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Antioch police racist texts: Nearly half of department now involved in scandal

Demonstration held outside Antioch City Hall ahead of emergency city council meeting amid texting sc
Demonstration held outside Antioch City Hall ahead of emergency city council meeting amid texting sc 03:14

ANTIOCH -- The scandal involving racist text messages sent by members of the Antioch Police Department was widening Tuesday, with word that nearly half of the city's police officers are now suspended for their alleged roles. 

A special city council meeting was underway Tuesday evening to address the issues and figure out what's next for the department.

At the meeting, residents lined up to give their perspectives on the scandal, in which dozens of officers used racist, homophobic and otherwise hateful language directed at the people they supposedly serve and protect.

"They celebrated the very desecration of black bodies."
"Clear manifestation of institutional racism. Racism is prejudice plus power."
"It is time to do an investigation, fire those officers, hopefully bring a culture of community policing."
"Completely appalled at what is going on in this community."

The Contra Costa County Public Defender's Office said Tuesday that 45 officers out of the police department's 99 commissioned officers have now been accused of misconduct.

Earlier Tuesday outside of the Antioch police station, community members rallied and demanded these officers be held accountable, among them was Pastor Damon Owens of Genesis Church in Antioch.

"I happen to be a victim of police brutality," said Owens as he addressed the dozens of protestors ahead of Tuesday's city council meeting.

Owens says for many residents, the text messages confirmed their fears about racism and discrimination at the hands of some officers within the department.

"It reveals the heart and also the soul of what's been going on for a long, long time," said Owens.

"I wouldn't feel safe calling the police," said Chala Bonner, who attended the rally and works in Antioch. I feel like if I called them, I feel like they're going to more so escalate a situation than de-escalate a situation being that they feel this type of way toward a specific group of people."

The racist text messages came to light as part of an FBI investigation into the Antioch and Pittsburg Police Departments, alleging officers were distributing cocaine and steroids, accepting bribes, intentionally using excessive force, and violating people's civil rights.

Investigators say some of the officers were part of a text messaging group on their personal phones for years - where they would congratulate each other for hurting people during arrests and use the n-word repeatedly to talk about city residents.

Owens says the road to redemption is a long one and that it must start with the city holding the department and these officers accountable.

"What do you do when the color of your skin is the weapon that people fear?" he said. 

Current Antioch Police Chief Steven Ford was hired only about a year ago and was not with the city when these text message exchanges were happening. He said the department has been forced to change staffing to maintain police coverage in the city. 

Ford said he wanted to ensure none of the officers involved in the text scandal were in public-facing roles while the investigation into the text exchanges continues.

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