March 14, 1991

Smile, you're on Candid Camera!

the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.

Edmund Burke(1729-1797)

That a black man had the s_ _ t beaten out of him by some cops is not unusual. It has been happening for as long as I can remember. It was documented in the movie Serpico. But that was only a movie and, despite the fact that it was a true story, people assumed it to be fiction.

We knew that a sheriff or prison guard in the deep south could arrest you and work you over for no particular reason other than that you had a beard or were black. Something like this might be expected in South Africa. But in Los Angeles?? A city with a black mayor??

Now, for the first time, the public got to see what goes on when some sadistic cops get a hold of a black criminal and they think that no one is watching.

This time, not only was someone watching, but he had a video camera. The man who took the video deserves a medal for both courage and public service. I hope that he comes out all right. He has made enemies of a number of heavily armed, brutal men --every sadist in the L.A. Police Department. He is an honest man and seems unaware of the danger that he has put himself in.

The man who was brutalized was not a mass murderer. He was a petty criminal who was speeding. He was breaking the law and was a danger to the public. He deserved to be arrested and jailed. Nothing that he did warranted the fury unleashed on him by the police. People would be horrified if someone treated a vicious dog that way.

That video is likely to do more to stop police brutality than any laws or court decisions could ever do. At the very least, it will make the police more reluctant to work someone over.

Up to now it has always been the cops word against the criminal. Who would you believe? Most believed the police.

I saw what a cop can do when I worked at Highland Hospital in Oakland. I watched one slap around a black man. The man wasn't even a criminal, he was the victim. It is still on my conscience that I stood by and said nothing.

You don't have to believe me. Ask any older cop what really happens. If he knows that he won't be quoted, he may tell you the truth. The truth is that anyone who isn't white can lose his life if he falls into the hands of the wrong cop.

I don't for one moment believe that the sadistic behavior of those L.A. cops is typical. The vast majority of policemen are pretty decent guys. But it is common enough that most officers would not step in and stop it. That would take great courage and, perhaps, a lack of good sense. No cop will take the side of the criminal against his fellow officer. If it's his partner and a good friend, he might say "that's enough, Fred, ease up." That is the code of behavior of a cop: you stick up for your own. Violate it, as did Serpico, and it can cost you your life. At the very least, it can insure that you will never rise in the ranks. Make no mistake about it, Mayor Bradley of Los Angeles is very aware of that code, having been a policeman. The good cops protect the sadists just as the good physicians protect the butchers.

There can be only one way to deal with this incident: the same way that we would deal with any other violent crime. The men who did the beating should be discharged from the police force, charged with felonious assault and sentenced to a prison term. The officers who watched should, at the very least, be suspended(without pay) as should the sergeant in charge, who should also be demoted to patrolman.

The public will no longer take the cops' word for what happened when a prisoner is badly injured in the course of an arrest. The charge of police brutality will no longer be poo-pooed. When a prisoner is injured in the course of an arrest it will be up to the police to show that they were not responsible and, if they were responsible, that it was necessary. No longer will resisting arrest or he fell down the stairs be accepted as an automatic excuse for a badly injured prisoner.

If little is done about this crime, I would expect that L.A. will get a new mayor and police chief at the next election.

This one man with his video camera, and the fact that the video was aired on national news for the whole country to see, will change how prisoners are treated. It is an event of great importance.

Some will say that this will reduce police effectiveness. Nonsense! I can't see how not allowing a cop, whose boss, spouse or kids gave him a hard time that morning, to take his anger out on a prisoner will effect law enforcement at all. He can chop wood or punch a bag like the rest of us have to do when we're angry.

Tolerating a sadistic cop diminishes the police as well as the society in which we live; just as the police in Nazi Germany and Stalin's Russia diminished those countries and its people.

I hope that we continue to take incidents like this seriously. Like the Nazi holocaust, this one should not be forgotten. People with power must be held fully accountable for how they use that power.

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