As a result of the May 1 melee at MacArthur park in which at least 60 innocent people were injured, heads have begun to roll. However, if the past is any indication, it is virtually a foregone conclusion that punishment will not result in prison time for any of the Los Angeles Police Department officers that attacked the innocent bystanders.
This should be a sobering thought, but in today’s culture, it isn’t. If anything, it is but a reminder of the value society places on the lives of migrants. There’s little doubt that if rally participants had clubbed any of the officers, if apprehended, they would be facing serious criminal charges. Actually, if that in fact had happened, chances are they would have been severely beaten on the spot, or on the way to jail.
If this incident plays true to form, we can expect some wrist-slapping in the form of desk duty, retraining, suspensions, demotions, possible firings and, some cash payouts by the city. There may even be talk of finally establishing civilian oversight of the police, but in the end, it is highly doubtful that any of the officers will actually be placed behind bars.
Perhaps this can be considered progress. A generation ago, those that were clubbed and shot at would have been the ones charged with attacking the officers. And yet, “serious” wrist-slapping is what nowadays passes for justice. Officers everywhere know this; at worst, it may mean a civil trial in which if they lose, the taxpayer will bear the costs of excessive force and brutality under the color of law.
These practices, because they hold no single officer or commander responsible, certainly cannot be viewed as deterrents. If anything, they condone business as usual. Thus the outrage.
While some might deem the suggestion of prison time a bit harsh particularly since the investigations are barely underway if guilty, that in fact, should be the appropriate punishment. Anything less will continue to send out the message that the lives of civilians regardless of their race/ethnicity or their citizenship are valued less than the lives of officers.
In response to the May 1 police maneuvers at MacArthur Park, LAPD Chief William J. Chief Bratton has responded by moving swiftly. Aside for criticizing the actions of his department’s Special Operation Bureau officers and calling for their retraining, he has also begun to shuffle and reshuffle commanders. For this, he is receiving intense pressure from the city’s police union, which is calling everyone not to prejudge the officers.
Indeed, no one needs to prejudge which individual officer is guilty of using excessive or unlawful force. However, residents should minimally expect the city to enforce the law. There is no law enforcement agency anywhere that permits officers to go outside of the law to “enforce the law.” District attorneys should have a zero tolerance policy regarding this matter. In this instance, unless our eyes are once again deceiving us, it appears that the bringing forth of criminal charges is appropriate; beyond losing a promotion or job, someone has to be held legally accountable for the shooting and the brutalizing of innocent bystanders, including members of the media. It is the jury who will decide guilt or innocence and the nature of the punishment.
As the broader investigations begin, the relevant questions are, Why does the LAPD have such a force, and where did the SOB officers get the idea that they could use violent and even deadly force upon innocent civilians? And lastly, is there a history of immigrant rights’ marches turning violent so as to merit the presence of such a paramilitary force?
The answers are self-evident; the fear that has gripped the nation the past few years has permitted such militarized units to flourish. And with rare exceptions, there have never been severe consequences for the illegal use of force anywhere. In this case, these were not the LAPD officers that the residents depend on and trust; they were a virtual goon squad. If we were in a different country, we would be discussing this brutality within the context of human rights violations. Actually, aside from federal supervision, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have for years been monitoring law enforcement violence against communities of color in the United States, including Los Angeles. And yet, what changes?
If no true justice is achieved, perhaps the next move is to pettition the Organization of American States or the United Nations.
ROBERTO RODRIGUEZ triumphed in two police brutality trials in L.A. between 1979-1986. He is the author of Justice: A Question of Race, a book that chronicles the underworld of police brutality. He can be reached at: XColumn@gmail.com .