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Rage in wake of LAPD shooting

Devin Brown and Stanley Miller

From Saskatoon to LA, people are resisting police abuse

California Protest

The Black community came together last Tuesday - youth with community, religious and political leaders. Councilman Bernard Parks, the former police chief who is running against incumbent Mayor James Hahn, noted several events that have infuriated the community. "That's why you get the anger. At some point, it boils. And if you're not there right now, you're getting close," he said, according to the LA Times.

At a highly emotional community empowerment summit held last Tuesday night at Bethel AME Church, religious leaders from various faiths came together to urge infuriated members of the community not to riot following the death of Devin Brown, who was shot multiple times by police early Sunday morning after leading officers on a brief car chase that ended near 83rd Street and Western Avenue when Brown, an eighth-grade honor student at Audubon Middle School, backed the car he was driving into a police cruiser, prompting officers to shoot.

That incident, along with District Attorney Steve Cooley's decision last Thursday not to prosecute the officer who beat Stanley Miller with a flashlight during an arrest, and last month's $1.6 million jury award to former Inglewood officer Jeremy Morse, have triggered disgust in the Black community for law enforcement, which some say surpasses the level of frustration and despair felt after the Rodney King verdict that lead to the 1992 civil unrest.

The sense of hopelessness and anger led many Black leaders to fear that a riot could break out in South Los Angeles at any moment, even as Bratton moved quickly to release a new policy on officers shooting into moving vehicles.

Devin Brown

"We have been sent a message that we cannot get justice," said Minister Tony Muhammad, western representative for the Nation of Islam. "It is a messed up message to young people who are going to start taking justice into their own hands. We are now going to have a problem between the Black community and the police, where there is already tension.

"We could have an all out war. I say they shouldn't do that," Muhammad added. "What we need to do is rally and come together to show the world that here is a democratic society that prides itself on giving others human rights, but not here at home. We go and beat up dictators all around the world, but we can't get justice here in America."

The Rev. Charles Steele Jr., president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, who was visiting Los Angeles from Atlanta, showed support and pledged to organize marches and "do whatever is necessary" to bring justice. Supporting the economic boycott, Steele said the SCLC will not hold its annual convention in Los Angeles until justice is served.

"We are here to help you take care of business," he said during the empowerment summit at Bethel. "You can't expect a system that enslaves you to save you."

Ministers and members of the community were expected to meet yesterday to discuss the details of the economic boycotts.

The Rev. James Lawson, director of the local branch of the SCLC, said murders like Brown's occur four times a week in this country, "proof that lynching is still going on. This can be stopped, and it is up to us to make Devin Brown's death the last. The city council needs to just tell the police department to kill no more children."

LAPD Chief Richard Bratton

In an interview with the Wave, Bratton urged people not to take matters into their own hands and called on community leaders to be careful in the words they use.

"I am asking community leaders, particularly those on the radio, to temper their remarks because we have a potentially volatile situation," he said. "Why would anyone who is interested in seeing justice done, who lives in the city and cares about the people, want to incite people needlessly? I've heard some of the rhetoric and while I can appreciate the emotion behind them, these are thoughts best kept to themselves rather than try to stir up others (to riot), because in that situation, everyone loses."

Bratton was referring to speeches such as the one given by Bo Taylor, a former gang member and founder of Unity One, a street ministry negotiating gang truces, who said during a meeting of the Police Commission Tuesday that war is on the horizon if the LAPD does not change tactics and start respecting Black and Brown life.

"Many of these kids have nothing to live for, and they aren't afraid to die," he said. "You wanted a war on gangs, Chief Bratton. Well, you are going to get what you asked for. You're on your way out."

Assistant Chief Jim McDonnell said at that meeting there may already have been an attack on police. Just hours before Brown was shot and killed, 77th Street Station may have been the target of a drive-by shooting. McDonnell said the incident is still being investigated, and it is unclear who was involved, what was the motive and who was the target. No one was hurt. Shell casings were recovered near the station.

Minister Muhammad said the shooting of Brown could have been retaliation by officers for the shooting near 77th, a statement Bratton finds hard to believe.

"I just don't buy that," Bratton said. "The officers (involved in the Brown shooting) were from Newton (Division), not 77th. The issue is what happened when the car (Brown was driving) finally stopped."

Bratton said that under his watch the department has made progress, including tightening the rules governing when officers can initiate a pursuit.

