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Chief Talks, Listens in South L.A.

Times Staff Writers

Los Angeles Police Chief William J. Bratton went to South Los Angeles on Monday with a message for residents who have seen more than 20 killings this month.

“We do not want to come in as an invading army, a platoon of strangers,” he told several hundred people gathered to question the new chief at First AME Baptist Church. “We want to come in with authorization. We want to come in respectfully.”

For the record:

12:00 a.m. Nov. 27, 2002 For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday November 27, 2002 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 ..CF: Y 10 inches; 369 words Type of Material: Correction
Church name -- A story in Tuesday’s California section misidentified the First African Methodist Episcopal Church as the First AME Baptist Church. The church is not affiliated with a Baptist denomination.

In emotional -- and occasionally hostile -- meetings at two churches in one of the city’s most troubled areas, Bratton heard demands for more police coverage set off against reminders of the historic tensions between Los Angeles’ black community and its police. Shortly after his first appearance ended, the latest shooting -- an apparent drive-by about two miles from where Bratton spoke -- left one man wounded, police said.

Many of the South Los Angeles residents who came to meet the chief said their nerves have been frayed by the wave of killings in their community, where the city has seen nearly half of the more than 600 homicides so far this year.

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“I offer this challenge to you and to Mayor Hahn” said Qmii Jackson, who waited in line for nearly an hour to question Bratton at the day’s first meeting at Mount Moriah Baptist Church. “Do whatever you would do to stop this war if it was your neighborhood. Do whatever you would do if you lived here.”

Jackson could barely speak through her sobs. For the first time in her life, she told Bratton, she was too frightened to leave her South-Central home last weekend when she needed medicine for her 6-month-old son.

Her words contrasted with those of a man wearing a bright red T-shirt with the word “POLICE” crossed through on the front and “We ain’t guilty” on the back. He ended his wait in line by yelling at Bratton:

“You declare war on graffiti artists. You declare war on gangs, all of them kids. And now we have 20 dead and you instigated the pigs killing us. I see through you. You are sucker.”

The man then stormed out of the church before Bratton could answer.

“I heard their anger. I heard their anguish,” Bratton said of his questioners. “I heard their recommendations.”

The problem the city faces is “a lack of respect of human life” Bratton said.

During the appearances, Bratton rejected the idea of flooding South Los Angeles streets with officers. Doing so would probably raise the ire of a community with a long history of confrontation with police rather than solve any problems.

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“The easiest thing is to go in and arrest everyone in sight,” he said to the several hundred people at Mount Moriah. “But you cannot arrest your way out of this problem. We aren’t going to come in and throw every black kid up against a wall.

“We need to find a way in this city to regain trust,” he told the group, which included many local ministers. “We need to find a way to heal wounds between the police and the community.”

His eyes are open to the department’s shortcomings, Bratton added.

“There are some who are corrupt, who are uncaring, who are racist and they should not be there,” he said.

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“But the vast, vast, vast majority are caring and courageous, and I need the community to understand that.”

Challenged by one man to replace his call last week for the city to “get angry” with words of reconciliation, Bratton refused to back down.

“We need both, sir,” said Bratton, who told those gathered that their neighborhoods had seen “more than their fair share” of violence.

Bratton deflected a number of suggestions offered by community members.

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He told one woman a curfew for minors would be impossible to enforce with the current 9,000-member police force.

In one heated exchange, Bratton tried to explain why the tactics used last week in two sweeps of downtown’s skid row are not the way to combat South L.A.'s killings.

“We were specifically targeting parole violators who prey on some of the city’s homeless, some of the people least equipped to protect themselves,” he said.

“But they weren’t killing anybody,” shouted Diane Jones from a back pew.

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“I beg to differ,” Bratton responded from the lectern. “We had a murder there last week.”

“We had 20 in South-Central,” said Jones, who had told the chief earlier that she had to crawl to safety last week when one of the volunteers at her organization, Pathway to Progress on South Broadway, was shot four times.

Bratton again asked for community help in instilling values in children before they became involved in gangs. And he reminded people that much of the violence in the city was carried out by non-gang members against members of their own families.

“The community listens to you. God listens to you,” Bratton told the ministers at Mount Moriah. “I need your individual and collective voice on this issue of mindless violence.”

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When he was named chief by Mayor James K. Hahn, Bratton told The Times that he wanted to establish close ties with prominent leaders in the city’s minority communities. In doing so, he said, he would be better able to keep local leaders informed of police action and reduce the likelihood of communities’ exploding in anger.

His meetings Monday, arranged through Councilman Nate Holden and Urban League President John Mack, mark the start of what Bratton says will be his continuing presence in South Los Angeles neighborhoods.

Mack said Monday evening that he gave Bratton credit for reaching out to the community, but took note of a remark the chief made last week and urged him to apply the same standard to the department.

“My caution to him is that in urging parents to control their own kids, he heed his own advice and control his rank and file,” Mack said.

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