The more fundamental issue, though, is that in backing Parks, the black elite is invoking the worst kind of double standard. For Parks’ tenure does not signal a break with the bad old days of the LAPD, but rather their perpetuation. In the best traditions of Bill Parker and Daryl Gates, he has handled incidents of racially charged police brutality by minimizing the department’s responsibility and resisting all efforts to get the department to shape up. Have Parks’ defenders forgotten his response to the Margaret Mitchell shooting — the gunning down by two officers of a tiny, middle-aged black woman on a Westside sidewalk, which Parks insisted was not a violation of department policy, even though the Police Commission overruled him? Haven’t they noticed that Parks’ response to Rampart was essentially identical to Parker’s response to the Watts riots and Gates’ response to the King beating: The department is fine; systemic racism is not a problem; we will resist all efforts to instill civilian accountability? Why an unaccountable department headed by a martinet contemptuous of civilian control is hunky-dory so long as that martinet is black is something that the Maxine Waterses and Melanie Lomaxes have yet to convincingly explain.
Yet here we are again, plunged into a particularly knee-jerk form of racial politics. Two years ago, it was much of the Latino political elite that was in high dudgeon over the sacking of Ruben Zacarias as head of the LAUSD. No doubt, Latino L.A. justly has a special stake in the school district, since more than 70 percent of the students are Latino. No doubt, black L.A. justly has a special stake in the LAPD, since its racist practices over the decades has made it central to the problems of the city’s African-American community. But both Zacarias and Parks were woefully wrong-headed symbols, altogether at odds with the causes they had come to embody. Zacarias was incapable of improving the schools and Parks has been dead-set against building a more responsive police force. A worse set of poster boys for Latino and black interests would be difficult to imagine.
But then, if the old bulls of the black political elite really cared about police reform, they wouldn’t have backed Hahn in the first place. The one real candidate of police reform in last year’s election — who’d opposed Daryl Gates and headed up the local ACLU chapter and said the department had to take responsibility for Rampart — was Antonio Villaraigosa. And while younger black political leaders like Mark Ridley-Thomas endorsed Villaraigosa, the Burkes and the Bakewells and the Waterses went with Hahn, confident that however deficient his record might be, he could at least be counted upon to be their boy. They were wrong in principle, and now, are they ever a sad bunch of suckers.