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
Some council members also see the scope as too constricted. ”Police don‘t operate in a vacuum,“ said Wachs. ”How could the D.A. and city attorney file hundreds of bad cases, and the system didn’t detect it for so long? We need something like the Mollen Commission in New York, with the power to grant immunity.“
Several of the Tuesday-night community-response hearings turned into angry and raucous venting sessions, including one at a Watts health center on March 28, where residents hammered home the message that police abuse was not confined to any single station. The Police Commission, though sponsoring the public hearings, was largely not there to hear it, leaving Warren Jackson, its sole African-American member, to listen alongside Executive Director Gunn and Inspector General Eglash. The absenteeism of the other four was perceived as turning their backs on the South-Central community. Two or three speakers responded by turning their backs to Commissioner Jackson, telling the simmering audience that it was up to them to end abuses.
Testimony at the center, only blocks away from the flash point of 1965‘s Watts Riots, was almost all critical of LAPD practices and at times suggested that ”only the people in the streets“ could bring abuses to a stop. Abdullah Muhammad, a parent and activist, said the police ”declared war on our community and our children, and we can’t tolerate that anymore. People are going to have to realize that we have to make the changes.“
The litany of horror stories seemed indeed to come from a war zone. Some stories were old, such as the one about a cut requiring seven stitches allegedly inflicted by 77th Street officers in the 1960s. Willie Soloman said Rampart Station had a reputation for brutality when he lived there 55 years ago. Other accounts were as fresh as the previous month. Tracy Datson reported that her murdered brother‘s body was left outside by the police for 12 hours on March 7 while police threatened neighbors.
Not all witnesses told of personal atrocities; others addressed policy issues, questioning whether either the district attorney or the Police Commission itself could be thorough and objective. ”I represent clients from Watts to Van Nuys to Venice,“ said James Simmons of the National Association of Black Lawyers, ”and everywhere we see the same problems. The district attorney has a conflict of interest -- he’s dependent on the LAPD. There needs to be an independent prosecutor.“
The angriest rhetoric got the loudest cheers, though many elderly listeners sat on their hands and looked worried. Onetime military policeman Charles Edwards said most officers were there to protect people, but coupled this defense with a demand that the department ”cut the abusive officers loose and let them get their own attorneys.“
A hearing three weeks later in the Rampart Station district, at an Echo Park church, was slightly less angry, but equally antagonistic to the commission‘s authority and its plan -- as was the final hearing, held across from Hollenbeck Station in Boyle Heights. Both featured appearances from Brown Berets who shouted, ”Stop killing our people.“ Agustin Cebeda of Echo Park charged that three young Latinos had been needlessly killed by police in the past month alone.
Between these stormy sessions, the commission found smoother sailing at its meeting in Brentwood, where the worst grievance was recounted by a middle-aged woman who said her arrest for spraying a construction worker with a hose was unjustified; the spraying had been accidental. Two members of the West L.A. Community Police Advisory Board expressed concern for the morale of the 99 percent of the force that was honest, one decrying the ”forces of hate and anarchy“ that had the LAPD in their sights.
Whatever the merits of that viewpoint, there is no question that the Police Commission and its appointees are in the sights of a number of skeptics, and taking a lot of shots. If the commission hopes to keep calling the shots on the expanding scandal, it clearly has some fast footwork -- and some serious rethinking -- to do.
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