Violence respects neither race nor class but has become the horrific norm in certain Los Angeles neighborhoods. The Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD), statistics notwithstanding, violence has actually increased in pockets throughout South Central Los Angeles, where the population is overwhelmingly Blacks and Latino.
America was born of violence and it is embedded in its history. Unfortunately, Blacks are its prime victims. And even though the nation minimizes and rationalizes the harm inflicted by institutionalized violence, its pernicious imprint is etched in slavery, Jim Crow, and continuing race-based discrimination.
Excessive force and other forms of violence still generally define law enforcement’s modus operandi, particularly in dealing with Blacks and the poor in high-poverty areas. Not only are there similarities between 13-year-old Devin Brown’s killing in 2005 and numerous other such senseless killings, there is also a disturbing similarity in most high-profile violence-related incidents involving Blacks. Community outrage is typically temporary with little, if any follow-up. Even those who claim to be “fed up and won’t take it no more,” are rarely involved in sustained follow-up action.
The more notorious examples of The Black community’s failing to follow-up in Los Angeles include the following cases; Eula Love, Leonard Deadwyler, Margaret Mitchell, Darryl Miller, Devin Brown, Susie Pena, Matthew Jerome Powell and Inglewood Police killing five reportedly unarmed men roughly within a year. These cases all involve highly questionable, use of deadly force by the cops. Each case caused only temporary anger and expressions of outrage, virtually nothing more.
Clearly, police violence is still a significant problem but practically without exception, cops are in a win-win situation. For example, 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 LAPD personnel matters. It should also be noted that the Police Commission found Devin Brown’s killing “out of policy” but former police chief William Bratton sided with the Board of Rights, asserting that killing was justified.
Although the federal Consent Decree between the city of Los Angeles and the U.S. Department of Justice has ended, many LAPD officers’ traditional practices continue, including a shield of silence that protects and exonerates rogue cops. Chief Bratton back-pedaled on his pledge for greater transparency by supporting redacting (withholding) the names of officers involved in shootings. Bratton concurred with the a City Attorney’s interpretation that expanded a court decision pertaining exclusively to documents to include disciplinary hearings; so much for the much heralded “reformer” William Bratton.
California’s Police Officers Bill of Rights mandates practically impenetrable protective provisions for every law enforcement officer under an investigation that could lead to punitive action. The Bill of Rights is a blatantly stacked deck that arguably, affords even some dirty cops the right to operate under the cover of law, with virtual immunity from criminal prosecution.
There has been little sustainable focus on violence prevention. Many do not realize, or acknowledge that reducing violence is ultimately the responsibility of the community. Since intervention is by definition, after the fact, there must be an even stronger focus on prevention and on-going collaboration on prevention and intervention efforts.
Very few groups or organizations address either violence prevention or intervention on a sustained basis, although Los Angeles, as in some other metropolitan areas, is now putting considerable emphasis on intervention. The Southern California Cease Fire Committee is an example of an ongoing, positive intervention group. It is an anti-violence coalition made up largely of ex-gang members and concerned others. The Cease Fire Committee provides a safe space for ex-bangers, ex-offenders, families of victims of violence, and practically anyone in need of support resulting from a violence-related situation. (The Community Call to Action and Accountability (CCAA) formed after Devin Brown’s killing and was similarly involved and focused on police abuse and violence in the Black community.) These kinds of groups are crucial because their chief purpose is to reduce the violence that ravages so many communities.
Violence in South Central Los Angeles has decreased statistically, but many residents see very little difference. Moreover, conditioned complacency lulls many Blacks into contributing to their own plight which makes strategic unified efforts to reduce violence all the more difficult.
As mentioned earlier, in certain Los Angeles neighborhoods widespread violence continues at crisis levels. As the most victimized, these areas must take the lead in fighting to reduce violence’s crippling effects’ However, these communities are in dire need of help, they cannot do it alone. The fact is, violence affects everyone and we all have some level of responsibility for its reduction. Complacency, though widespread, should not be an option.
Larry Aubry can be contacted at e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org