RIVERSIDE: Lessons from 1998 police shooting apply to protesters
The demonstrators expected in downtown Riverside on Dec. 20 to protest recent police shootings around the country likely won’t be thinking about a December night 16 years ago.
That night, less than three miles from the recent rally, Riverside police shot a young black woman as she sat in her car, unconscious, with a gun on her lap.
Riverside learned some hard lessons in the days after Tyisha Miller’s 1998 death from police bullets, when controversy over the shooting and accusations of racism thrust the city into the national spotlight. City residents and officials say those lessons could help people in communities such as Cleveland, Staten Island and Ferguson, Mo., that are struggling to recover from their own more recent officer-involved deaths.
“The thing that stands out most is the deterioration of the relationship between the police and the community is never precipitated by a single event,” said Joe Brann, a former cop who oversaw required police reforms in Riverside, Maywood, Cincinnati and Seattle.
Across the cities he’s observed, Brann said, “There had been increasing problems and volatility between the police department and certain segments of the community for a number of years prior to that.”
Fixing those problems takes willingness to change from within the police department, money for better equipment and training, and long-term effort from police and the community, say residents and officials who remember the Miller shooting or were active in events that followed.
“Both sides need to continually work at this,” said Bill Howe, a retired UC Riverside police chief who chaired the city’s first Community Police Review Commission, a citizen panel.
YEARS OF TENSION
Demonstrators around the country have been marching, walking off their jobs and staging “die-ins” in recent months to call attention to the deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Eric Garner in New York City and Tamir Rice in Cleveland, as well as others killed by police.
• Garner, 43, died July 17 after police accused him of selling illegal cigarettes on a Staten Island street and one officer grabbed him in what has been described as a choke hold. Garner was unarmed.
• Brown, 18, was unarmed when he was shot following an Aug. 9 confrontation with a Ferguson police officer, who said Brown assaulted him.
• Rice, 12, was shot by Cleveland police Nov. 22 after a 911 caller reported him pointing a gun at people on a playground. The weapon was a BB gun.
Officials have not announced whether they will file charges in the Cleveland case, but grand jury decisions not to indict police in Ferguson and New York have stoked public anger. The U.S. Justice Department is probing the Brown and Garner cases and was already investigating Cleveland police before Rice was shot.
On Dec. 6, protesters showed up at Riverside’s Festival of Lights, where they blocked traffic and some received minor injuries when a car forced its way through the crowd. Demonstrators have said they plan to return to downtown Riverside this weekend.
When Riverside police shot Tyisha Miller on Dec. 28, 1998, relations between police and the city’s minority communities had been strained for years.
Miller, 19 was sitting in a locked car, apparently unconscious and with a gun on her lap, as she waited for help to fix a flat tire at a gas station. Four white officers responding to a 911 call began shooting when, they said, she reached for the weapon. Miller was hit by 12 bullets. The officers were later fired, but none faced criminal charges.
The incident drew civil rights leaders including Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson, who decried the shooting and led marches, and community leaders called for change at the police department.
Before Miller’s death, the climate was tense, due to a history of stops and searches by police that black and Latino residents felt were unjustified, the department’s lackluster response to complaints about police behavior and a 1971 ambush shooting that killed two officers on duty and left the department on edge, Howe said.
Residents felt the police failed to take public input seriously, said Chani Beeman, who has served on the city’s Human Relations Commission, police review commission and police chief’s advisory committee. “There was this attitude of ‘We’re the experts. You don’t know what it’s like to be out on the street,’” she said.
Repostd from Press Enterprise