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
|Photo by Robert Yager|
In announcing Tuesday that he was through with Bernie Parks, Jim Hahn said that a reform-minded police department headed by a non-reformer like Parks was nothing less than “a house divided.” But the real house divided in Los Angeles is the Hahn coalition, which just seven months into his term as mayor has begun to come apart at the seams.
Hahn, we should recall, was put in office by two groups of voters who tend to be diametrically opposed on most issues: the African-American community, and conservative and centrist white voters clustered chiefly in the west San Fernando Valley. The four city council districts where he racked up his biggest margins were the two most heavily black — the South-Central districts of Mark Ridley-Thomas and Nate Holden — and the only two represented by Republicans — the Valley districts of Hal Bernson and Dennis Zine.
The only thing these two groups had in common was that they preferred Hahn to Antonio Villaraigosa. In South-Central, Hahn was an ersatz homie — son of the legendary Kenny Hahn, the county supe for four decades who was the first white pol to champion black interests and give African-Americans their initial foothold in local politics. In black L.A., the ghost of Kenny towered over his lackluster son, and Hahn the Younger was repeatedly mis- introduced on the campaign trail as “Kenneth,” as if calling him by the old man’s name could infuse him with the old man’s spirit. In the white precincts of the Valley, meanwhile, it was enough that Hahn was neither as liberal nor Latino as Villaraigosa.
In short, Jim Hahn is mayor of L.A. because of who his father was and who his opponent was. That does not, in the parlance of political science, constitute a mandate. Even worse, from Hahn’s perspective, the two halves of the Hahn electorate agree on virtually nothing. To his Valley supporters, no group embodies more completely the fight for order, security, truth and justice than the LAPD — the officers on the beat and their collective voice, the Police Protective League (PPL). To his South-Central backers, no group has historically posed more threat to life and limb or treated black L.A. more brutally than the very same Ã¤ officers of the LAPD. And while the last two chiefs of police have themselves been African-American, the PPL drove the first from office and now seems poised to do the same with the second, unless Hahn’s own police commissioners ignore their mayor’s rejection of Parks.
On the merits of the case, there were ample reasons for Hahn to do what he did. In the wake of the moral outrage and financial disaster that was the Rampart scandal, the LAPD more than ever had to change. The department required effective civilian oversight and accountability; it needed an officer-tracking program and real community-based policing, and Parks actively worked to thwart all of those. Hahn made the right choice, but it was made much more difficult for him by the PPL’s ham-handed campaign to oust the chief. Getting rid of Parks was one thing; getting rid of him under unrelenting pressure from the same police union that had brought down Willie Williams — a union whose own commitment to reform is a sometime thing at best — could certainly appear, to Hahn’s black supporters, as if he were succumbing to their historic adversaries’ racial biases.
But sticking with Parks would have landed Hahn in yet another heap of troubles. The PPL would have gone ballistic, conceivably igniting in its rage the very Valley conservatives whom Hahn does not wish to rile with the Valley secession measure looming on November’s ballot. The steam certainly seems to be going out of Valley secession, but a pitched battle with the PPL could give secessionists a new sense of purpose and urgency. Hahn’s brain trust may have concluded that black L.A. — which, absent a compelling citywide leader, failed to mount a mayoral candidacy of its own in last year’s election — really had nowhere else to go, while the Valley could turn on him on a dime. And, in the end, Hahn sided with the Valley.
The truly stunning achievement of the week, however, comes from the stalwarts of L.A.’s African-American political elite. To any genuine supporter of police reform they have transformed themselves into just as much of a civic problem as the PPL — if not more of one.
For it was the old-timers within the black political class who foisted Hahn upon the city — without their support, there would have been no Hahn candidacy — despite ample evidence that, push-come-to-shove, he’d side with the cops. Hahn, after all, had broken with the black community in the early ’90s to defend Daryl Gates in the aftermath of the Rodney King beating — a fact his black supporters conveniently forgot when he ran for mayor last year. The battle over Daryl was also a contest pitting the white Valley against South-Central, Hahn was very clear in his preference, and I didn’t hear one of Hahn’s black champions last year explaining why their man would do differently if the same choice presented itself again.