crime.” This was a statement echoed by others who spoke, including a protester by the name of Michelle who filmed the arrest and was also one of three during the initial encounter and ensuing pursuit.
Michelle cited a 2007 case in which the US 9th Circuit of Appeals, three-judge panel concluded spitting can be elevated to simple assault, concluding that a decade after the decision this should be common knowledge “ especially in the face of video evidence.”
She further elaborated, as DeSimone had, that after a March 2020 decision by the Department of Justice “anyone who intentionally spreads coronavirus could be violating federal terrorism laws.”
As an advocate, DeSimone also claims that when authorities were willing to speak with James initially in-person, as soon as he became involved, they deferred to email as the primary form of communication. “It’s apparent that the city of South Pasadena does need more community oversight, I know that those issues should be at the City Council. This is a watershed moment in United States history and we are on the right side of history to achieve social change,” he said before introducing James.
Working through tears, Fahren James recited an oath taken by International Law Enforcement Agencies, to remind the standards that officers should uphold. Explaining that the abuse of a flawed system stems from learned behavior, James says, “Our society is filled with implicit bias images, statements of stereotypes that literally program racism into the thought processes of many good people.”
Knowing that oppression still exists in many forms, James exclaimed ” Today is August 9 2020 and we’re still looked upon as less than others. We are regular people just like you, some highly educated and some that are not like me. But we are all deserving of the same benefits, respect and courtesy unless shown otherwise.”
James shared her first-hand account of the two confrontations with Richcreek, once again having to relive the painful moments in order to educate others about the issues that they continue to protest. She calls the shared experience “a disgusting hate crime in which two women were assaulted and spat on during a life threatening pandemic without provocation that was corroborated by video evidence.”
“We are trying to enact real change in the system revolving around the disparities and show that overall this movement, we are crying out for justice and equal rights,” said James as she called on the City of South Pasadena to “produce records showing if they exhibit racial bias.”
James maintained that they have always and will continue to be peaceful, as she then announced a march directly from Garfield Park to City Hall.
As the sun set and officers placed barricades on Mission Street, protesters cried out for justice. Among the demands for Richcreek’s arrest, personal stories of self-realization, harassment, and social perspective were shared via-bullhorn until dark, as the crowd eventually dispersed and went home.
While the comfort of home temporarily offers respite, for James, Lang, and Patterson and many others, their struggle for justice and true reform remains a daily reminder of the bleak past, turbulent present, and hopeful future that may await.