On April 17, a federal jury convicted two of four Los Angeles Police Department officers charged with violating the civil rights of motorist Rodney G. King. The guilty verdicts came nearly one year after the officers’ acquittals in state court sparked the deadliest rioting to hit the United States in this century. Police and community leaders are now left to ponder the verdicts’ implications for law enforcement.
What message should police take from the verdict in the Rodney G. King civil rights case?
The Rev. C. Jessel Strong, Parks Chapel AME Church, Pacoima:
“First of all, the message is that they should continue to do their job, but to not be overexuberant in their duties. The public, you know, wants them to do their job and to do it on an equal basis toward all persons. . . . according to the mandates set by the guidelines of the Los Angeles Police Department.”
California High-way Patrol Chief Edward W. Gomez, commander, Southern Division:
“Everything we in law enforcement do is subject to scrutiny. The public we are sworn to serve has a right to expect us to consistently perform at the highest ethical level. If ever we fall short of meeting that expectation, and criticism or prosecution is merited, it should be appropriately conducted as the situation warrants.”
Ramona Ripston, executive director, ACLU of Southern California:
“The message for the police in the Rodney King verdict is that our community has decisively repudiated excessive use of force and other abuses that have, unfortunately, been entirely too common in the Los Angeles Police Department. The message also is that it is time for change; Chief Willie Williams should be allowed to lead, and dozens of reforms proposed by the Christopher Commission, but never put into effect, should be implemented immediately.”
Los Angeles Deputy Police Chief Mark A. Kroeker, the San Fernando Valley’s top police official:
“As the Police Department goes, in many cases, so goes the city. It’s an important lesson for all of us that to be smug is an unhealthy attitude. We need to have a healthy sense of organizational humility, recognizing that we have a lot to learn and a long way to go. But there’s another lesson. We’re living in the age of the half-read page. People tend to get superficial in their view of social events and leap to conclusions. It’s never the wrong time to do the right thing.”
Dr. Alfred Himelson, former CSUN Crime and Corrections program coordinator, and former crime and corrections research director for the Los Angeles prison system:
“It seems to me there are two messages that have to be taken from this particular case. One is that police have to be sensitive to the feelings of the community. Every police department goes through periods when they’re caught up in the pressures of the work and have to be reminded of this. But there’s another aspect of this too, that maybe people aren’t aware of: the question of how to deal with a situation like this. I’m talking about the actual pursuit and stopping of Rodney King. They have to have the proper resources to deal with the problem.”
The Rev. Zedar E. Broadous, president of the San Fernando branch of the NAACP:
“The Bible teaches that as you sow, so shall you reap. Malcolm X said that the chickens come home to roost. Police officers, some of them, have to be more cognizant of the fact that if they do wrong they will be punished. The LAPD and officers across the country must know that they are not above the law.”