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Scandals point out importance of having Accountability

Scandals point out importance of having accountability
by Rodolpho Carrasco
September 25, 1999 in Pasadena Star News
[Rodolpho Carrasco is associate director of Harambee Christian Family Center in Pasadena, Calif. Check out more articles by Rodolpho Carrasco here.)

Accountability - having others examine what you did, are doing, or want to do - is a drag. Who wants people poking around in your business? But being accountable is what makes individuals and nations strong.

If your car needs repairs but you want to take your paycheck and buy a Waverunner, what you need is a friend who knows what you're thinking and will tell you you're crazy. Our nation is stable today because, 223 years ago, the framers of the U.S. Constitution assumed the worst, not just of the King of England, but of themselves.

They sought checks and balances for every power, believing Lord Acton's dictate that power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Accountability is neither sexy nor fun - but we can't exist without it.

This message is needed because three areas of public accountability are critical right now:

POLICE: The corruption drama playing itself out in the Los Angeles Police Department is a prime example. If you have ever suspected the police of brutality or been a victim of such, the divulgences of ex-LAPD officer Rafael Perez are like the Rodney King beating videotape: evidence at last. Perez recounts how officers handcuffed Javier Franciso Ovando, shot him in the head, then planted a gun on him. Ovando, a gang member, survived and went to prison. These rogue officers thought that no one would believe a gang member, or care about what happened to him.

From Chief Bernard Parks on down, LAPD management, training and general policy is on the hot seat, and heads are already rolling. My own feelings are mixed. Because officers wield tremendous power and carry the public's trusts, they must be checked.

But I don't want to see good, hard-working officers smeared, nor effective crime-fighting approaches like gang-injunctions swept away.

TELEVISION: The amoral content of most programs and feature films is not neutral. Young people in need of moral rudders that make for success and long life won't find help watching T.V. Yes, culture and human nature are behind the wheel as factors that most impact young people, but television is glad to ride shotgun.

Besides content, diversity must be challenged. Latinos, African-Americans and Asians are almost invisible in the current major network lineups. Most people know that the best way to break down ethnic barriers is by getting to know a person of another race. Television offers excellent possibilities for this type of learning to occur.

But a 1998 Tomas Rivera Institute study found that Latinos are eight times more likely to be portrayed in the news as illegal immigrants, drug runners or gang bangers, versus doctors, teachers and elected officials. Rather than tearing down stereotypes, television, in the most developed nation the world has ever known, is building them back up.

NONPROFIT ORGANIZATIONS: Two area nonprofits recently made headlines with their dirty laundry. An employee of the Pasadena Tournament of Roses may have stolen organization funds. The Pasadena YMCA shuttered its doors due to a million-dollar debt allegedly run up by a departing executive. As negative as these incidents sound, the fact that they are "dirty laundry" means that they can come clean. These organizations do good work, and accountability inquiries are helping to set things straight.

Nonprofit law dictates that anyone can request and receive an organization's operating information. You are within your rights as a citizen and, hopefully, as a donor, to ask how things are going. Many nonprofits will welcome your inquiry, and will gladly leap at the opportunity to show you the incredible work they do with a minimum of resources and a lot of heart.

I usually have to hype myself up when it comes to my own personal accountability. Like discipline, I know I need it and that it's good for me.

E-mail responses to what I write are high on the list of things that help me fly straight, or at least keep me humble. Of course I like e-mail that agrees with my point. The "why did you move to California, you @*&$*& immigrant" mail also makes me take account of what I'm writing.

A few months back I chose to remove my email address from this column because I wanted to direct responses - those in agreement and those misguided (I was born in California) - toward the letters page. Just as I am publicly held accountable for what I write, so I thought letter writers should also be publicly accountable for their responses.

With this column my e-mail address re-appears. I will encourage every respondent to also submit to a letter to the paper.

However, I also understand that sometimes you just want to communicate directly with the author.

Earlier this year I received a moving 10-page letter from a 75-year old Mexican-American. He read this column and felt moved to share his triumph and tragedy as a World War II POW in Germany.

This Chicano conveyed his intimate recollections of that war's final days. In my experience you don't do that unless you feel a connection with a person.

As I turned every page I felt the joy of trust won. I was thankful I had the opportunity to write the article to which he responded. If public accountability, words on a page, can bring us closer to people like this man, it's more than worth it.


The copyright for these materials are owned by Rudy Carrasco.  These materials were use with permission by TechMission