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In the aftermath of LAPD's latest abuse scandal, a video taped beating of an unarmed, surrendered Black man, it is time to take on this illusion that LAPD has, somehow reformed itself, simply because it has had a change of “head” three times in the last ten years – when in fact, LAPD has had little change of heart. The beating of Stanley Miller, lying prone with hands behinds his back and two officers sitting on him while a third officer kicks him in the head and whacks him over the head and neck area eleven times, was a spontaneous reaction to which the officer gave little thought or analysis. It is part of the LAPD street “code.” It is part of LAPD's mentality – it is engrained in its culture. It was virtually, an automatic “a-- whipping” that everybody “on the street” knows you have coming when you run from the LAPD.

Let's stop playing games and acknowledge the “body politic” of LAPD. It is an organization that “talks” reform but has yet to comply. So much so that the feds had to bring in a monitor to oversee the process. We know LAPD is not going to do anything more than they have to do, and the police union is going to fight officer prosecution kicking and screaming. You can do all the “spin-doctoring” you want, but what is plain is that LAPD is in the midst of a culture clash. And now that the department is over its ten years of “black chief experiments,” it’s back to doing what it has always done when policing communities of color – and no greater abuse of liberties are taken than are imposed on black residents. You can kill the head of this monster as many times as you want, but the body of abuse will continue to stagger forward until the “body politic,” the politics of abuse, is gone completely.

While credit should be given to Mayor James Hahn and deputy chief Earl Paysinger for their immediate response and truthful analysis of the situation, I still don't believe Chief William Bratton gets it. He went on national television with the Mayor trying to deny comparisons to the Rodney King beating in 1991. When asked how's it not different, he essentially said that the King beating lasted longer. If that wasn't the dumbest damn thing you ever heard a police chief say…well, no. We heard something even dumber when then Police Chief Daryl Gates was asked if he was sorry the King beating occurred – he responded by saying that the only thing he was sorry about was that it was one of LAPD's helicopters that provided the light for the video tape!

The point is, despite the “dumb and dumber” comments of various police chiefs, how the hell is this act of abuse really different from any of the others? It's not about the length of the beating, it's about the spontaneity of the abuse. How, whenever LAPD is involved in a tenuous situation, abuse is always just below the surface. An engagement with LAPD is the truest demonstration of real life “Russian Roulette.” You never know what you're going to get with LAPD. You never know when the abuse is going to click in, but you know the bullet's in the gun. And no wonder folk are shooting at cops – they ain't takin' no more a-- whuppin’s. People are in “fight back” mode after years of this abuse that occurs more than we know and more than LAPD will ever admit. Cultural reform in LAPD is “politic,” not practice. The “brass” are politicking their way around the community and people were listening. I had what I thought to be a very productive meeting with deputy chief Paysinger on LAPD abuse issues. There are some officers trying to change the image, and the culture – but not enough of 'em.

The “new LAPD” is a public relations stunt and as Bratton did his PR concert around “the black leadership tour,” it became obvious that even he underestimated the level of distrust the black community had for LAPD. Nobody talks about the reform failures, the missed implementation deadlines that have been largely dictated by cultural impediments within department. The “black chief experiments” were done more to appease the black community than to bring about reform. Willie Williams, as an outsider, tried to implement reforms and was eaten alive by “the insider culture.” Bernard Parks, an insider, resisted federal oversight and, plagued by the biggest abuse and corruption scandal in the history of the LAPD, was flipped for firing too many officers (and frontin' off Mayor Hahn).

The point is, the culture survived while the police chiefs didn't. If you did a cultural audit of LAPD, if the police union would allow you to, somewhere deep down in the bowels of the department you'll still find some 24 carat cracker who'll tell you he works overtime “in the hood” just so he can “knock some black heads” (one actually said this). You'll find, deep down in the bowels of LAPD, some Black, Asian or Latino peons who think they have something to prove to “the culture” that they're “blue enough” to back up their white partners. Abuse in LAPD is not just a “white cop, black suspect” proposition. Remember, the principle culprits of the Rampart scandal (Officers Mack and Perez) were both black. Abuse in LAPD is about a transformation that takes place upon indoctrination that transcends a sense rightness and responsibility when criminal justice “theory” becomes criminal justice “practice.” Notice, in the Stanley Miller beating – which many are calling Rodney King II – no officer reached out to stop the abusive whacks. Just like in the King beating. Somebody might have said, “That's enough, boys,” but the “culture” has an unspoken code about interrupting an officer when he's (or she's) “getting their beat on.” This is what it is and there's no degree of “spin” that's going to change that reality.

The real reality to LAPD is we've spent so much time trying to “kill the head,” in changing the chief every five years, that we haven't done very much to “kill the body,” the body of abuse deep inside the culture. The mindset of LAPD's abuse culture is no longer in the head – it's in the body. Former heavyweight champion Joe Frazier once said, when asked how he planned to beat Muhammad Ali, “If you kill the head, the body will die.” Joe Frazier obviously never had to fight the “body of abuse” in LAPD. This is one monster that, year after year, keeps staggering forward. 

Anthony Asadullah Samad is a national columnist, managing director of the Urban Issues Forum and author of Souls For Sale: The Diary of an Ex-Colored Man (Kabili Press). His upcoming book is titled, 50 Years After Brown: The State of Black Equality In America. He can be reached at



July 1 2004
Issue 97

is published every Thursday.

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