"We looked at how we conduct pursuits, and since making those changes we have seen a dramatic reduction in pursuits," he said. "Secondly, we have totally revamped the use of force investigations, making them more transparent."

He said officers are being trained to follow the California Highway Patrol's car chase procedures, including the use of spike strips that puncture tires to immobilize fleeing vehicles as well as being taught how to use their patrol cars to make fleeing vehicles spin to a halt, often called a pit maneuver.

Bratton has also set up a new LAPD unit to investigate shootings.

The final piece of the puzzle, which Bratton planned to discuss with the Police Commission Tuesday, is how to handle a suspect once a pursuit has ended.

The chief said he is concerned about how the Brown shooting and Miller's arrest will affect his strained relationship with the Black community.

From the moment he was sworn in, Bratton has made it a priority to heal the relationship between African Americans and the police department and has made some progress, according to Black leaders. However, that relationship is being tested.

If Bratton does not recommend the dismissal of at least one officer, said Los Angeles Urban League President John Mack, Bratton will be taking a giant leap backward. "It will hurt. It will hurt a lot," Mack said.

"I think that our relationship is always going to be tested by these events, but I think there is a sense of honesty in trying to address these issues, and I think our relationship will help us move forward with solutions," Bratton said. "My focus will continue to be informing the public on the process - in other words, being transparent and always be willing to speak, whenever asked, on the issues. As you talk with John Mack, Minister Muhammad, Ms. (Geraldine) Washington of the NAACP, I hope you hear they have felt well informed. They may not be happy with what they are hearing, but I'm not going to sugarcoat it. I tell it like it is."

He should have plenty of opportunities. The Black community is calling on Bratton to come to South Los Angeles and talk with the public face to face.

"My community is in upheaval, and there is a lot of confusion and outrage over what has happened," said James Harris, a member of the Southwest Neighborhood Council. "Since this happened under Chief Bratton's watch, he needs to come to the community, to (zip code) 90047 - that is, if he is the leader he says he is."


Police official: LAPD lacks money to train officers in new shooting policy

LOS ANGELES - The Los Angeles Police Department doesn't have the money to train its officers in implementing a new shooting policy adopted in response to the killing of a 13-year-old boy, an assistant police chief said.

The Los Angeles Police Commission adopted the policy Wednesday in response to the Feb. 6 killing of Devin Brown. The boy was fatally shot by an officer after police said he crashed and then backed the stolen vehicle he was driving into a patrol car following a brief chase.

The revised policy prohibits officers from firing at a moving vehicle unless the officer or another individual is threatened with deadly force from a source other than the moving vehicle.

"An officer threatened by an oncoming vehicle shall move out of its path instead of discharging a firearm at it or any of its occupants," according to the new policy.

The Los Angeles Police Department lacks the money to train its 9,100 sworn officers to carry out the new policy, Assistant Chief Sharon Papa said Thursday.

"There's no way we can do this within the existing budget," she said, adding the City Council would have to provide additional funds.

Training would start with the 3,400 patrol officers who are most likely to be involved in pursuits and other encounters involving vehicles. Its cost is expected to be calculated within six weeks.

The first step in the training begins this weekend with a videotape of Chief William Bratton explaining the new policy. The video will be shown during daily roll calls throughout the city.

Meanwhile, attorneys with Johnnie Cochran's firm are representing Brown's family and plan to hold a news conference Tuesday to discuss possible litigation.

The news conference is scheduled to be held at Bethel AME Church, where Brown's funeral was held.

Brown family attorney Brian Dunn said a wrongful death claim, a precursor to a lawsuit, was filed Friday against the city and the officer who shot the teenager.


Finding answers
Devin Brown shooting exposes key issues

It could be weeks or months before we know what happened the night Officer Steve Garcia shot and killed 13-year-old Devin Brown, who had been joy riding in a stolen car.

But all the tinkering with police policy, all the rehashing of details will not change one fact that undoubtedly contributed to the senseless death of this young man: It never should have come to a confrontation in the darkness between a cop with a gun and a kid with a car.

This youth was on a downward trajectory since his father's death more than a year ago, but he found no safety net to help him before he ended up behind the wheel of a stolen car with an LAPD officer leveling his weapon at him.

In response to the death, Mayor James Hahn pushed the Police Commission to come up with a more restrictive shooting policy for LAPD officers. Maybe this new policy would have prevented Brown from being shot that night -- maybe not. But it couldn't have done anything to prevent the series of unfortunate events that led up to that moment.

