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Simi Valley speaks out, sets record straight.

"Wednesday's verdict is an outrage. There were no blacks among the 12 Simi Valley jurors..." --San Francisco Examiner Editorial

"The jurors were out of touch with reality," Brown added, calling Simi Valley 'a very white reactionary suburb of Los Angeles'."--Associated Press [a quote from California Speaker of the Assembly Willie Brown] Dear Colleague:

The comments above were typical of those voiced from throughout the nation in the wake of the Rodney King beating trial of four Los Angeles police officers which was held in my city. Unfortunately, they are based on innuendo and false assumptions, and fueled by the desires of editors and elected officials alike to find a scapegoat for a verdict which few have been able to understand. This media coverage and elected leadership has provided me some insight into understanding why people are frustrated with their government and why people believe that their elected leaders cannot provide them justice.

I'm sure that you as an elected official have previously read the unfortunate association above which is typical of what the media created in people's minds--that because a jury was empaneled in a given community, the jurors must not only be from that community, but whatever their verdict [which in the King beating case it's a verdict I certainly do not understand], that verdict must be reflective of the political beliefs of the host community.

And by all means calling my community "a very white reactionary" area certainly helps race relations today when we all need them improved the most.

Since the verdict was read, our city council has worked full time to counter the false imagery and show the facts about our community to the world.

The facts are these. Simi Valley is a city of 100,000 people in the southeast corner of Ventura County--hard working, civic minded, and involved in making their community a better place for themselves and their children. Our people are tolerant of and friendly toward others, regardless of race, color, or creed.

But, what we in Ventura County refuse to be lenient toward, is lawlessness. The Ventura County District Attorney convicts over 90 percent of the cases he takes into court. And punishment is generally regarded as more severe than in neighboring Los Angeles County--again, without regard to race, creed, or skin color.

When the Los Angeles County courts asked throughout the state for county court systems where courtroom space might be available to change the venue of the King beating trial, Ventura County [as well as Orange and Alameda Counties] responded affirmatively. Without even consulting with our city [they do not need to], the County of Ventura volunteered space in our community. The Los Angeles County court decided to change the venue to Simi Valley. Did we object? No. Had this community been as reactionary as our new-found critics would like you to believe, there certainly would have been more than a "ho-hum" reaction. It was only business as usual with some added preparation and coordination with the county to accommodate added media needs around the courthouse building.

A Ventura County jury was chosen. This jury--now being portrayed as a "Simi Valley jury"--in fact had only two jurors from Simi Valley. The rest of the jurors were from throughout Ventura County.

The trial process was peaceful. Observers of the proceedings--of all skin color and race--were present and welcomed to Simi Valley. The local newspaper ran human interest articles about several of those people. Life was severely normal in Simi Valley.

When the verdicts were imminent and the news reports stated a decision was to be announced at 3:00 p.m., people throughout Simi Valley gathered around radios and televisions to hear and see the verdicts read. The reactions here--from police officers, prosecutors, city officials, office workers, and the general citizenry--were typical of those everywhere. There was immediate surprise, shock, and concern over how even one guilty verdict could not have been found.

The reaction of the world, the media, and any elected officials however, has been to look for a scapegoat--to turn on the people of my community as if they were the ones who decided this verdict. That's wrong and it does not help society to put aside its differences. It only serves to create schisms and hostilities between people.

If you as an elected official honestly believe as I do, that people should work together in our society to make us all better citizens living in a better world, and you also believe that these verdicts were wrong, then I would urge you not to exacerbate the situation with added hatred. As mayor of Simi Valley I would seek to work with you within the system to create the changes that are necessary. With the power we wield as elected officials in our statehouses and Congress, we have the tools and abilities to facilitate change.

Rather than promote divisions amongst society, let's work toward unity.

Greg Stratton Mayor, Simi Valley
COPYRIGHT 1992 National League of Cities
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Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Special Report: Stepping Up to the Issues of Race and Economics
Author:Stratton, Greg
Publication:Nation's Cities Weekly
Date:May 18, 1992
Words:825
Previous Article:NCBI helps cities face, resolve hard racial realities.
Next Article:Children, families are at mercy of economic, racial changes.


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