Before 'Me Too' in Long Beach

By Gerrie Schipske

I think back to the late 1980s when I was involved with the Long Beach Chapter of the National Organization for Women. There were no “me too” activists. We were fighting for things like making sure the police took domestic violence seriously or that the crime of rape wasn’t classified on reports as “sexual gratification.”

Some of us were so pissed at the insensitivity of local government to the growing number of rapes that we called a boycott and announced LB NOW would not host the NOW convention because it was not safe to be a woman downtown.

What came out of that effort was a scathing editorial in the Press-Telegram against me for daring to impact business. The chief of police established a Police Chief’s Women’s Advisory Committee and I was appointed and later made a life-time member. We were able to establish a Domestic Violence Response Team and a Sexual Assault Response Team.

Nurse forensic examiners replaced police surgeons and lessened the trauma rape victims endured during exam and investigations. The Police Department utilized community women to interview applicants for the LBPD and a course was taught in the academy on sexual assault and domestic violence.

Those were good things. But what has always haunted me is that LB NOW was not able to do anything about the harassment endured by several police women. Melissa Clerkin came to me sometime in the 1980s and asked if NOW could fund a lawsuit against LBPD for the horrible harassment she and another female officer were forced to endure. She told the story of how her ex-cop lover made her life miserable and how other police rallied around him. In several instances, when she was in the field under fire, she called for assistance and it didn’t come.

She claimed that her photograph was posted in gang territory to let gang members know who she was. She recounted how arrested felons talked to her with more respect than some of the officers who used the “c” word to refer to her in front of them. One time the criminal actually apologized to Clerkin for what the other police officer called her when he was booking the criminal.

I told Melissa that LB NOW did not have a legal defense fund. She was so upset because she needed help and community support. She didn’t have money for an attorney and was nearing bankruptcy. LB NOW couldn’t help. And to this day, I am sorry we couldn’t.

I didn’t talk to the other police woman who was harassed. I learned about Lindsey Allison, the first woman assigned to the canine unit, when she and Clerkin filed a federal lawsuit for “unspecified damages.” Both had to go out on stress disability because their work environment was so hostile. Barbara Hadsell represented the women.

During the trial, they and other police women testified that harassment of women was “endemic” and that “male officers often used obscene language to degrade women and retaliated if a female colleague complained about it.”

The Chief of Police even testified that he had started a “women’s issues” committee, which invited women officers to express their concerns. That part was bullshit. Female officers never expressed their concerns to the committee. How could they? The chief was sitting in the meetings.

Eventually, the lawsuit was settled for several million. In 1993, CBS aired “With Hostile Intent,” a movie written about what happened to the two Long Beach policewomen. It only provided a glimpse of the harassment and how it ruined their lives and how very bad it was for women who joined the LBPD.


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