I had to go get ice on the way home from work yesterday. (The new refrigerator still had not arrived.) The Liquor Store was the closest place near my house that would have ice. My sister had checked at the little market around the corner the day before and said they weren’t getting ice deliveries as often. Parking on the street was the only option because the tiny, ill configured parking lot was full of cars parked correctly and parked weird. l grabbed my mask and went into the store. I had to wait for my eyes to adjust from the glare outside. I checked to the right in the ice freezer to make sure they had a few bags. Score. As I made my way down an aisle towards the register, I saw two sheriff’s officers in the next aisle talking. My pulse spiked, my blood pressure went up and I tried to become invisible. No one else was in the store, but a clerk restocking a shelf to the left and the clerk off to the right behind the Covid 19 plastic barrier that ran the entire length of the wall. All the liquor was on the back wall behind the plexi.
The officers stopped talking as I walked up to the Covid 19 – 6 feet distancing spot. They were on the aisle to my right.
I normally do not get caught by surprise like that. I notice cars in parking lots. I notice undercover officers and undercover cars. I check under my car to make sure someone is not lying in wait to rob me when going back to my car at night. I consider myself street smart. It comes from having grown up in Carson and going to Phineas Banning High in Wilmington. When I went to Banning it was considered an Inner-City School, one of the first to be completely fenced in (I think it was more to keep people out than it was to keep students in.)
I grew up on a street that was fairly rich in diversity. Black, Brown, White, etc. All religions, Jewish, Catholic, Mormon, Buddhist, Jehovah Witness, Baptist, etc. I would go to religious services, share food, experience holidays with my friends and my friends would experience my large boisterous Catholic family with me. It was a beautiful way to grow up.
Why do I bring all of this up? Well because I don’t trust the police either. Seeing the two officers in the Liquor Store made me really nervous. My trust issues go way back, and they don’t center around me as a victim, but more me witnessing racism, unfairness and injustice. But what really sticks is Ron Settles.
Ron Settles went to Banning High School. He was a good friend of my brother Jimmy. They both played in a junior football league together as kids. It was obvious, even then, that Ron had something special. Something shined when he hit the football field. I knew Ron, but not well. One day as I was leaving High School late (I was taking all kinds of sports and was the gawky awkward girl in Future Farmers of America.) I heard screams towards the gate at the front, the gate I needed to leave from. All other gates were locked at this hour. When I rounded the corner past the quad, I saw the twins – Smart nerd types with tape holding their glasses together in the center, being harassed by about 3 guys 3 times as big. They were tearing up the twin’s schoolbooks and their notebooks, throwing stuff everywhere and pushing them around. I was stopped like a deer in headlights trying to become a part of the building I had just come around.
Ron came running onto the scene, his football cleats in his one hand, and said, “Hey! Man! That ain’t cool. Stop.” To my surprise the bullies stopped, backed off, turned and walked away. Ron helped to pick up the books and papers and said, “You all right?” The twins nodded and moved towards the exit. I became visible Ron nodded at me and went towards the gym for football practice. Ron was a running back. A really gifted player!
That was Ron. A good guy. A guy who loved his Mom and Dad. A Long Beach State 49ers Football player. My brother’s friend.
A black man I believe was murdered by the police at the Signal Hill Police Station. It was what we all believed-really what we all knew.
After that happened my parents didn’t want us going through Signal Hill at night, especially my brother Jimmy with his long hair. They didn’t want us taking anyone of color through Signal Hill. It wasn’t considered safe and they said we would be risking our friends lives and that was unacceptable. We were to drive around either North or South and go through Long Beach.
I wanted to tell you a little about Ron Settles because he is more famous for how he died, but I wanted you to see him as a good guy, a guy who stood up to bullies and protected the weaker.
No one was ever prosecuted for Ron Settles death. The City of Signal Hill eventually authorized a 1 million-dollar payment to the Settle’s family that was represented by Johnnie Cochran. All of the officers pleaded the Fifth, refusing to answer questions on the grounds that they might incriminate themselves.
Ron mattered. He mattered to me, to my family and his family and friends. His death changed me forever. And that is why I don’t trust the police either.