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
“We don’t do business well with each other, in every sense of the word,” says Murray with a sigh. “A dollar turns over once in our community. In Asian and Latino and other communities, it turns over two, four, six times. We have the middle class, but it’s the base of the pyramid — the working class, the poor — where so much is lacking. In every category that reflects need we are disproportionately represented. At this tick of the watch, blacks make up 50 percent of the prison population, and 80 percent of those in lockdown are there because of drugs. That has got to change.”
That’s the big picture. Then there’s the local one in which Murray has obviously and not so obviously stumped for causes much more easily addressed — like trying to help high-profile black civil servants such as ex–Police Chief Bernard Parks and MTA executive Franklin White keep their jobs. Media-intense moments like those fueled grumbling among whites — and some blacks — that Murray was a knee-jerk ethnocentric who was wasting increasingly precious political capital on largely symbolic issues while South-Central still festered. By design or not, Murray became part of a black power-wielding, gatekeeping establishment that includes Representative Maxine Waters, Urban League president John Mack and developer-publisher-activist Danny Bakewell. Their fight for Parks’ reappointment in 2002 was the apogee of a crisis of local black leadership that had been brewing for years: As black political representation ebbed steadily, Latino representation burgeoned and the retention of a high-ranking, policymaking official like Parks became proportionately more crucial. Parks’ dubious record on the very police reforms Murray and others championed all along was seen as less of a problem than the problem another black vacuum in the halls of power downtown would create. So keeping Parks as the city’s top cop became a cause — ultimately, a lost one. The ex-chief is now a councilman in the 8th District, where FAME is located (not surprisingly, Murray endorsed Parks for the seat), which has to be some comfort.
Murray doesn’t say, really, so intent is he on describing his latest crusade: the summit of citizens looking to stem the red tide of black homicide. The group, convened last year by veteran political consultant and longtime FAME member Kerman Maddox, formed after a spate of senseless murders last year that stretched from middle-class Crenshaw to modest Compton, a swath that left no black community untouched and left much for everyone to ponder. Murray says the summit has been hashing out a blueprint for action ever since that will debut soon. His other cause of the moment is getting out the vote. “This November is very important,” he says. “We’re making certain blacks vote this fall. If you’re a church and you’re not doing that, you ain’t doing nothing.” Murray concedes that Democrats have taken the black vote for granted for too long, and that Republicans flat-out stole it in the last presidential election, but neither dispiriting fact is a good enough reason in his mind to sit out the most high-stakes election of the last 50 years. Like the Parks campaign, it’s another bargain struck less on ideology than on pragmatism — a compromise that has become the story of black leadership — though Murray is loath to see it that way. “It’s only been one generation since we’ve really had the vote,” he says heatedly. “When you say it doesn’t matter, that it doesn’t make a difference . . . that’s a stupid mode. If nobody is caring about you, you better care about yourself. It’s just common sense.”
While Murray articulates no specific plans for the future — “whatever God has in store for me,” he says serenely — it’s clear he will stay connected to one mission or another. (His official retirement party on September 18 at the Century Plaza Hotel will be a fund-raising dinner for the K-8 school he helped build, the Cecil Murray Education Center.) One thing he is tracking as a kind of cause-in-waiting, something that makes him nervous, and that he refers to as “the incident” — the Stanley Miller police beating this past June in which LAPD officers caught and savagely beat a black suspect while a news video camera recorded it. This time the police chief, Bill Bratton, was immediately contrite, and this time there were no fires in the hood. Not yet, anyway. Murray worries that a dogged apathy about things like police beatings of black men will prove more incendiary in the long run — and perhaps the short run — than bricks hurled through windows or lit matches tossed in trash cans. “Americans are shockproof now,” he says. “And for blacks, it’s a protective move, a result of a battle fatigue that we’ve had for generations. The way we deal with it all is to go into denial. It’s easier to ignore these problems than to fix them.” True, but Murray’s black critics say the pastor has often failed to carry the hard truths like racially skewed stats on unemployment, imprisonment and police beatings to white business and institutions for fear of losing the favor FAME has curried so well since ’92. At the idea that he is soft-selling race, Murray bristles and finally loses patience.