Los Angeles police reforms do not stop racist abuses

On May 15, a federal judge extended the Consent Decree—a federal oversight of the Los Angeles Police Department—for three additional years.

Protester holds picture of 16 year-old Donovan Jackson, brutalized by police in 2002.

Photo: AFP/Lee Celano

The Decree, which was set to expire June 15 of this year, was implemented in June 2001. It requires the LAPD to comply with 191 separate reforms aimed at correcting conditions that led to police corruption scandals. Those scandals involved officers beating and framing suspects as well as stealing evidence.

LAPD brass and city officials like Mayor Antonio Villariagosa urged the judge to lift the decree or extend only parts of it because many of the mandated reforms have been implemented. But civil rights and progressive organizations urged an extension.

The main reform not yet met requires the LAPD to develop a computer monitoring system called TEAMS II. This database would maintain records on all police officers, including complaints, arrest reports and citations, as well as their uses of force and firearm discharges. The Consent Decree mandates supervisors to check the database on a regular basis for inappropriate or illegal police conduct.

Because the LAPD failed to meet all of the decree’s requirements, U.S. District Judge Gary Feess extended the decree in its entirety, rejecting the Department’s and City’s appeals.

Routine brutality

Five years ago, the LAPD implemented the Consent Decree as part of the settlement of a lawsuit brought against the department for its routine brutality and civil rights violations.

The most infamous of these cases was the Rampart Scandal, in which a group of cops stole six pounds of cocaine, robbed a bank of over $700,000, framed more than 100 people, abused and hospitalized dozens more and shot and paralyzed an unarmed man. Still, only a few cops faced any serious consequences for these actions—and only then because of mass outrage and federal pressure.

The Rampart Scandal was hardly an isolated incident. The racist LAPD is notorious for brutalizing people of color and the oppressed of society. Aside from the recent well-publicized cases of Rodney King, Donovan Jackson and Stanley Miller, whose violent beatings were caught on tape, there are untold numbers of cases of police brutality and harassment that take place on a daily basis in oppressed communities but never catch the public eye.

Despite the Consent Decree and federal oversight, these abuses have continued unabated. On Feb. 6, 2005, LAPD officers gunned down Devin Brown, a 13-year-old eighth grader, when they fired ten rounds into a car he was driving. Just five months later, on July 10, 2005, police officers opened fire into a residence, killing 19-month-old Suzie Marie Pena.

These continued crimes show that even watered-down, insufficient reforms like the Consent Decree cannot be successfully implemented given the particular role of the police. The police department is essential in ensuring the maintenance of all branches of the capitalist state in Los Angeles and beyond. Racist police protect private property and terrorize the working class—they serve as an occupying army against the Black and Latino working-class communities on behalf of the capitalist owners. Like all capitalist armies, cops routinely violate the rights of people in the communities they occupy.

During the 1990s, cops murdered over 2,000 people nationwide—the majority Black and Latino. Hundreds more people have been murdered and beaten in the years since. The problem is much bigger than a few bad cops in Los Angeles or lack of police accountability.

All that the LAPD Consent Decree requires is for cops to better document their abuses. We need much more than that.
Articles may be reprinted with credit to Socialism and Liberation magazine.

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