For weeks before the shooting, Brown was skipping classes at Audubon Middle School. Was there adequate truancy intervention? Did anyone notice that Brown was flailing? Did anyone care enough to try to do something about it?

The problems exposed by this tragedy have to do with more than police shooting policy. And if we have any hope of preventing other kids from heading down similar paths, or keeping a cop from having to decide whether to shoot at a car bearing down on him, we need to fully understand what happened in the last year of Devin Brown's life.

If city leaders want to make a difference, they need to examine all aspects of the case. Surely, with all of the commissions in Los Angeles, one more could be impaneled that would examine the culture that Devin Brown lived in and the educational and social services systems that were supposed to help him.

We must learn from incidents like this so they don't happen over and over. Nothing would be a better tribute to his life than to have better answers for troubled teenagers in the future than the ones Devin Brown found.


Stanley Miller

With racial tension in L.A., mayor struggles to hold black vote

LOS ANGELES -- Outrage over alleged police brutality is shaking up a wide-open contest for City Hall in which an influential, if relatively small, black vote could determine whether Mayor James Hahn keeps his job.

The death of 13-year-old Devin Brown, who was shot by police after driving a stolen car into an LAPD cruiser, galled black residents who see the killing as the latest example of Police Department abuse. The Feb. 6 shooting came three days after prosecutors declined to file charges against an officer who was videotaped hammering black car-theft suspect Stanley Miller with a metal flashlight -- images that evoked the beating of Rodney King.

Bernard Parks

As the March 8 primary election approaches, community unrest carries both risks and opportunities for Hahn, a Democrat who was elected four years ago with overwhelming black support. His situation is further complicated by his decision in 2002 to push the ouster of Police Chief Bernard Parks, now the only black candidate among Hahn's four chief rivals.

Hahn is running on the city's falling crime rate. But some community leaders say the Brown shooting is evidence that, despite the statistics, not enough has changed.

In the black community, there is a "feeling that it's really not better," said the Rev. Norman Johnson, a Baptist pastor and former executive director of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in Los Angeles.

"Ultimately, this is a problem for the mayor," Johnson said.

There are, of course, factors beyond race that will factor into who wins, including accusations that the Hahn administration traded contracts for political donations and issues from traffic to troubled schools.

But the Brown shooting has brought renewed focus on police-minority tensions, an issue that troubled the city since the 1965 Watts riot.

With his re-election far from certain, Hahn's typically cautious demeanor has vanished. He demanded that the city's police oversight board rewrite the policy for shooting at moving vehicles, publicly browbeat City Council members who blocked a proposal to hire more officers and denounced the decision not to charge the officer who clubbed Miller.

Hahn's hand-picked replacement for Parks, Chief William Bratton, has been an emissary into minority neighborhoods. The proactive approach had shown progress, with some South Los Angeles ministers appealing to the public a year ago to help stop attacks on officers.

But if the mayor sees a safer city as his crowning achievement, he also hasn't hesitated to question the actions of officers in the Brown and Miller cases.

"He's playing to his base and trying to turn a negative into a positive by ... demanding quick accountability and action," said Jaime A. Regalado, executive director of the Edmund G. "Pat" Brown Institute of Public Affairs at California State University, Los Angeles.

Hahn succeeded four years ago by knitting together a coalition of largely white, moderate-to-conservative voters in the suburbanish San Fernando Valley and blacks in South Los Angeles -- a bloc he inherited from his late father, a longtime county supervisor beloved in the black community.

This time, Hahn's support among blacks had nose-dived, with many of those voters defecting to Parks, the former police chief, a Los Angeles Times poll found this month. Voters had no clear favorite, although Hahn was clustered at the front of the pack with City Councilman Antonio Villaraigosa, whom he beat in a 2001 runoff.

The major mayoral candidates this year, all Democrats, represent a rainbow of backgrounds not unlike the city itself -- Hahn has Irish roots, Parks is black, former Assembly Speaker Hertzberg is Jewish and there are two Hispanic candidates, Villaraigosa and state Sen. Richard Alarcon, D-Sun Valley.

The black vote remains crucial for Hahn -- and an important voting group overall -- even though Los Angeles' black population has been shrinking.

In the 2000 Census, the black population was pegged at 11 percent in a city of 3.7 million, although blacks accounted for 17 percent of the turnout in the 2001 mayoral race, exit polls found.

