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Just Bad Work by Cops, Not Racism

Not that anyone asked, but from where I sit, nearly everyone associated with the televised police beating of a car thief is desperately in need of some sage advice.

So here goes:

First of all, LAPD Chief William Bratton went on CNN and broadcast to the whole world that community activist Najee Ali is “one of the biggest nitwits in Los Angeles.” The next day, Bratton apologized.

You’d think an East Coast guy with Bratton’s swagger would have the courage of his convictions. If Najee Ali is a nitwit, he’s a nitwit.

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Don’t pull your punches, Bill.

Speaking of which, it seemed to me that Bratton was really trying to tell us that L.A. Mayor Jim Hahn, not Ali, was the nitwit. It was Hahn, after all, who appointed Ali to a commission that’s supposed to look into the beating.

Ali, it turns out, is himself the subject of a police investigation for allegedly hitting a car head-on and then running into the Magic Johnson theaters.

Maybe he was late for the movie.

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When Hahn was asked about the Ali case, the correct response would have been:

“Sorry, I didn’t know about it.”

Instead, Slim Jim said, oh yeah, he knew about Ali’s little jam. But the mayor wanted the “broadest range of viewpoints” on the beating.

Here’s a viewpoint, Mr. Hahn:

We don’t need another panel of the usual suspects every time there’s a problem in the city. We particularly don’t need one that looks like a sad attempt to salvage a few votes south of the 10, which isn’t going to happen, anyway.

Wanna know what we do need?

A mayor.

Someone who can stand up and take charge without assembling a committee that has no expertise and even less authority.

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Did the televised tuneup have racial overtones?

Of course. How could it not in the city of Rodney King?

But as I saw it, the attack on suspected car thief Stanley Miller, who is black, did not appear to be racially motivated.

I don’t recall this level of community outrage and political grandstanding in February when the televised car chase of a white suspect ended in a way that made the flashlight beating of Miller look like a World Wrestling Federation exhibition.

Nicholas Hans Killinger, 23, became target practice for LAPD officers who thought he was armed (which he wasn’t), and thought he was trying to ram a police car (which he did not appear to be doing).

Killinger ended up with eight bullet holes and spent the night in the morgue. The fact that he was white suggests that every now and then, L.A. cops get a little overzealous, and not necessarily with regard to race.

By pandering as he has in the Miller case, Hahn gives weight to the idea that Miller got beaten up because he is black rather than because he was running from the LAPD.

And then Bratton emerged from a breakfast meeting with the Rev. Al Sharpton -- a momentous occasion, considering that both men were able to fit their heads into the same room -- and proclaimed that the beating was not an L.A. issue.

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Huh?

No sir, said Broadway Bill.

It was a civil rights issue, and a national one, at that.

Yeah, they’re on pins and needles in Omaha and Tallahassee, waiting to see how this one turns out.

(By the way, Najee Ali was at the same “national civil rights” breakfast, which had to make for an awkward moment or two. If I were Bratton, I’d have broken the ice by saying, “Pass the butter, nitwit.”)

Speaking of nitwits, some readers have been clamoring for me to apologize for my swift judgment against the arresting officers, now that the cops at the scene are claiming they thought Miller had a gun.

Glad you asked.

First of all, what did you think the cops were going to say after this thing went big? They thought Miller had a Dodger Dog?

This was just bad police work, start to finish. The first cop got things off on the wrong foot when he caught Miller, but then holstered his gun.

I’d have pointed the gun somewhere between Miller’s eyeballs, and I would have kept it there until the other officers arrived, put Miller down and cuffed him.

Instead, two cops were cuffing Miller when the third arrived, and it’s right around this point that officers say they thought Miller had a gun, which, they claim, turned out to be wire cutters.

All right, let’s think about this.

Cops are led on a 30-minute car chase, so we know they’re not happy. Then the perp stops his car, bolts, and the officers are forced to run after him, so now they’re really ticked off.

They catch him, though, and once he’s down, they think he’s got a gun.

Do they shoot him?

No.

Do they even pull their own guns?

No.

They go after him with a flashlight.

That’s right. I’m supposed to believe that although they thought Miller had a gun, no officer drew on him, and they decided to simply administer “distraction” blows with a flashlight.

Yeah, I guess it’s possible, but what do they take me for?

A nitwit?

*

Steve Lopez writes Sunday, Wednesday and Friday. Reach him at steve.lopez@latimes.com.


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