RACIST BRUTALITY: In 2009, should the new Los Angles Police Department Police Administration
building keep the name Parker Center given Chief Parkerâ€™s public comments regarding African-Americans.
In 2009, should the new Los Angeles Police Department Police Administration Building keep the name Parker Center given Chief Parker’s public comments regarding African-Americans?
Quiet as it is kept, there is a both concern and controversy brewing over the naming of the new Los Angeles Police Department Police Administration Building slated to open up in November. In 2004, the Los Angeles City Council approved building a new police headquarters, less than two blocks from City Hall to the tune of over $300 million taxpayer dollars.
William H. Parker’s name may not mean anything to today’s younger generation of Angelinos, but to residents of Los Angeles who were around during his reign of 1950 to 1966, especially African-Americans, he is known for his racist attitude toward African-Americans that permeated throughout the Department. Credited with putting an end to what was believed as being the most corrupt police department in the country, Parker turned the LAPD into a paramilitary organization who terrorized the City’s Black and Latino communities.
Parker is quoted in a new documentary film by Pierre Bagley on the LAPD’s history as referring to Blacks as having “flooded into the community” of South Los Angeles. “We didn’t ask these people to come here, and they’ve taken over a whole section” of the city, Parker says.
When asked about the accusation of racial profiling, Parker once responded: “Anytime a person is in a place other than his place of residence or where he is conduction business,…it might be a cause for alarm.”
The ground for the original Police Administration Building was broken in 1952 with construction completed in 1955. On July 16, 1966, Chief Parker had a fatal heart attack. Soon afterwards, the City Council, including members Gil Lindsey, John Ferraro, Billy Mills with the support of Mayor Tom Bradley, made a motion to rename the Police Administration Building “Parker Center.”
With the new Police Administration Building set to open in the fall, controversy has ensued over whom to name the new building after.
Under the leadership of the Department’s current Chief William Bratton, the L.A.P.D. has invested countless resources in trying to repair its damaged community relations.
Many see today’s L.A.P.D. as a new Department, not the same Department of the past. Hence the move to do away with the name Parker Center which for many in the City still conjures up negative memories of a chief and Department that terrorized L.A.’s Black and Latino communities.
The City Council’s Information Technology and General Services Committee recently approved a motion by former Police Chief, now council member, Bernard Parks that the new building retain the name Parker Center, “in keeping with the traditional name of our police headquarters.” That, he said, would “assure continuity.”
This after Parks’ accused the Police Commission of trying to “pull one over the Council” who is ultimately responsible for the naming of buildings in Los Angeles.
“But rather than they come up in front and say–hey we want to go through a different process as it relates to this naming–they basically sent a message to the Bureau of Engineering to ignore prior history and just don’t put his name on it and nobody will be the wiser,” Parks said. “We said wait a minute, you don’t have that authority. It’s the Council that names buildings and the Council in 67′ said this is the name of the building. So if you want to bring forth another alternative, then it should be a public process to debate it and discuss and those things that people get their say. But you don’t just quietly in the middle of the night tell workers in the city, don’t put a name on it and just let it ride.”
Former Urban League President now Police Commissioner John Mack, strongly disagrees with Parks’ accusations.
“That’s ridiculous, it’s absolutely untrue, and it’s just wrong,” responds Mack. “I strongly disagree with Councilman Parks. It wasn’t a matter of trying to sneak anything by anybody. For that matter, there are a number of big cities with police headquarters that are not named after anybody. New York for example, it’s not named after a person. The same thing is true with Chicago and several others. We should not feel duty bound to continue that tradition which frankly represented the worst–the worst in L.A.P.D. It’s bad history. It’s old history. It’s a new day with the L.A.P.D. I would hope that Councilman Parks would recognize that and be able to move past some of his personal animosity towards Chief Bratton and the L.A.P.D.”
Mack went onto explain that, “ultimately, the final authority does rest with the City Council. I recognize that and certainly, the Police Commission recognizes that. But I think that the City Council should, in the very least, welcome and request input certainly from the Police Commission. I might point out that on two previous situations since I’ve been on the Police Commission, for example, the Southwest Precinct, which is named after Homer F. Broome, one of the pioneering African-American police officers–Councilmember Parks personally reached out to the Police Commission and me to invite both our input and our support. So I find it rather interesting that he’s talking about somebody’s trying to sneak something past the City Council. To my knowledge he didn’t reach out to the Police Commission to seek our input or our thinking or recommendations regarding the new Police Administration Building. I think that certainly the Police Commission should have an opportunity to share its thoughts and recommendations regarding the new naming of a new police facility. And for that matter I think it would probably be appropriate given the situation, for the City Council to hold a public hearing and invite comments from the public and the community.”
“I think it’s so ironic that John Mack is sitting on the Commission,” responds Parks. “Now would John Mack be in favor that as the transition of the community goes forward, that in three, four, or five years a group of people determine that John Mack is not relevant so they walk over to the school that his name is on and ask that it be changed because the people there say that who’s John Mack and why should we have a school in our community named after him? I would hope that down the road that nobody shows up in ten years and says who is Homer Broome and why do we have a station named after him? Let’s take Jess Brewer’s name off of 77th. Let’s take the Celeste King statue down off of King and Crenshaw, because we don’t know who these people are. I mean these are things that are a part of the community in contemporary times but they’re not put there with an expiration date. And so if we’re going to hopefully protect what gains we’ve made in identifying who our heroes are, we can’t be selective in deciding later somebody else can take the time and say–hey you know they don’t mean anything to me.”
