On"Front Page" Today

This morning on the “Front Page” talk show, KJLH-102.3 FM, we took part in a lively discussion with many call-ins about the packed, standing-room only meeting of the Police Commission on Tuesday.

I’m guest-hosting the show this week with Dominique Di Prima. Our guest today was Charlene Muhammad, who also works at KJLH and writes for “Final Call” newspaper, among others.

Ms. Muhammad said many people from various LA communities—mostly African American and Mexican/Central American, but also whites, Native Americans, and Asians—came to hear Police Chief William Bratton denounce the attack by riot-gear laden police who fired “foam rubber bullets” and beat people with batons, including several broadcast journalists (officials still claim there may have been a legitimate basis for this, but I can’t imagine any legitimate reason to attack a park full of families, children, and peaceful demonstrators).

Most people at the meeting were angry at the police. Many speakers apparently also demanded that the Police Commission not renew Chief Bratton’s contract (I also read in the LA Times that a few anti-immigrant advocates attended the meeting and demonstrated outside, including the Minuteman Project, in support of the police action).

Already media reports say the number of those injured in the melee is now more than twice than was previously reported. And that police claims that “anarchist” agitators may have started the trouble may be incorrect—anarchists have fallen in number in the LA area, and the ones who are still active have denied any involvement.

So far, Chief Bratton has demoted two lead officers and is investigating the 60 officers involved. But judging by those at the meeting, and our callers this morning, there is a growing public outcry for him to be removed as chief in light of this attack.

It’s important to note, as we did this morning, that LA has had a long history with beatings, shootings, and attacks against the Black and Brown community. The 1965 Watts Rebellion was sparked by a police attack on Marquette Fry. The East LA Chicano Moratorium against the Viet Nam War in 1970 became a “riot” after police attacked a peaceful crowd. The 1992 LA Rebellion—the worse civil unrest in more than a century—was sparked by the acquittal of LAPD officers involved in the beating of Ronnie King. There is now an extremely long list of people killed by police, including unharmed grandmothers, homeless people, 13-year-old boys, even a baby in the arms of her father, and more. Most are African American and Mexican/Central American.

Yes, we need new leadership in the LAPD. But we also need to change the very culture of this entrenched institution that regardless of who’s chief maintains hostilities with the poor and vulnerable Black and Brown communities of the city.

Today, we said that police are human. That many of them have families. And that the pressures on them are tremendous and unhealthy. I know many good police officers. I have a niece that’s a police officer—I wouldn’t want her hurt (I also wouldn’t want her to hurt anybody). Most police officers need help—meaningful compensation, health care, but also counseling, drug/alcohol treatment, and training on community relationships and what to do under crisis.

We all agreed on that.

But we also agreed that they need to be held accountable for their actions. Not only that they get demoted, but charged with a crime when they beat, shoot, or kill people without cause (or for false causes, as it often happens).

A caller also evoked the memory of Michael Zinzun, rest in peace, who led the struggle against police abuse for 30 years, including the important call for a community review board. I worked with Michael in a number of demonstrations many years ago. This is now the time to renew this effort--to get the community active in insuring the police do their job without hurting or attacking our communities (unless it's true as many of us have long suspected that this is their "job").

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