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No Respect 

Police Commission falters on Rampart

Wednesday, May 17 2000
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Drooyan suggests that ”people from each of the groups will be involved“ in the late-summer process of combining, editing and massaging the various task forces‘ work product. That this process is allotted almost as much time as the compilation of the eight subreports makes clearer that the shape and spin of the final product is, ultimately, in the hands of Drooyan and the two permanent staffers.

Ethnic-group advocates were not buying the new team’s composition -- of the 26 members announced April 12, only three were Latinos, three African-Americans and none Asians. NAACP Los Angeles branch president Geraldine Washington threatened to set up a parallel investigative body if the group wasn‘t made more representative, and suggested that -- since most police-abuse victims were minorities -- minorities should be a majority on the inquiry board.

James Blancarte, president of MABA (Mexican-American Bar Association), said his group insists on an independent review because the close cooperation of the commission with the LAPD creates ”the possibility and the appearance of a conflict of interest.“ Tom Saenz of MALDEF (Mexican-American Legal Defense and Educational Fund) said the new body was not independent enough and its membership, developed ”through a process not particularly public,“ failed to reflect the community. The three Latinos appointed are retired Superior Court Judge Enrique Romero, USC public-administration professor David Lopez-Lee, and Cynthia Telles, UCLA professor and wife of state Assembly Speaker Robert Hertzberg.

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By April 25, the City Council joined the critics, passing by a 10-1 vote a call for the commission to expand the group for greater ethnic and occupational diversity. The resolution’s author, Councilwoman Rita Walters, said she was ”horrified“ at the preponderance of white males examining a problem affecting mainly people of color.

In the face of public reaction, the commission has been scurrying to find faces of darker hue, but its commitment to a broad color palette is belated. Almost two weeks before the first members were named, Councilman Ridley-Thomas responded to an Eglash request by offering five minority nominees -- one Korean-American, three African-Americans and a Latino. As of May 2, a month after the memo was sent to Eglash, none had been contacted by the commission or its staff. One of the five, the Rev. Mark Whitlock of First AME Church, wondered, ”How can we, in the 21st century, have this 19th-century thinking that only males, especially Caucasian males, have the intelligence to deal with problems?“

The commission announced new appointments Tuesday, raising the proportion of minority members, largely at lower levels, but these afterthoughts haven‘t brought minority leaders into the commission’s corner. Sixty-nine percent of the 118 members are white, but there are now 13 Latinos, 16 African-Americans and eight Asian-Americans.

As well as being overwhelmingly white and male, the appointees are almost all attorneys. About half those named April 12 are alumni of the U.S. Attorney‘s Office (where Drooyan served as chief assistant). ”We’re not going to get real change with a bunch of prosecutors looking at it,“ said assistant public defender Eric Zucker. ”Why not put a [police-abuse plaintiff‘s lawyer] Steve Yagman or a [longtime civilian-review-board advocate] Michael Zinzun on the board?“ Several of the selected attorneys have some experience on the defense side of the bar, though largely in defending corporate clients in white-collar criminal matters. Eglash says he himself handled civil rights cases as an assistant U.S. attorney, and that two others have experience in the area. Councilman Joel Wachs urged that ”a variety of life experiences -- from victims to policemen“ should be at the table. ”I wouldn’t want a panel of lawyers, no matter what color.“

Members of the Coalition for Police Accountability -- which has insisted for months that only a fully independent panel can clean house and restore public confidence in the LAPD -- took issue less with the body‘s membership than with its structure and limited powers. Putting Police Commission staff in the driver’s seat, they maintain, is dubious because of the commission‘s accountability to Mayor Riordan and its record of uncritically backing up Chief Parks. The commission’s propensity to protect the LAPD image would inhibit a no-stone-unturned inquiry, says coalition member Jim Lafferty of the National Lawyers Guild.

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