L.A.P.D. Sgt. Ronnie Cato who is president of the Oscar Joel Bryant Foundation, which represents the Department’s 1183 Black personnel and its communities doesn’t want to the see the Parker legacy continued.
“When I came on, Gates was the Chief, and it wasn’t that much different from Parker’s regime,” Sgt. Cato explained. “You know I watched Chief Gates when people talk about how racist the Department was and he looks with shock on his face. Like he really didn’t realize. He lived in a time warp. Gates really didn’t know how much the Black community disliked him or either he was just in denial. He really thought he was doing a good job. I mean it was the same thing. It was brutality against African-Americans that was covered up by any means necessary by white officers. Again Gates–if you stole anything, there was a zero tolerance. You got fired. But if you beat Black people–hey, it was okay, we was going to cover it.”
Sgt. Cato continues, “the course of action is that we should definitely change the name of Parker Center because historically of the racist attitude that Parker had and this Department wants to move forward and represent and reflect the community as much as we can. And so starting anew with a new building, I think we should start with a fresh new name and move forward.
“I think the Council works for the people. I think we all work for the people. So I don’t think that we can just legitimize this process unless we involved the community. So I would like to see what we do for elected officials. Let’s take it to the community and see what they have to say about it. That’s what we try to do when we want their votes.”
Stephen Reinhardt, a circuit judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, and former President of the Police Commission, last week sent a letter to the Commission’s current President Anthony Pacheco and the City Council regarding his thoughts on renaming the new Police Administration Building.
Reinhardt served as a member of the United States Commission on Civil Rights, California Advisory Committee from 1962 to 1974 and was its Vice Chairman from 1969 to 1974. He also served as member of the Democratic National Committee and as an unpaid advisor to former Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley and former California governor Jerry Brown. In 1975, he was appointed to the Los Angeles Police Commission, which he chaired from 1978 until his judicial confirmation in 1980 after being appointed by then President Jimmy Carter.
“I write to oppose the naming of the new building after Chief Parker. In addition to the racist comments regarding African-Americans…, you should be aware that Chief Parker also stated that Latinos in Los Angeles were “not far removed from the wild tribes of Mexico,” Reinhardt writes. “His bigotry knew no lines, at least as far as minorities were concerned.”
He continues, “moreover, when I returned to Los Angeles following law school in 1958, I learned that a number of people used to answer their phones by saying ‘F- you, Chief Parker.’ The joke reflected the fact that it was well known that members of the Los Angeles Police Department were tapping the phones of people in whose political activities they or Chief Parker were interested.”
One of those people whose phone lines were tapped under order from Parker include Mervyn Dymally, who at the time was serving his first term as a State Assemblymember before becoming California’s first Black State Senator, Lt. Governor, and America’s first foreign born member of Congress.
Dymally recalled how Parker once told him that he was an illegal immigrant and should go back to wherever it was he came from.
Leo Branton Jr.–the prominent civil rights and entertainment attorney whose trials include the “People versus Angela Davis”–appeared before the Police Commission to offer public comment on carrying the Parker name to the new Police Administration Building.
Branton recalled having to defend many Blacks who Parker and the L.A.P.D. unfairly targeted during those times and asked the Commission to support abandoning the Parker legacy.
On Tuesday, April 21, the Police Commission approved sending a letter to the City Council with the Commission’s position that the new Police Administration Building should not continue to bear the name of Chief Parker.
Baring any last minute public dissent requiring a public hearing to receive comments from the community, Parks’ original motion to keep the name Parker Center is scheduled to come before the full Council for a vote in the next week.
9th District Councilwoman Jan Perry at press time, had only heard from one constituent on the issue.
“I think it’s so unfortunate because we could all rewrite history,” commented Councilman Parks. “When we had this issue of let’s do something positive in the community and redo the Crenshaw Boulevard, how many Black folks said it’s more important to me to be able to cruise on ‘the Shaw’ than having a Tom Bradley image, even though he’d been the mayor for 20 years? And we found out later that Crenshaw was the one who put the covenants in the properties that we can’t live in the community.”
“The reason I did the motion is because I asked the question, when did the name come off of it, and everybody looked at the floor like they didn’t know what was going on. And I said well I don’t think you get to change the process in the City just by saying we’re going to ignore it. So I said, put a motion together, put it forward, and say that it has been the history of the city of L.A. and how we deal with this and unless something is altered, then let’s go forward with the history of the building. If I hadn’t done that, there would have been no community discourse, it would have just been a building built with no name on it.”
“So here’s a person that was put into position to turn that around and in fact change the whole governance of the city of L.A. by creating a charter that removed the police from the political process and created civil service and developed a integrity issue within the city that spread throughout the country. So when you balance all of that out, you say that upon his death, the city council unanimously, all 15 of them, named the building in his honor and also went through a community process created not only the name, but a memorial in his behalf. The issue is larger than just Bill Parker. The issue is, if the city makes that commitment to a legacy and to a family and to a person, the fact that generations later may find the person less of a role model for them or a person may find that they don’t know as much as about as they know contemporary people, do you have the ability to just strip them out of the history of the city?”
“What people are riled up about, I don’t quite understand because the name has been there for 40 years. And most people, who are around aren’t even 40 years old.”