Hispanics make up nearly half the population but accounted for only 22 percent of the turnout four years ago. Why the disparity? One key reason: Of the 1.1 million Hispanics over 18 years old, about 650,000 are not citizens, the census found.

As Hahn looks to keep a foothold in the black community, Parks' challenge is to extend beyond the black community. Villaraigosa, the son of a Mexican immigrant, is courting voters outside the Hispanics and liberal Democrats who propelled his campaign four years ago. And Hertzberg and Alarcon are trying to push out of their strongholds in the San Fernando Valley.

If no candidate wins 50 percent of the vote, a likely scenario given five major candidates, the top two finishers advance to a May 17 runoff.

Villaraigosa, in particular, has been trying to avoid being pigeonholed as just a Hispanic candidate. Four years ago, he was regarded as the first Hispanic in years with a legitimate chance of winning the mayoralty.

When asked in an interview last week whether it was important for Los Angeles to have a Hispanic mayor, Villaraigosa said: "I think most people are looking for a mayor who can get things done, who can unite us around a common vision."

Some analysts say Villaraigosa's ethnic image was turned against him when Hahn ran a campaign ad in 2001 that used grainy images of a crack pipe to fault Villaraigosa for writing a letter on behalf of a convicted cocaine trafficker. Regalado called it a veiled attempt to paint the Hispanic candidate as weak on crime -- a "devastating kind of association" that shifted more conservative Valley voters to Hahn.


No criminal charges in L.A. police beating of car-theft suspect

After a five-month review, the Los Angeles County district attorney's office concluded there was insufficient evidence to charge Officer John Hatfield, who struck Stanley Miller 11 times with a 2-pound steel flashlight after a chase in South Los Angeles on June 23.

Because of Miller's attempt to elude police, the ensuing struggle and the possibility that he was armed, "we cannot establish beyond a reasonable doubt that Officer Hatfield's actions were without legal necessity," Deputy District Attorney Margo Baxter said in a report.

Black community leaders said they viewed the decision as a sign that African-Americans are receiving unfair treatment in the justice system.

Mayor James Hahn also criticized prosecutors.

"I do not agree with that decision. I saw what you saw," he said at a news conference.

Videotape taken by news helicopters showed Miller, who is black, being beaten on the ground after he appeared to surrender. Hatfield, who is Hispanic, ran up and joined other officers who had pushed Miller to the ground at the end of a car and foot chase.

The arrest was compared by critics to the 1991 videotaped beating of black motorist Rodney King by four white police officers. The officers were acquitted of state charges, sparking 1992 riots that left 55 people dead and $1 billion in property damage.

The district attorney's report depicted a chaotic scramble to subdue Miller after the chase of an allegedly stolen car that reached speeds of 100 mph. During the chase, Hatfield's partner, Officer Michael O'Connor, broadcast that the "suspect is reaching for something under the seat."

According to the report, another officer who grappled with Miller, David Hale, said he saw a small bulge in Miller's waistband and shouted "gun" during the melee.

No gun was found after the incident but the district attorney's report said police could not have known that.

"Miller had led officers on a high-speed ... pursuit in a recently stolen car and failed to comply with orders to stop and show his hands," the report said. "Miller's furtive movements during the chase led officer to believe he might be arming himself."

Another officer, Peter Bueno, later recovered a pair of red-handled wire crimpers on the floorboard of the Toyota.

However, the police report erroneously stated the tool was recovered from Miller's front pocket, the DA's report found.

The decision of the DA's office not to file criminal charges came at a politically precarious time for Hahn, who is seeking re-election this year. The black vote is considered a vital part of his political base.

The mayor, standing with community leaders at a police station in South Los Angeles, stressed that officers involved could face discipline under LAPD rules.

The district attorney's decision "points out the regrettable reality that all too often in this community we have to deal with a double standard in justice," said John Mack, president of the Los Angeles Urban League, who has been monitoring the case for the mayor.

"We want this to be again a safe but just city," said Geraldine Washington, head of the Los Angeles chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Although the criminal investigation was dropped, Police Chief William Bratton said the LAPD would move swiftly with its own investigation, which could end in reprimand, suspension or dismissal of officers if wrongdoing is found.

Nine officers involved in the chase and arrest remain under scrutiny, including Hatfield. All remain on the payroll, although six have been suspended from active duty.

Bratton called tactics used by officers during the incident "awful ... very disturbing" but said he had not made a judgment on the conduct of individual officers.

