We had an unusual gathering at the L.A. Times this afternoon, as County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas and City Councilman Bernard C. Parks, not the best of friends, joined journalist Erin Aubry Kaplan, USC professor Jody David Armour and me to talk about the events in Ferguson, Mo., and their implications for Los Angeles.
Parks reflected on his 38-year career as a police officer, which culminated in being named LAPD chief in 1997, while Ridley-Thomas focused on the importance of citizen oversight, a cause he is pushing at the board, where he is lobbying for the creation of a new citizens commission to oversee the L.A. Sheriff’s Department. So far, Ridley-Thomas is a vote short, but he’s continuing, and he stumped for it in our conversation. Parks and Ridley-Thomas ran against each other for supervisor in 2008 (Ridley-Thomas won), and though they didn’t exchange pleasantries today, they did share the stage politely, and Ridley-Thomas even had a few kind words for his former rival.
For all four, the violence in Ferguson – and its genesis in a confrontation between a young, black man and a white police officer – carried a dismaying sense of déjà vu. Kaplan, a frequent contributor to The Times’ Op-Ed page, bemoaned that she felt she’d been writing the same column since 1992, when Los Angeles was torn by riots after the acquittal of the officers who beat Rodney G. King.
At the same time, the panelists agreed that not all these problems arise solely from police. Armour noted, for instance, that black men commit crimes in disproportionately high numbers.
The struggle to harmonize relations between African Americans and police is hardly limited to Ferguson. It is, as all the panelists agreed, a persistent, troubling and national phenomenon.