By Besha Rodell
By Patrick Range McDonald
By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
Ten years seems like a long time. It can be half a lifetime for a young man in Watts, but it’s big movement in a department with a “checkered past,” as Bratton puts it.
“We got on them to agree to end the wanton brutality,” Rice says. “It’s kind of like getting the South to admit that lynching wasn’t okay. They no longer shield the brutality. They no longer shield the hunter-killer cops. Over the last 20 years they’ve weeded those guys out, and the ones they can’t get out, they’ve isolated and no longer cover for. It used to be that the good cops were so afraid of the underground cops that the underground cops totally ruled everything and could get away with everything, from summary executions to all kinds of stuff you’d only think could happen in a Third World country. Another thing that’s changed is the thinking at the top. It’s night and day on the sixth floor at Parker Center in terms of the attitude and openness to outsiders they consider constructive critics, regardless of whether or not the fundamental DNA of the LAPD has changed. That’s huge.
“The thing that has not happened inside the police force, that I have never had an honest discussion about, is the policing tactics themselves and whether they create more blowback than not. They agree that they can’t be gratuitously brutal. They agree they need to do everything constitutionally and respectfully. That’s at the top. I’m not saying the graveyard and patrol cops have gotten the memo yet. I don’t think that a lot of them have.”
Which is odd, because that seems like the only conversation to start with. How to stop abusing people on the bottom rung. I think somebody wrote a big essay or something on this once. Oh, yeah, now I remember, it was called the Constitution.
“The police feel so thinly spread,” Rice says. “They know they’re adding to the destruction of these kids’ lives, and they don’t wanna do it. They’re asking, ‘Can’t you give me a civic backup team? Once I put him in the system, I feel like I’m contributing to his slow death.’”
This stuff sounds really familiar. I can hear an echo of Rice’s considerations from another dimension.
“The new generation of cops,” Mauricio says, “they’re graduating and getting their fucking gun and going out there and they’re fucking rookies, so they’re trying to prove themselves. It’s like gangbanging. Putting in work trying to earn their name. Trying to earn respect. Trying to do a little dirty shit here and there.”
Like Rice, Mauricio makes the distinction between command-staff shot callers and the rank and file. He doesn’t take it personally, but it is personal.
“I don’t hate the cops. I hate the system. To the cops, I’m a suspect. They think I’m a criminal or a terrorist, a guy who doesn’t have nothing — no future in front of him, going to end up in jail, drug addict or death. They see a guy like me walking down the street and say, ‘I’m going to get this guy. He can’t do nothing. He has no lawyer, he’s nothing.’ They don’t hate me. They don’t care about me. If they’d a cared about me, they’d help me. They could tell me, go to Yo Watts, [the community program] where they get you books and help get you into college. But they don’t tell me shit.”
On the second floor of a Washington Mutual bank building, a community meeting of the Watts Gang Task Force is just beginning. Smooth operator Francisco Ortega, a policy adviser from the City of L.A. Human Relations Commission, officiates in the best blue suit I’ve seen in days. The three-minute timer he brought is a gesture. It’s relatively useless here. The stakes are too high. Too many lives hang in the balance in the precarious dance between the people and the man.
Gang interventionist Michael Cummings, a.k.a. Big Mike, gang interventionist Bow Wow from Jordan Downs, task force founder Betty Day and others sit in a circle of chairs with South Bureau commanding officer Kenneth Garner, Assistant Commanding Officer Andrew Smith and Captain Phil Tingirides from South East. They’re all here to listen. To talk and to listen.
People from different factions of the community with varied agendas sit quietly, while others draw attention to themselves with manufactured intensity. Captain Tingirides reports on crime and punishment, then absorbs the force of the blow, as community members fire at will about everything and anything, from last week’s deaths, kids, jobs, sports, summer camp, city-funded programs and random complaints to recent successes. It’s grass roots. It’s hopeful. It’s respectful. It’s productive. It’s a fucking miracle.