[From my pre-weblog, 17 April 1993]
oday the verdict came in on the second trial of four LA police officers who beat a motorist because they believed him to be high on PCP—and black. It was about what I’d expected the verdict in the first trial to be. The officer in charge and the one who did most of the beating were convicted of violating the motorist’s civil rights, while two others got off. It is a perfect illustration of our system in action. Not our system of justice, however—it is rather an illustration of how the police are above the law, even under the most extraordinary of circumstances.
Police have been beating people too poor or black to complain for years in LA. When I was down there a young black athlete died in police custody, and the authorities poured out that same nauseous slop about him being high on PCP, without of course presenting any evidence to that. I talked then with some people who knew him, and they knew him to be straight. Not the sort to take drugs, and definitely not the sort to give any trouble to those in authority. It makes you wonder what really happened then.
And time and again the authorities, particularly Daryl Gates, LA chief of police, would deny it, usually with some bizarre racist remark, like his one about blacks being different from “normal people”—his words. But this time was different—this time the LA police were caught in the act of violently attacking an unresisting man, and not merely before witnesses—actually on videotape. No chance for an easy denial here.
Nonetheless, the nation was shocked by the verdict, when it came in—three of the four were found not guilty on all charges, while the fourth—the one who had done most of the beating—was found not guilty on all but one, and that one the jurors had voted eleven to one for acquittal. Predictably, anger spilled over into outright riots, and our cities burned—especially LA. The jurors offered various lame justifications for their actions, and in all fairness they may well have ruled in accordance with the evidence put before them. I wasn’t there, and maybe the prosecution simply put on a weak case. But my impression at the time, listening to the jurors and attorneys explain the situation, was that they were largely deaf to any evidence against the accused officers, and further that the police seemed to have concocted their defense out of whole cloth.
So LA burned, as it deserved to, and Daryl Gates was finally forced out of office, as he should have been long ago. And the authorities fell back on that old standby when justice goes off into a ditch, and indicted the officers for violating the motorist’s civil rights. That’s the trial that just ended today, and probably brings this whole sorry affair to its conclusion. But nothing has been changed. The other day a motorist in Beverly Hills was stopped for being a black in a white district, and sometimes I think the only moral drawn by officers tempted to abuse their authority is that they should make certain that no video recorders are running when they do.