In a statement, Bob Baker, president of the police union, credited the district attorney for "even-handedness" and "not basing his decision on the sometimes shrill coverage that this case has received in the media."

"News video, shot from a helicopter, from one angle and in the dark, does not tell the whole story," Baker said. "Stanley Miller is a twice-convicted car thief who was evading arrest after stealing a car. ...The officers, who were chasing him on foot, in the dark, were putting themselves at risk. This ... is why police officers are authorized, by law, to use force if necessary."

Miller, who turns 37 on Friday, has filed a $25 million claim against the city, saying he suffered brain damage and other injuries in the arrest.

However, the district attorney's report concluded that "there is an absence of credible evidence to support Miller's contention that he was hit in the head with the flashlight."

Miller was sentenced in December to three years in state prison after pleading guilty to unlawful driving or taking of a vehicle and evading police.


Another Black man beat down by LAPD

The LAPD's attack on Stanley Miller last Wednesday was caught on videotape from a KABC-TV helicopter that shows the officer at right striking him with a flashlight at least 11 times.

A dim street light flickered on and off, a crumpled can of malt liquor rolled back and forth, and then suddenly, out of nowhere, this Los Angeles street in the heart of Skid Row was awash in a blinding spotlight. "Hey, what are you doing near that car?" growled a mechanical voice that shook the asphalt.

Last week I woke up with a start to pictures of a 36-year-old Black man named Stanley Miller with a bruised and bleeding face flashing on the TV news. In the foreground was a satellite videotaped clip of Mr. Miller being beat down by LA cops after he had been "caught" for grand theft auto in Los Angeles.

I tried to go back to sleep, but all I could do is toss and turn unable to get the picture of my father's face 10 years ago, three years ago and last year after he met with several flashlights belonging to one or more of LA's "finest." You see, my father is a Black disabled vet who is homeless in LA. He and I still talk and every so often I convince him to get a room, but his inner demons get the best of him and back he goes to the streets.

Stanley Miller was hit at least 10 times by at least one officer and who knows how many more times by the other seven officers present after he surrendered to them following a car chase. My father was hit, punched, spit at and called every name you could think of by a collective total of 36 officers of the LAPD. And of course the only reason we even know about Mr. Miller is because his attack was caught on videotape, à la Rodney King.

As a young Black man, I have had my own DWB (Driving While Black) and WWB (Walking While Black) run-ins, as all Black and brown men have had. But what folks don't know is these Nazis in uniform have been harassing and violently attacking homeless people of all colors for a long, long time - and who knows, who will ever know, because TV news crews rarely document Skid Row except when they are supporting a "clean-up" effort by the police or some other subjugator.

"We've worked too hard to build our relationship with the community to have it jeopardized by the thoughtless actions of a few," LA Mayor Jim Hahn was quoted as saying as he worked quickly on damage control for his police department.

Apparently, John Hatfield, 35, a seven-year veteran of the Los Angeles Police Department, was the officer wielding the metal flashlight. Hatfield is among eight officers pulled from patrol duty and given paid administrative assignments in the wake of the beating.

LA Police Chief William Bratton has said it appears police acted "inappropriately" in the arrest. He urged the public to withhold judgment until the investigation is complete - in other words, until the lies and cover-up are manufactured. Bratton was hired in 2002 after so much corruption and civil rights abuse of citizens by the LAPD was revealed that the city had to at least appear as if it was doing something to change the status quo.

The most hilarious part of all of this is, the attack on Mr. Miller occurred just a week after the LAPD said it had successfully implemented reforms mandated by federal authorities after the feds had identified a "pattern and practice" of civil rights violations by the LAPD.

The violent attack on Mr. Miller has spurred ongoing protests by civil rights activists in LA who have long accused the police department of discrimination and use of excessive force against people of color. "The thing that hasn't changed is the accountability level as far as police violence goes, and particularly the department's continued failure to weed out rogue cops," said former Police Commissioner Melanie Lomax.

I haven't heard from my dad for over a month. I hope he is ok. He probably isn't, but at least I hope he hasn't met with any flashlights lately.

Laurence Ashton is a member of the Youth in Media project at POOR Magazine. He is also a graduate of the Poverty Studies/Media Activism Institute at POOR . Tiny is co-editor of POOR Magazine/PNN. To read more work by PNN youth in the media go on-line to www.poormagazine.org.