Chief of Police — It’s Never Been My Total Identity 

Web exclusive: the L.A. Weekly’s interview with Bernard Parks, candidate for the 8th Los Angeles City Council District


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How do you feel about Wal-Mart coming into the community?

I think it’s a benefit. The fact that we have a shopping center, that the last store left in the middle of the night several years ago. And you have a choice of bringing a business that employs about 400 people versus leaving it vacant and possibly the whole shopping center collapses. I know all the issues people are talking about: nonunion and all those other things. But I think at some point you have to make a choice of what are the businesses willing to come into the community. And what is it that they’re gonna provide? And do you draw a line through the store and say "no business" versus 400 jobs? Or do you provide the opportunity that, hopefully, when people come into Wal-Mart, they also wander up to the second floor and buy other things from the shopping center? And it becomes the anchor. But I think you also have to be very sensitive to what the complaints are. Does Wal-Mart dry up all the other businesses on Crenshaw and they disappear? And then Wal-Mart disappears in five or six years? Those are the rumors that people have promoted about Wal-Mart.

But I think we have to also step back and say Wal-Mart has a million employees in their system. And I think five of the 10 people that are the richest in the United States all have the same last name, Walton, Wal-Mart–affiliated. So they’re doing something over a long period of time right. And I think they are in that community, and I think they have to be embraced. But I think we have to keep an eye on the issues that are brought up by unions, they don’t pay the proper wages.

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You hear people saying, "I don’t like the Wal-Mart because it’s not the level or the status of the store that we think should be in Baldwin Hills." But the people who live in Baldwin Hills shop west and north. People who come to Baldwin Hills Shopping Center come in from the south. So it’s a different population that shops there than lives there.

What do you think of Magic Johnson’s efforts to develop the inner city and his sometimes rocky relationship with Mark Ridley-Thomas, the former councilman for this district?

Let me just say Magic and I have been long-term friends. There have been few people of the stature of Magic Johnson that have developed in their community. And yet he’s benefited from that development, and he intends to continue developing. The 8th District is ripe for that kind of new development. And I think, whatever the contention was before, that probably the district lost many, many major projects that could have been developed, due to personalities.

We have to get beyond personalities and figure out what’s best for the community. If Magic Johnson can put a Starbucks on Slauson and Western, and the day it opens it’s the number-one Starbucks in the chain — if he can put in a shopping center and it’s the number-one in the chain — I think we should encourage Magic Johnson.

But we also want to talk to Magic Johnson and other people, such as some of the fast-food restaurants, and find out why aren’t any of their bakeries and distribution centers and their administrative offices also in the community. Not just the fast-food restaurant. Not just the low-paying jobs.

What is the biggest issue for your constituents?

The number-one issue is crime. The best approach by far for dealing with crime is taking gang members out of gangs and returning convicts to being employed so we do not continue the 80 percent recidivism rate.

You know that a high percentage of people that are in state prison are illiterate. So it starts right at the school — the dropout rate, the 50 percent of the kids who don’t graduate from school in our district. A larger percent do not pass the four-year test once they complete the four years. So education is at the base of all of it. And if we believe the United Way study that says that if you’re not in a strong educational program by the age of 5 you have no chance of survival — we have a great number of casualties in the 8th District.

So those are the things that people are saying. They’re tired of seeing their kids recycled through the system. They’re tired of seeing their kids getting into the criminal-justice system because of the lack of a variety of services and a lack of education.

What has the transition been like, after a career of police work, of moving into something entirely different, especially given that your time as police chief ended before you wanted it to?

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