Here’s a lesson in the wages of appeasement.
When the manhunt for Christopher Dorner got desperate, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck panicked and announced that he planned to reinvestigate Dorner’s firing which the former cop, according to his Facebook manifesto, blamed on racism.
Beck insisted that the new inquiry wasn’t intended to appease the man being sought for multiple murders, but was instead initiated to address what he called “the ghosts of the LAPD’s past.”
It was a foolish thing to do. Out came the crazies who’d just been granted legitimacy by Beck’s so-called reinvestigation. Their outpouring of sympathy was accurately described by Ta-Nehisi Coates, in The Atlantic, as:
an attempt to redeem Christopher Dorner’s murderous rampage. These redemption narratives, from what I can tell, are a mish-mash of cynicism, anger and left-wing populism.
To bolster his point, Coates links to a Mediaite story about a panel discussion on CNN:
Two of CNN’s panel guests said that Dorner’s murder spree exposed the issue of “police brutality.” One contributor said that Dorner’s escapades reminded him of watching “Django Unchained in real life.” …
“There’s no waste here, though,” Marc Lamont Hill, host of HuffPost Live and associate professor with Columbia University, interjected. “This has been an important conversation that we’ve had about police brutality, about police corruption, about state violence.” …
Hill later said that the Dorner exposed the corruption within the Los Angeles Police Department.
Thanks to the 1965 and 1992 riots, as well as movies like L.A. Confidential, most people know that the LAPD was historically hated in L.A.’s black communities. And for good reason. The breathtaking extent of the brutality decades ago was only part of the problem. There were also daily civil-rights violations committed with disturbing casualness.
By degrees, Los Angeles of the 1950s and ‘60s was as segregated as say, Selma, Alabama—something that I, a white male growing up in mid-city L.A. then, was wholly ignorant of until I researched my true-crime book L.A. ’56: A Devil in the City of Angels, about the manhunt for a black serial rapist who terrorized the city’s lovers’ lanes throughout the summer of 1956. What I learned was that those “ghosts” Chief Beck spoke of are scarier and more numerous than almost anyone unaffected by them at the time can imagine.
Part of my research entailed reading archived issues of the city’s two black weeklies from that era, the (now defunct) California Eagle and the Los Angeles Sentinel. Like the crime spree described in L.A. ’56, the stories these papers covered were rarely, if ever, published in the “white” dailies of the era (Times, Mirror, Herald-Express, Examiner). So the average white resident of Los Angeles (like me) could continue to think of his still burgeoning city as a little bit of heaven because he missed, for example, the woeful tale of Wilson White.
A black WWII vet who’d lost his sight in battle, Mr. White was leaving a Blinded Veterans Association gathering at the American Legion Hall when LAPD cops dragged him from his car, accused him of public drunkenness and resisting arrest, and beat on him in full view of others.
His wife, her broken ankle in a cast, jumped from the driver’s seat and pleaded with the (white) cops to stop attacking her defenseless husband. In response, they handcuffed her from behind and made her walk without crutches. A jury found Mr. White guilty of disturbing the peace.
Then there was the partial paralysis of Willie C. Washington, caused by an off-duty cop who, without warning, whacked him from behind then pinned the fallen man’s face to the street with his boot; the beating administered to Norva Hill by cops who followed her to her residential hotel; and the re-arrest of two teenage boys, on the courthouse steps, for marijuana possession by the original arresting officer who three minutes before had angrily watched a judge dismiss the charges for lack of evidence.
And so on, just from summer 1956. I came upon so many stomach-churning stories like these (including cross burnings) that I ended up using selections from several as standalone chapters in order to better depict the time and mood. All, as it happens, were of a piece with the infuriating saga of Todd Roark, one of my book’s main characters, a black former LAPD cop who’d been fired for dating a white woman just before being wrongly accused by cops who wanted to believe that he had committed these horrendous crimes. Though clearly exonerated, his life was ruined by the accusation.
When L.A. ’56 was published last April, my first book signing was at Eso Won Books, in Leimert Park, a historically black section of town. About 50 people showed up, 45 of them black. I spoke for a while and explained, among other things, how I had come to hear this otherwise unreported story from the man who’d cracked the case, Mexican-American detective Danny Galindo, whose career stretched from the Black Dahlia to the Manson murders. Then I asked if there were any questions.
A black man of about 40 raised his hand. “I just want to say thank you,” he said, identifying himself as a resident of the inner-city. “For years my parents told me how bad things were back then, and I just never believed them. Now I do.”
Whatever else this man’s comment might have meant, it strongly suggested that today is not yesterday and that the “ghosts of the LAPD’s past” played no role in the firing of Christopher Dorner. Chief Beck ought to have let them rest in hell.
Let that be a lesson.