Aug 12, 2002
Some police “experts” now say that the widely televised videotape of the police beating of a teenager in Inglewood, California doesn’t tell the whole story. They claim that surveillance tapes of the gas station where the incident took place may show that Donovan Jackson, the teenager, struggled with the cops before the filming began – which according to them, justifies the brutal treatment he received from the cops.
This is obviously nothing but the same kind of cover-up we see again and again in similar incidents of police brutality. Of course, there are two sides to every such story, and it is true that not all details of the incident were captured on videotape. But what’s seen in the tape and the basic facts about the incident certainly give us a good idea about the nature of the confrontation between Jackson and the cops.
The cops say that Jackson violently resisted their orders and, fearing for their safety, they used force to subdue and handcuff him. Jackson is a 16-year-old who weighs 136 pounds and looks young for his age. Who in their right mind can believe that it would take four grown men punching and choking a slight-built teenager, to the point of making him unconscious, to calm him down? Jackson’s family says that he suffers from a hearing disorder, which often delays his reaction when he is spoken to. Whether this was a factor in the confrontation or not, one thing is clear: the cops’ approach was not to try to communicate with Jackson. Their attitude was to hit first and ask questions later.
But there is more to this incident than a few brutal cops getting violent. The attitude of the cops’ superiors in the police department and the district attorney’s office, both before and after the incident, explains why acts of police brutality are so common – not just in Inglewood or in L.A., but in all cities across the country.
In Inglewood alone, there have been more than a dozen complaints of police brutality in the past two years. Not a single one of these cases has been prosecuted. Jeremy Morse, the cop who’s seen in the tape slamming a limp, perhaps even unconscious and handcuffed Jackson face-down on the trunk of a car and then punching him, was mentioned in at least six such complaints. Just two weeks before the Jackson beating, for example, Morse took part in another beating which almost killed Neilson Williams, a 32-year-old black man. According to witnesses, Williams fully complied with the orders of Morse and other Inglewood cops who said they wanted to search him. But the cops still beat and choked Williams, to the degree that medical workers who treated Williams first thought he would die. Williams’ family filed a complaint and organized a protest, but the incident was ignored by the police department as well as the media. Neither Morse nor any of the other cops were charged with crimes; they were not even reprimanded.
The response of the authorities to the Jackson beating would have been the same without the nationally broadcast videotape. Just look at how they have tried to avoid the issue. Morse was suspended but with pay, and the D.A.’s office gave four of the six cops involved immunity from prosecution for their grand jury testimony. All four, two sheriff’s deputies and two Inglewood policemen, then testified that they hadn’t seen anything. The sixth cop at the scene, Morse’s partner Bijan Darvish, wrote in his report that Morse “assisted Jackson to his feet.” In other words, all of the other cops denied seeing Morse slamming Jackson while the videotape clearly shows at least three of them standing around Morse when he did that. So why did the D.A. give these cops immunity? They didn’t provide evidence against Morse. The D.A. was simply trying to protect them. Almost two weeks after the incident Morse and Darvish were finally indicted, but only after the black community, accompanied by well-known activists such as Al Sharpton and Congresswoman Maxine Waters, organized demonstrations and press conferences to express their outrage.
We hear it said that not all police officers are brutal, racist psychopaths. That may be true. But many cops are. And they, on a daily basis, attack people in the working-class neighborhoods of every American city. What the media reports about is the tip of the iceberg – those extreme cases when someone is killed, for example, or when the incident is filmed. The real question is, why are these cops allowed to get away with this kind of brutality? Why are they so easily given immunity? Even if a few of these cops end up being prosecuted, why do all they get is usually only a slap on the wrist? Effectively the authorities – police brass, D.A.s, judges – encourage police terror in the streets.
Those who take the wealth produced by the working class for their own account, maintain this society of exploitation and impoverishment with a state apparatus that keeps order through intimidation and brutality – that is, through terrorism carried out by the state apparatus.
The police act like an army of occupation in many working class neighborhoods because that’s what they are.