Is The Inglewood Beating Really Another Rodney King?
Of course, there are obvious similarities between the beatings of Rodney King and 16 year-old Donovan Jackson. Both are black males. Both were stopped after what started out as a routine police traffic check. King was punched and pummeled by white LAPD officers even after he appeared to have stopped resisting, while a legion of other officers stood around and did nothing. The King beating was captured on videotape and ignited national rage and fury. One of those who expressed his fury was then President George Bush, Sr. He said that the beating sickened him.
Jackson was pummeled by a white Inglewood police officer after he appeared to have stopped resisting, while a legion of officers stood around and did nothing. The Jackson beating has ignited rallies and protests, and demands for a Justice Department probe.
But that's where the similarity between the two ends. Then LAPD chief Daryl Gates initially ducked, dodged, and stonewalled the King beating. He claimed it was an aberration and that the LAPD was not a racist and brutal force. At worst, maybe there was a bad apple or two on the force. But it was easy for Gates to try and weasel out of harm's way. Gates had incurred the wrath of blacks for a string of shoot-from-the-lip borderline racially tinged remarks. The LAPD also had a notorious reputation among blacks as a racist department that operated as an occupying army in black neighborhoods, while the top brass and compliant city officials winked and nodded at its at times borderline lawlessness.
L.A. police and city officials ultimately paid a colossal price for their indifference toward misconduct. Following the acquittal of three of the officers in the King beating by a jury with no blacks on it, the city exploded in an orgy of looting and burning, and mob violence.
A decade later, L.A. is still paying a steep price for the King beating. Last year, the Justice Department rammed down the throat of police and city officials a sweeping consent decree mandating the LAPD end alleged racial profiling, develop firm standards for punishing excessive force violations, and take more proactive steps to improve minority community relations.
In the case of the Jackson beating, there was no Gates to fan the racial flames and victim blame. Inglewood's police chief and mayor are African-American. They instantly branded the beating "disturbing."
The mayor promised a full investigation and then went further out on a limb and demanded that the officer be prosecuted if any criminal conduct is found. The Inglewood police department, unlike the LAPD a decade ago, has a significant number of African-American officers and officials, and has never been considered a smaller town carbon copy of the old head-knocking LAPD. The FBI also announced that it would conduct a civil rights investigation into the beating.
There are cops on many police forces that still equate enforcing the law with the old fashioned knocking of black heads. And there are still police officials who are in deep denial that their officers racially profile blacks and Latinos. The questionable shootings of some unarmed blacks by the Cincinnati police, and the Abner Louima beating and Amadou Diallo shooting by New York city cops were textbook proof that some police officers are still far too quick on the trigger. Yet, many police officials are collecting data aimed at eliminating racial profiling, have implemented extensive community relations training programs, embraced community policing, and take complaints of misconduct much more seriously.
This has done much to defuse the white-hot rage of many blacks toward the police. A Justice Department study in 1999 found that blacks in a dozen cities generally applauded the police. That sea change in black attitudes toward the police was evident in L.A. this year when African-Americans rallied behind embattled former LAPD chief Barnard Parks when L.A. Mayor James Hahn refused to back him for a second term. They credited Parks with the tough discipline of officers, a steep plunge in police shootings and use of force violations, and vastly improving relations with minorities.
In the aftermath of the Jackson beating, many blacks were even willing to give the officer accused of beating him the benefit of the doubt. They wondered out loud what, if anything, Jackson did to provoke the officers.
Though the horrendous image of Jackson being beaten by white cops was pumped into millions of homes nationwide, as was the case with King, it does not signal a return to the bad old days of lawless police officers. It should, however, send a signal to police officials that they must act swiftly and firmly against those officers who still act in a lawless manner. Remember these days there's likely to be someone with a video camera watching.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and columnist. Visit his news and opinion Web site: www.thehutchinsonreport.com. He is the author of "The Crisis in Black and Black" (Middle Passage Press).