Long before we heard the name of Rodney King, the cries of the African American and Mexican communities that they were being victimized by racist LAPD officers fell on deaf ears.
For years, members of these communities claimed that they were often stopped and harassed by the police for no other reason than their skin color. Their complaints also alleged numerous incidents of brutal beatings, the planting of false evidence, phony arrests and convictions due to fraudulent police reports and perjured testimony by so-called rogue and racist cops.
The failure of police managers and Los Angeles politicians to act on the complaints led to the Watts riots, many unnecessary deaths and millions of dollars in damage. The McCone Commission that investigated the riots verified to a great extent the minority community complaints about the LAPD. As a result of the commission’s findings, a few bandages were placed on a festering cancer, but no changes were made in how the LAPD was being managed and it was business as usual.
A few courageous African American officers tried to reform the department from within. For their efforts to combat discrimination and racism and to make the department more responsive and sensitive to the needs of the community, these officers were labeled as disloyal, passed over for promotion and shunned by their fellow officers.
Then came Rodney King, new riots and a new commission, which again verified, albeit on a larger scale, the magnitude of the problems confronting the LAPD. However, even if the King incident had never occurred, the millions of dollars in lawsuit settlements being paid to citizens victimized by police officers should have been a wake-up call that something was still seriously wrong with the LAPD.
The Christopher Commission recommended sweeping reforms that could have changed the LAPD for the good of all. However, without the elimination of the racist and stagnant infrastructure of the department, real and progressive reforms were doomed. Instead we got a few new bandages, which included the appointment of an African American chief of police who was in no way prepared to deal with the corrupt and racist infrastructure that is at the heart of the problems of the LAPD.
And then came O.J. Simpson. It is remarkable to me that so many people can minimize the issue of racism and what role it should occupy in the Simpson trial.
When LAPD managers became aware years ago of the racist and dishonest tendencies expressed by Officer Mark Fuhrman and not only failed to remove him from office but actually promoted him to detective, the die was cast.
The Simpson defense team’s discovery of Fuhrman’s tape-recorded conversations with a writer exposes once again the magnitude of the cancer of racism eating away at the LAPD. The tapes appear to verify the minority community’s consistent complaints of being targeted and victimized by racist officers. Given this history and Fuhrman’s record, no defense attorney in his right mind would fail to exploit the possible role of racism and corruption in the case.
The highly touted commitment of the department to end racism and discrimination within the LAPD was dealt a severe blow by the support showered on Fuhrman. The president of the Oscar Joel Bryant Assn. of African American officers, Sgt. Leonard Ross, was the only LAPD member to publicly accuse Fuhrman of being a racist. As a result, Ross was called disloyal and ostracized.
The May issue of the Blue Line, the Police Protective League’s newsletter, paid homage to Fuhrman with glowing comments about how he had brought credit to the department with his testimony in the Simpson trial. Most of the rest of the issue was devoted to castigating Ross for having the audacity to criticize Fuhrman.
In my 15 years with the department, I have never heard any union official criticize any white officer for making racist comments, even though many white officers have been disciplined for doing so. I have never heard any union official call for the end of discrimination against minority officers, but I have, on numerous occasions, heard them call for the end of reverse discrimination.
The shooting of a 14-year-old reputed gang member last month in Lincoln Heights once again exposed the magnitude of the deficiency of LAPD management. I am convinced, based on what I know of the case, that the evidence will show that the boy was not shot while handcuffed and then shot again, as alleged by some witnesses. However, knowing the record of the officer involved, one of the 44 so-called problem officers identified by the Christopher Commission, what could management have been thinking of when they assigned him to a gang detail?
Over the years, I have had personal knowledge of officers committing perjury and fabricating as well as suppressing evidence when it suits their purpose. Far too often, when these acts of criminal misconduct are brought to the attention of the department, no action is taken. The City Council pays for police misconduct with our tax dollars and takes no steps to ensure that misconduct was corrected. As long as there is no serious and concerted attempt to correct the systemic problems that plague the LAPD, no one should be surprised when history continues to repeat itself.