Letter to the Editor | ‘The Unintended Harm of Chief Ortiz’s ‘Error in Judgment”

'I believe that Chief Ortiz is not a hateful man, and I continue to respect him and the work he does for this community. However, this “error” (an understatement, in my opinion) is not one that will be easily forgotten.'

FILE PHOTO: Eric Fabbro | SouthPasadenan.com News | SPPD Police Chief Joe Ortiz

Letter to the Editor: Submitted by Will Hoadley-Brill

On the afternoon of Thursday, September 24, South Pasadena Police Chief Joe Ortiz invited members of the police department, the City Council, and the Public Safety Commission to a prayer service for first responders in the fire and police departments at the plaza of City Hall that was to take place on Saturday, September 26. The sponsoring individuals of this community prayer event were South Pasadena residents representing the American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family, and Property.

The TFP, as they call themselves, is a poorly veiled hate group. Their “ About Us ” page describes the organization as comprised of, “lay Catholic Americans concerned about the moral crisis shaking the remnants of Christian civilization.” Without scrolling very far on their homepage one can observe their firm stance against the Black Lives Matter movement, same sex marriage (the article linked here is in Spanish), and a blatant disregard for Covid-19 restrictions so that Catholics can begin receiving communion in the traditional way…on the tongue.” On the bottom of their homepage there is even a small ad to send Rosaries to “ Prayers for Police Across America.

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In their article firmly stating their opposition to same sex marriage, they list the following reasons, among others (translated from Spanish by the author of this article): it is a violation of natural law, it will always deprive children of having a father or a mother, it validates and promotes the homosexual lifestyle, it imposes its acceptance on all of society, it converts a bad action into a civil right, among others. In an article covering the recent death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, the second woman to serve on the Supreme Court and the only Jewish woman to have ever served, they explain, “Most encomiums praised her tenacity, talents and abilities. They celebrated her academic and legal achievements as a woman. While these things might be considered important in life, they matter little in death. When all is said and done, we will be judged by our acts, our adherence to God’s law and love for Him.”

The blatant homophobic, sexist, and anti-semitic sentiments of the two articles quoted above, only a sample of their publications, demonstrate the hateful tilt of this group. It is quite clear what American tradition they are defending and which kinds of families they include in their vision of the United States.

After this event was brought to the attention of the public and the true values of the TFP were revealed to the city, Chief Ortiz issued a public apology for his “error” and cancelled the event. He explained that, “without properly looking into who the prayer group was representing, and thoroughly understanding its current values, beliefs, and traditions, in [his] haste [he] provided permission to the resident and her group to meet in front of the station and pray for our first responders. In addition to the first responders, [he] invited all employees of the Police Department, City Council, and Public Safety Commission… [His] error in judgment was the result of good intentions, albeit with poor execution.” He ends his apology with acknowledgment of his error and a promise to “do everything in [his] power to regain the trust and confidence of the residents of South Pasadena.”

The swift cancellation of the event is something to be acknowledged, however, it should never have initially been scheduled and publicized by a public official. The fundamental separation of religion from all levels of government is crucial to ensure the 1st Amendment right to religious freedom and maintain a completely secular reputation of city government. The hateful messaging and bigoted stances of the organization the city momentarily publicized only further exemplify the reasons to completely sever any ties between religiously affiliated groups and city officials while acting in their capacities as public servants. I am deeply grateful for the work that our first responders perform daily and I encourage all those who wish to express their gratitude in whatever feels suitable for them, however, the first responders themselves are not responsible for amplifying any event that may be intended to thank them; particularly events with a religious stilt or sponsored by an organization affiliated with a particular political entity or stance.

Moving away from the generalities of best practices for public officials, this seeming public approval of the TFP as an organization did harm to community members and further weakened the trust of many community members for the police department even if unintendedly so. I will not speak for any other member of the South Pasadena community except myself.

I have lived in South Pasadena my entire life raised by two women. I was ecstatic to be able to do something that most children are not able to: attend their parents’ wedding. Although South Pasadena was not hostile toward my family before the Supreme Court decision in 2015 legalizing same sex marriage, there were always moments in which I, my siblings, or my family felt othered or left out of certain groups, circles, or spaces (particularly when Prop 8 was on the ballot in 2008). When the highest court of our land affirmed my family’s validity to exist through legal matrimony, I finally felt as if complete acceptance was possible. Of course my fifteen-year-old naivete has since dissipated, but the importance of that decision can not be understated.

My own identity as a gay Jewish man in South Pasadena has also been a blaring difference from the majority population. We have seven churches in South Pasadena (if I counted correctly) and not a single synagogue, temple, or shul. I have never personally experienced hateful actions nor words against myself or my family in South Pasadena because of our religious background, but the lack of representation and active inclusion has been noticed.

These slight examples of indirect, unintentional exclusion and othering simply through the homogeneity of South Pasadena throughout my years here has never been embodied quite as explicitly as an email from the Police Chief encouraging attendance for public officials at an event sponsored by a hateful Catholic organization. I believe that Chief Ortiz is not a hateful man, and I continue to respect him and the work he does for this community. However, this “error” (an understatement, in my opinion) is not one that will be easily forgotten. My trust, already wavering before this series of events, will not be easily regained. His “good intentions” accompanied by “poor execution” is not simply an error of an individual, but a symptom of a concerning growth of exclusion and discrimination that we are seeing nationwide, in our surrounding communities, and in our very own city. The police department ought to be on the frontlines of the inclusive city that even our City Council has codified in an ordinance.

My trust will not be regained through a public apology alone. I expect to see change made to the department to reflect these values of “inclusivity, tolerance for all, and environmental stewardship” as Ortiz himself wrote. I intend to continue to hold all public officials accountable for creating the city that I envision: one that actively pursues the radical inclusion it preaches and carefully researches and plans each action it takes.






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