'We Are Moving Backward' : A Resident Despairs Over 'Law-and-Order' Tactics After the Riots

Something very depressing happened recently in my neighborhood in the Crenshaw area.

Around midnight on Friday night of the week after the riots, I heard a helicopter over my house, so I knew something was going on. I looked out briefly and noticed several small groups of youngsters, mostly kids about 11 to 14 from what I could tell, walking by. I couldn't see the helicopter, but it was close and low. It looked strange, really, because for trouble that required a helicopter, nobody seemed excited. I was busy, and I went back to work and tried to concentrate, until, under the clatter of the helicopter, I heard voices on bullhorns saying "keep moving" and "get away from there."

My husband and I looked back out the front window and saw 15 or 20 police cars with their light bars blinking, silently creeping past our house. Two other patrol cars had cordoned off our block with flares; the mini-mart had turned off its lights as if it were closed. We went out on the front porch.

I spoke to a middle-aged man who was hurrying along, maybe 20 feet behind the stragglers, hugging himself with his own arms and shaking his head. He said, "There's about 50 children up there from the skating rink. The cops are trying to confront them." Then I understood. They were "herding" a group of children down my street, like cattle.

What happened to all that talk of how much better things would be once law and order was restored? Community leaders assure us through the media that peace is restored. The National Guard is going home. But if this kind of persecution is allowed to happen in black neighborhoods, things are not going to get better--they are not even remaining the same. We are moving backward.

The police of this city have become more and more afraid of our young men through the years. Before my 21-year-old son was old enough to get his driver's license, I taught him the rules of the road: If the cops stop you, keep your hands on the dash; don't make any sudden moves; be polite and call them sir.

He's a good kid, with decent friends, and he wanted to know why. I told him the truth.

There are gangsters your age out there with guns. The police can't tell who is who. You fit the description: 6 feet 2 inches tall, 200 pounds, male, young, black, riding in a car with two or three others who look like you. Sooner or later you will be pulled over--just because. They will not be polite. They will probably make you sit on the curb or lie on the ground in your good clothes. They will go through the car. Then they will drive away and won't even give you a ticket or say "I'm sorry." They think that's the way to establish "law and order."

I went to the police to ask them what had caused them to bring out such force on that Friday night. At first the officer said he didn't know what I was talking about. Then he "remembered." They had "escorted the gangsters who hang out at the skating rink back to South-Central." I said: "The kids I saw looked pretty young to be gangsters." He conceded that maybe some good kids might have gotten caught up in it.

I wanted to ask him what the kids had done to deserve this, but I already knew--they'd stood around in a group too close to the station house, loud and laughing as kids do, trying to have fun and get their lives back to normal. I wanted to ask him if he had any idea how he'd made those children feel, but he really thought he was doing his job. I wanted to snatch him across that desk! But I kept my sweet, middle-class, concerned-citizen smile in place, thanked him for the information, and then went home and cried. If this is "law and order," God help us all!

Griffith's commentary was heard on National Public Radio on May 21, 1992. On May 22, three uniformed officers arrived at her home to investigate an anonymous tip about stolen refrigerators. They asked to look around, did so and left, apologizing for the inconvenience.

Captain J.I. Davis of the Wilshire Division of the Los Angeles Police Department said the skating rink at San Vicente and Venice boulevards has been a magnet for gangs and on numerous occasions the police have been asked to break up large crowds.

Davis said his office is investigating hundreds of tips about the location of property stolen during the riots. Although he could not comment directly about the visit to Griffith's home, he said it is consistent with department procedure.

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