Taking Care of Crime

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The Long Beach Police Department is under fire these days as the result of a videotaped incident in which an officer cursed at and appeared to shove a man’s face through a plate glass window for being black, wearing dirty clothes and occupying a 12-year-old car. The matter is under investigation by everyone but the Presbyterian Church and I’m certain that eventually we will learn that the officer violated basic police procedure. You never curse a suspect while shoving his face into a plate glass window.

We all know by now that the victim of the face-shoving incident was Don Jackson, a sergeant on administrative leave from another police department who was trying to show that police abuse of minorities is rampant in Long Beach, a premise he managed to illustrate with some degree of personal sacrifice. I mean, plate glass windows aren’t exactly plastic wrap. You’ve got to use a little muscle to shove a head through one.

With Jackson that night was Jeff Hill, an off-duty federal corrections officer, who was driving the car. Both men wore dirty clothes, which in itself is considered a misdemeanor in Long Beach. They were tooling along Pacific Coast Highway at a moderate rate of speed when they were pulled over by a patrol car containing Officers Mark Dickey and Mark Ramsey.


The entire incident was secretly videotaped by an NBC television crew as part of an activist group’s sting operation looking for examples of police brutality. The officers insisted later that they had stopped the car not because the men were black and wore dirty clothes but because the car was straddling lanes, a claim the television camera proved to be questionable, at best. What happened thereafter was the cursing and the face-shoving by Officer Dickey, which was subsequentely aired nationwide by NBC.

This has created an outcry by bleeding hearts who feel the incident demonstrates the basest kind of police racism, but I buy the theory promulgated by Dickey’s attorney, Michael Hannon, that at worst his client is guilty of discourtesy for cursing Jackson, an offense that deserves nothing more serious than a good finger-shaking and a stern naughty.

The attorney and others argue that Jackson set the whole thing up, deliberately goading Dickey into taking the action he took. In the first place, they say, Jackson suspiciously got out of his car when it was stopped (in cop idiom he exited the vehicle), then demanded to know why the officer had stopped him in the first place.

I hadn’t realized until now that either getting out of a car or asking why you were stopped constituted acts of aggression requiring a response just short of deadly force. I was pulled over recently by a California Highway Patrol officer who claimed I was straddling lanes on the Santa Monica Freeway. When he stopped me, I exited my vehicle instantly because I’ve been told you have to move fast in order to talk a cop out of a ticket. Once he begins writing the citation it’s too late.

Fortunately for me, I’m not black, I don’t drive an old car and I dress in a manner which, while not fashionable, isn’t considered shabby. I even made the mistake of asking the patrolman why he had stopped me which, in Long Beach, gets your face shoved into a plate glass window. Fortunately, this was on a freeway and he would have had to drive me to the Santa Monica Mall in order to reach the nearest plate glass window. As it turned out, he let me go with a warning not to straddle lanes and never again to wear a polka-dot tie with a plaid jacket.

Officer Dickey should, of course, be reprimanded for his abusive language and the Long Beach police manual ought to be revised to disallow shoving anyone’s face into a plate glass window for simple traffic violations, except in cases where the suspect exits the vehicle and asks why he is being stopped, searched and cursed.


The rest of us can do our part when in Long Beach by not being black if possible and, if not possible, by being neat and not sassing the officers and, above all, not exiting your vehicle unless dragged out by the throat. A lot of plate glass windows will be saved that way.

If nothing else, I hope the incident points up the tensions that exist between minority groups and police and in the end creates a means by which the tensions can be eased. Then we can get on to the serious business of a television series based on a white cop from one department who abuses a black cop from another department and in the end they turn out to be best friends who spend their lives fighting crimes committed by Mexicans, ole.