Why Minority Cops Are Afraid to Speak Out : Police: It’s the Code of Silence, enforced by fear and conditioning, says a black, female former officer.

<i> Brenda Grinston resigned from the Los Angeles Police Department in November, 1985</i>

Why did 18 out of 18 Los Angeles Police Department officers, 10 of them rookies, stand and watch the Rodney King beating, and do nothing about it? Why did three California Highway Patrol officers, who were upset enough with the beating to report it to their supervisors, fail to intervene in a savage attack that could have been fatal?

Why do all the LAPD minority police officer associations join in supporting Chief Daryl Gates? Why have they remained silent in the face of events like the King beating, even though they know that the beating was no aberration, and they know that it had a racial motivation?

I know what many of these officers are really thinking, because I am black and female, and a former Los Angeles police officer.


In the LAPD’s North Hollywood Division, I experienced more terror and racism from the police brotherhood and administration than I ever did from suspects on the street. The racism was built into the department’s system.

For instance, I worked under a lieutenant who was assigned to a division that had no ranking black officers. At his previous station, where there were ranking black officers, the lieutenant had been a member of a white-supremacist group.

I saw overt, blatant hatred for the black constituency we were supposed to be serving with equality under the law. This was clear from comments, ethnic jokes and even physical abuse. White officers treated me like a suspicious outsider.

As for the reasons why none of the officers who witnessed the King beating made an attempt to intervene, and why minority officers have remained silent about the affair, I think I know the answer. It’s the code of silence, enforced by fear and conditioning.

All minority officers are continually faced with the question: “Which side are you on?” They all know that when an officer finally gets fed up and comes forward to speak the truth, that will mark the end of his or her police career. The police profession will not tolerate it, and civilian authorities will close their eyes when the retaliatory machinery comes down on the officer.

Still, an occasional officer, like Don Jackson in Long Beach, will try to expose police brutality. It is very hard for a minority officer to stand by and watch another minority person abused, without thinking that the same thing could happen to you if you were in street clothes and could not get the words out fast enough that you were a fellow officer.

Worse yet is the conditioning. The first time an officer sees an act of brutality is usually in his probationary period, like the 10 rookies who watched the King beating. During that period, the officers can be terminated on a poor evaluation, with virtually no job protection.

A probationary officer will usually be silent rather than risk his or her career. Thus, one of the rookies at the King beating questioned one of the attackers about the severity of the violence--but did not report it to anyone.

Once the officer is silent after witnessing a crime or, worse yet, files a report with false or misleading statements or omissions to protect another officer, it is no longer possible to speak out without self-implication.

There is no doubt that police officers have difficult and often dangerous jobs. But it is also true that police officers have great power over the public that hires them.

It is bad enough that the public has to suffer violent crimes. People should not also have to fear being terrorized by their public servants. Police standards of behavior cannot be set at the lowest common denominator--that is, by the behavior of the worst elements of society.

The African American Police Officers Assn. spoke up several weeks ago, holding a press conference and declaring that officers were afraid. Other officers have given sworn statements to the court, declaring that many officers are afraid to tell the truth.

But the press and public have largely ignored them. The officers’ fear, therefore, is fully justified. The community, the police and the Christopher Commission want these minority officers to come forward and tell the truth--but the likelihood is that if they do so, they will be at considerable risk, putting themselves at the mercy of those they accuse.

It’s not hard to understand. If it was your spouse who worked for the LAPD, and the income was essential to the welfare of yourself and your children, would you want your mate to take that risk?