By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
He knows about gangs and drugs, he says, because he grew up in Wilmington. "All the guys I grew up with are either dead, in jail or cops." He pauses. "Or firemen." When I ask if it's true that women have a thing for firemen, more than for cops, he nods. "No one hates a fireman."
The news continues: Police Chief Bernard Parks, congratulating 34 expressionless recruits on their graduation from the academy.
"Our new chief, a.k.a. General Patton," says an officer, blowing a raspberry.
"He's a politician," says Jesus. "He comes in and starts firing people. You'll see -- he'll be running for mayor."
"Better be careful, she's a writer," says Deana, picking up a pen and holding it like a dagger. "See this pen? Now I'm gonna kill you with it!"
Jesus considers this. "That's okay. You should come to my party."
A FEW NIGHTS LATER, I ARRIVE FOR THE party. Two hours early. After shouting out the answers to Jeopardy! with Deana, I wander into one of the two pool rooms. Its walls are filled with cases displaying shoulder patches from different divisions, photo montages of Short Stop golf outings, and a couple of bumper stickers: "We Support Chief Gates" and "Dial 911 -- Make a Cop Come." Off to one side is a framed account of an attempted robbery at the Short Stop in 1979:
"A man walked in holding something wrapped in a towel, held it to the barmaid's head and demanded money. 'Sitting at the bar are maybe 14 or 18 guys with short hair and suspicious bulges in their waistbands,' said an officer. 'Behind the bar are cop posters, pictures of cops, badges. And this guy is sticking the place up?' After the barmaid filled the bag with money, the robber was completely blown out the door. In his hand, wrapped inside a towel, was an Afro pick." He died on the sidewalk out front.
I go back to my stool, and sit beneath a shrunken head -- an effigy of the dead perp -- wearing a paper halo that reads, "Use a Comb, Go to Heaven," a riff on the 1980s cautionary catch phrase, "Use a Gun, Go to Jail."
By 9:30, the party's on. Telling me my money's no good here, Jesus explains that it's all being paid for with and in celebration of the award he won on the Judge Judyshow.
"This gang kid said we jacked him up, beat him with our batons, which we did not," says Jesus. "He filed a complaint, so I decided to take him to small-claims court, but I knew if I won, I'd never get anything out of the kid, so I pitched it to the Judge Judyshow, and they took it. And I won -- $5,000."
While I find this method of remuneration bizarre, the 50-plus revelers packing the place don't seem to have a problem with it, if indeed they know anything about it. They are very young, rookies mostly from Rampart and Northeast, the two divisions closest to the bar. Music without a whiff of sissiness (Dire Straits, the Eagles, Bob Seger) plays as the noisy, puppyish group drink big plastic cups of beer, play pinball and push to get on the pool tables. Far from cold and authoritarian, the scene looks like a get-together in someone's rec room, or a frat party, albeit a responsible one, as many of the revelers are not drinking, acting instead as designated drivers for their partners or roommates. Because these guys are young enough to still have roommates, barely past 20, wearing knee-length cargo shorts and basketball shoes. They all have short hair, clear eyes and shoulders like cantaloupes, and as a group evince a concentrated corporeal capability coupled, because of their youth, with a guilelessness that inspires equal parts confidence and susceptibility. It feels like a very safe place to be, unless it isn't.
I ask Jesus about the T-shirt he's wearing, which reads "RAMPART TF."
"It's a task force I worked for in 1996," he says, grabbing a few shots from the tin-lined service window between the pool room and the bar and doling them out. "My partner back then, he wound up killing himself. We were talking about going jet-skiing in the afternoon, and then he drives downtown and blows his brains out. I never found out why."
How old was he?
"About 28. This is another one of my former partners." He introduces a guy in his late 20s, wearing a Lucky brand T-shirt and a poker face, and walks off. The guy and I sit in silence for several minutes, until I ask if he, too, worked Rampart.
"Jesus and I worked Watts together," he tells me. "Three years. Now I'm in San Pedro."
His voice is strained with reticence, or perhaps rage. When I ask if he prefers San Pedro, he looks at me as though I'm an idiot.
"Of course. When you're a white cop down there [in Watts], everything becomes racial. You're dealing with things that happened 30, 40 years ago. It's not like that anymore, but the verbal abuse, it's constant. Everyone screams at you all day long. It's like a kid growing up with his dad nagging at him every day, saying, 'You're no good.' The abuse, it wears on you. There are a lot of good cops down there, and they're automatically looked at like they're bad people. In San Pedro, they're glad to see you. They lovecops."