By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
|Photo by Ted Soqui|
The LAV-25 recon carrier isa buff little ride from the United States Marine Corps' motor pool. Resembling a small tank with tires, the street model comes with a 25mm chain gun, 7.62mm machine gun and, should the theater of combat require some obfuscation, a couple of smoke-grenade launchers. This all-terrain vehicle seats nine and converts from dune buggy to amphibious mode in three minutes. Impressive enough in the field, two of these war wagons had little difficulty turning heads last month as they sat parked in Forest Lawn Cemetery. They were not there to keep the peace among Hollywood's unruly dead, but as part of the services honoring LAPD Officer Brian Brown, an ex-Marine who had won a Purple Heart in Somalia only to be killed by a gang member in Culver City.
Like any war, the one waged against crime is not only a military contest but a conflict of imagery and symbols. And so, as this war has escalated, the "cop funeral" has grown into a spectacle unseen since the days of astronaut ticker-tape parades. Motorcades, helicopters and the
occasional light armored vehicle have become part of the complex stagecraft of this new form of civic spectacle, part memorial, part political theater.
"Our graveside services are emotional and dramatic," former LAPD Chief Daryl Gates wrote in his autobiography, Chief. As with any classic drama, the cop funeral relies upon casts, cos-
tumes, choreographed movement, music, audiences and, of course, a stage. Today, big-city law-enforcement memorials echo the grandeur of John F. Kennedy's state funeral and, like that 1963 event, come complete with riderless horse, missing-man aircraft formation, 21-gun salute and thousands of mourners, most of them attired in an array of uniforms. And just as Kennedy's grimly opulent funeral cortege brought an Old World gravitas to a hatless, short-sleeved country that had not buried a head of state in nearly 20 years, so too do cop funerals return ritual and ceremony to our informal society.
In an age of cinematic violence and malarial sensationalism, the death of a police officer commands the solemn fascination of both the public and the media, occupying a level of veneration once reserved for martyred statesmen. Last year this theater of memorial was mounted four times in Los Angeles, as taps blew in the winter rain for Steven Gajda, under a wilting August sun for Filbert Cuesta Jr. and in the cool autumn air for Brian Brown -- all LAPD officers gunned down by gang members -- as well as for Sheriff Sherman Block, who succumbed to the infirmities of age during a bitter re-election campaign.
The cop funeral seems to provide a catharsis for an insecure public afraid that its safety and moral values are under attack. (This obsession with such ceremonies is hardly confined to the United States: According to the Canada NewsWire Web site, more than 130,000 people turned to the Internet last August to witness a live cybercast funeral of a slain Toronto detective.) But why is this so? America remains the world's lone superpower and has been locked in the grip of economic prosperity for nearly a decade. Moreover, crime rates have been dropping across the country for the past few years and, contrary to popular belief, the on-duty mortality rate of California law-enforcement officers has declined slightly in the 1990s in comparison to the previous three decades, possibly
the result of safer cars, better training and the use of bulletproof vests.
Yet we act as though the republic were about to be consumed by molten anarchy. Part of our emotional response is a reaction to the cruelty of these highly visible deaths. Who, after all, will forgive the day in August 1997 when Sheriff's Deputy Shayne York was shot point-blank in the head by one of two robbers -- in the presence of his fiancée and fellow deputy, Jennifer Parish, for the sum of $11 and Parish's engagement ring? When York was buried in a cemetery overlooking L.A. Harbor and Sheriff Block presented his family with the American flag, the entire ceremony became a silent condemnation of crime run amok.
And the scope of commemoration continues to grow: Each May, as part of National Police Week, statewide tributes are held in California, while locally the LAPD and LASD conduct separate memorial ceremonies. Services and monuments for fallen officers are spreading throughout the city; exiting Councilman Richard Alarcon, for example, recently requested $170,000 from L.A.'s public-arts funds for a police and firefighter monument to be erected in the Valley. Not all monuments are big: Last fall a Walk of Fametype star was dedicated outside the Hollywood Division station for a bike-patrol officer who died of injuries sustained in an on-duty accident.
It may not be an entirely surprising development, then, that slain police dogs are increasingly the subject of elaborate funeral rites involving priests, eulogies and bagpipers. Such deaths have also become the focus of public- policy controversies, as when the demise of a New Jersey K-9 cop named Solo provoked calls to make the killing
of police dogs a special offense -- one mandating stiffer
penalties than the killing of "civilian" dogs.
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