Los Angeles’ Black Officers Divided over King Beating
LOS ANGELES (AP) _ The largest organization of black Los Angeles police officers says racism does not exist within the 8,300-member department. But a splinter group of black officers and an outspoken community leader say it does.
The split among the department’s 1,300 black members is yet another troublesome consequence of the March 3 videotape that shows white officers beating black motorist Rodney King.
But the video is not the sole source of contention between black and white officers. Highly publicized racial slurs made by the policemen who beat King have made the incident even more personal to black Los Angeles officers.
As the King beating continues to simmer under a nationwide spotlight, black officers are stepping forward to say bigotry is alive and well in the Los Angeles Police Department.
Last week, Officer Janine Bouey told of white colleagues leaving a calling card from the Ku Klux Klan on her windshield two years ago. Officer Carl McGill, head of the recently formed African-American Peace Officers Association, said discrimination complaints he has made during a six-year tenure have been ignored or used against him by the department.
″Nobody is acting in our behalf,″ said McGill, whose association numbers 40 LAPD members, as well as firefighters, sheriff’s deputies and other law enforcement officers. ″The racist tone is set by individuals who hold key positions. If your superior makes racist remarks, where do you go?″
Danny Bakewell, president of the group Brotherhood Crusade, said he has heard from more than a dozen ″absolutely outraged″ black officers who are afraid to come forward.
″That outrage is clearly tempered by survival and underscored by fear,″ Bakewell said. ″If they speak out, there will be clearly focused reprisals.″
Four white officers have been indicted on charges of assault with a deadly weapon in the attack. The videotape of King being kicked, clubbed and shocked with a 50,000-volt stun gun has been seen by millions of television viewers across the country.
One of the indicted officers also made racist comments that night, referring to a previous domestic dispute call involving blacks as being ″right out of ’Gorillas in the Mist,‴ a movie about ape research in Africa.
The remarks were contained in publicly released transcripts of patrol car computer messages.
The national uproar created by these incidents highlights a department that prohibited black officers from riding in patrol cars with white colleagues until 1965, more than 10 years after the U.S. Supreme Court outlawed school segregation.
Mayor Tom Bradley, who became the department’s first black lieutenant before retiring in 1961, said in an interview last week the King beating also presents an opportunity to investigate ″constant and continuing″ complaints from black officers who say they have been passed over for promotion.
Such complaints resulted in a ruling last year by the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing that the department systematically denied promotions and advancements to black officers.
At the center of the King furor is Police Chief Daryl F. Gates - an outspoken leader who was reprimanded nine years ago by the city Police Commission for saying blacks may be more susceptible than ″normal people″ to a now-banned law enforcement chokehold.
The mayor, Bakewell and dozens of other politicians and community leaders have asked Gates to step down. The chief refuses to quit.
Standing behind him is the 500-member Oscar Joel Bryant Foundation, named for the first black LAPD officer killed in the line of duty.
″We believe that during the last 13 years, the chief has provided strong leadership,″ said Sgt. James Craig, foundation president and 10-year department veteran.
″The opportunity for a black to be promoted in this department is as good as it can be,″ Craig said. ″I believe that there are individuals who have racist attitudes, but racism is not widespread throughout the department.″
He added, ″Obviously, everybody doesn’t feel the same way I feel.″
Lt. Lyman Doster does. He is a 22-year LAPD veteran and president of the Association of Black Law Enforcement Executives, which represents 15 of the department’s 17 blacks who have achieved or surpassed the rank of lieutenant.
″Do I support Chief Gates? You’re damn right I do,″ Doster said. ″When these calls of Gates being a racist come through, I can’t buy it. This is a lynch mob.″
Doster said his black colleagues ″feel a sense of betrayal and a whole lot of other things,″ about racist statements made by the white officers who attacked King.
″But I’m not going to make this a black-and-white issue of police brutality,″ Doster said. ″Police brutality can happen to anyone.″