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Why the LAPD's Hunt for Dorner Is Indefensible

The hunt for Christopher Dorner, which injured innocent civilians, reveals how little the department has changed.

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Mayor Bradley said he told Chief Davis that “if armed men inside police stations need protection then unarmed citizens of this city need it more – now get those men out on the streets.” Davis soon put these officers back on the streets.

Bradley was the first black lieutenant on the LAPD and the second black mayor of a major American city (Carl Stokes was first in Cleveland). He was also the grandson of a slave and the son of sharecroppers, a family history that gave him an intense interest in racial equity.
Bradley told me about the racism he dealt with as an officer, including how the department’s culture made some black officers perceive black citizens as greater threats than whites. He reminded me that one of the two officers in the fatal police shooting of Eulia Love, who had threatened a bill collector from the natural gas utility and then threw a knife in the direction of officers who were a safe distance away, was black.

Deputy Chief Lou Reiter told me in 1981 that one police captain repeatedly instructed his officers to treat all blacks as criminal suspects, which made Page One news in the Los Angeles Times. When I asked Police Chief Daryl Gates for his response, Gates compared himself to Jesus Christ and called Reiter his Judas. The captain kept on promoting his racist doctrine.

The official message is that racism and violence against innocents is not tolerated, but comments like those by Chief Gates back then and Chief Beck now send a very different signal. So does the police disciplinary system, which has allowed some of the officers involved in notorious acts of unwarranted LAPD violence, like the 1991 Rodney King beating, to rise to become sergeants, lieutenants and captains.

Racist talk by officers, including the N-word, formed part of Dorner’s  manifesto,
a diatribe that also asserted that acts of dishonesty and unprovoked violence permeated the LAPD. Chief Beck has reopened the Dorner case, promising to examine the now dead officer’s accusations. Don’t hold your breath.

A major problem that enables police violence has been chronicled by Joseph Wambaugh, the LAPD sergeant turned novelist. The first novel he wrote, “The Blue Knight,” is built around the courtroom destruction of Bumper Morgan, one helluva street cop whose aging eyes could not have seen what he testified that he saw, even though he got the facts right.

This is known as “testilying,” a theme Wambaugh returned to often in his later books. Senior officers who were appalled by testilying instructed me on its fine points, during the three years I covered LAPD management, revealing its brutality, failure to solve crimes and massive political spying operation, which included using undercover officers as agents provocateur to initiate violence.

In the months ahead we may get sworn testimony about the two Feb. 7 shootings during the Dorner manhunt. Then again, maybe not, as California has a law that protects police officers who are not criminally charged from even being identified.

The more troubling incident was the shooting in the back of Emma Hernandez, a 71-year-old grandmother who at 5 that morning was slowly driving down suburban streets with her daughter delivering the Los Angeles Times when she was shot in the back as she rode in a pickup truck with her daughter, Margie Carranza, 47. Officers coming up from behind opened fire, not taking one or two shots and then assessing, as they are taught by the LAPD, but unleashing a fusillade.

The LAPD official line is that officers mistook the women’s bright blue Toyota pickup for Dorner’s gray Nissan Titan.

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