Recently, a rash of alarming deadly violence got extensive television and newspaper coverage and momentarily, serious discussion among the citizenry. There has also been a spate of homicides in certain neighborhoods in South Central Los Angeles. Neither national nor local incidents will likely have sustainable public concern or balanced media coverage without new thinking and new leadership. Moreover, police use of deadly force against unarmed persons, Black men, in particular, has also increased with predictable complacency by the community, in and outside of the areas under siege
Violence respects neither race nor class but has long been the terrible norm in certain Los Angeles neighborhoods. Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) statistics, not withstanding, violence has actually increased in pockets throughout South Central Los Angeles, where the population is overwhelmingly Black and Latino.
America was born of violence; it is embedded in its fiber and Blacks are its primary victims. And even though America rationalizes the harm inflicted by racism and institutionalized violence, their pernicious imprints are indelibly etched in slavery, Jim Crowism and discrimination that continue in the 21st century.
Despite some progress, excessive force, generally, still characterizes law enforcement’s modus operandi in dealing with Blacks in the inner city. There is a disturbing consistency in unarmed 13-year-old Devin Brown’s killing by an LAPD officer in 2005 and numerous other such killings of Blacks since then. Painfully, community outrage is typically temporary, with little if any follow-up; even those who are “fed up, and won’t take it no more” are usually not involved following a crises.
Notorious examples, over many decades, of the Black community’s failure to follow up on police killings include these victims whose deaths still cry out for justice: Eula Love, Leonard Deadwyler, Margaret Mitchell, Darryl Miller, Devin Brown, Susan Pena, Matthew Jerome Power and Inglewood Police killing five reportedly unarmed men within a one-year period. These cases all involved highly questionable use of deadly force by the police but caused episodic, not sustainable righteous anger and corrective action
Police violence is still a significant problem and the cops are in a win-win situation: Devin Brown was shot numerous times by an LAPD officer; not only was the officer not prosecuted, he was exonerated by a Board of Rights that has final authority in personnel matters. The Police Commission found Devon Brown’s killing “out of policy,” but former Police Chief William Bratton sided with the Board of Rights, asserting the killing was justified.
Although the Federal Consent Decree between the city of Los Angeles and the U.S. Department of Justice has ended, rogue officers continue to operate under a shield of silence that both protects and exonerates them.
(Chief Bratton back-pedaled on his pledge for greater transparency by redacting (withholding) the names of officers involved in shootings. He accepted the City Attorney’s interpretation that a prior court decision pertained exclusively to documents not disciplinary hearings: So much for the heralded “reformer” William Bratton.
California’s Police Officers Bill of Rights gives impenetrable protection to law enforcement officers under an investigation that could lead to punitive action. The Bill of Rights is virtually a stacked deck that gives even dirty cops the right to operate under the cover of law with virtual impunity from criminal prosecution.
Violence prevention efforts focus too strongly on intervention and not sufficiently on prevention; both must be given proper weight. (And there is only token recognition that reducing violence is ultimately the responsibility of the community itself.) Intervention, by definition, is after the fact; there must be equal, if not greater emphasis on prevention and ongoing collaboration between prevention and intervention efforts.
Few groups or organizations provide adequate resources-people, financial or material- for prevention or intervention and Los Angeles like other large cities puts considerably more emphasis on intervention rather than prevention, a mistake, both must be given proper consideration. An example of on-going, positive intervention is the Southern California Cease Fire Committee. It is an anti-violence, peace seeking group made up of ex-gang members, mothers of murdered victims and concerned others. Cease Fire provides a safe space for ex-gang bangers, ex-offenders, families of victims of violence and practically anyone else in need of support resulting from a violence-related situation. (The Community Call for Action and Accountability, formed after Devon Brown’s killing, preceded the Cease Fire Committee but focused more on police abuse and violence prevention.) Both prevention and intervention strategies are crucial because the ultimate goal is to reduce the violence that continues to ravage many communities.
Violence in South Central Los Angeles may have decreased statistically, but many residents see very little difference today. Moreover, conditioned complacency lulls Blacks into contributing to their own plight, rendering strategic efforts to reduce violence even more difficult. As previously mentioned, in certain Los Angeles neighborhoods, violence continues at crisis levels, and as the most victimized, they must take the lead in the struggle to reduce widespread violence, especially in core urban areas. It is especially difficult because residents generally lack political sophistication and often, even hope for a better future.
Violence affects us all, not just those in the impoverished inner-city and as Blacks, we all have some level of responsibility for reducing it. Complacency is not an option.
Larry Aubry can be contacted at e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org