[Marxism] An instance of police brutality

Derek Seidman derekseidman at yahoo.com
Wed Aug 11 12:38:07 MDT 2004

A longtime friend of mine who lives in LA recently
sent me this, which he had written to another
discussion list. 


i just wanted to share this little anecdote with
people on this list, hopefully you will find it

i have known for a while that police brutality is
commonplace in los angeles, but yesterday i witnessed
an incident that really put a human face on it.  i am
one of the only white middle-class perons in my
neighborhood (maybe the only one!), i'd say it's 60%
latino and 40% black. for those of you who know LA
it's right where the 10 freeway and la cienaga
intersect.  people in the neighborhood work low wage
jobs, and there is a good deal of gang activity and
sometimes violence.  the cops are always around, more
during the summer, and lately the police helicopter
comes by a couple times a week and circles for 20 or
30 minutes, cop cars swarm in and they try to
apprehend the suspect.  the other day for example they
sealed off three blocks trying to catch a "burglar."

i realized what attitude the cops had towards poor
blacks and latinos when someone's car was broken into
and the burglar made off down the street.  my
girlfriend and i went out onto the street and asked
the cops what was going on.  i asked them if there was
a lot of crime in the neighborhood, and the two white
cops just gave me this look.  "this is the armpit of
los angeles!" one of them said.  "honestly," the male
cop said, slowly and deliberately, "you're white, and
you're asian (my girlfriend), you look like students,
you shouldn't be living here."

so yesterday the police helicopter was hovering over
head and about 10 cop cars swarmed in, patrolling the
neighborhood looknig for the a suspect.  a knot of cop
cars assembled a few blocks away from where i was,
stretching outside my apartment because i was going to
go running.  i started walking down there and as i did
a big crowd of people began to assemble, it was
probably 40 people - teenagers and adults, black and
latino.  as i was walking i saw two cops choking a
black guy, and the crowd was yelling at the cops to
stop.  the guy wasn't resisting, only saying he didn't
do anything.  then a group of four cops slammed him
hard up against an iron fence, his head smacked an
iron bar.  the whole crowd was screaming at the cops
that the guy had just been walking down the street. 
the guy's friend was standing right next to me saying
in a very distressed way that all they had been doing
was walking down the street together and he didn't do
anything, and how fucked up the police were.

anyways, they put the guy in the cop car.  but the
whole crowd stayed put, circled around about 10 cop
cars.  there was a group of black teenagers next to
me, and a girl of maybe 17 pointed to an asian cop. 
"isn't that the one that kicked your ass that one
time," she said to a male friend.  "yeah," the guy
said, "that's the one who beat the shit out of me and
maced me."  the whole group remembered the incident.

everybody was getting worked up and yelling at the
cops, nobody believed the guy in the car had done
anything, everyone believed the cops had just picked
up a random guy because they couldn't find the real
suspect.  finally the cops took him out of the car,
unhandcuffed him.  "i'll remember this," the guy said
to the ranking officer, an old white guy.  "nothing
happened," the cop said condescendingly, deliberately
loudly so the whole crowd could hear.  the girl next
to me yelled "you motherfucker, we all know what
happened."  some people were saying "they can do
whatever they want, they're the law."  an older latino
woman came out of her house and asked people what was
going on.  when she heard she yelled at the cops -
"and you wonder why nobody likes you!"  all the cops
were wearing their faces stone cold - people said that
there were so many because they were afraid of the
crowd of people.  as they left the girl next to me
yelled "yeah, that's right, we hate you - that ain't
illegal, to say we hate you motherfuckers."
after the cops left i talked to a couple of guys who
had been watching - i asked if people had ever done
anything to try to stop the cops from behaving like
this.  "the cops are like a big gang," a middle-aged
black guy said to me, "you can get their badge number
or something but that won't do shit."  someone else
referred to me and said "he's not a brother, he needs
to get the fuck out of here."  it was in fact a very
racially tense situation because of the racism of the
white and asian cops in picking out a random black
guy, brutalizing him, and then telling 40 people that
"nothing had happened."  also people were visibly
frustrated that the cops can charge in, wrongfully
brutalize someone, admit it was a mistake, say it
didn't happen and leave and come back and do the same
thing again the next day.

imagining this sort of incident happening on a weekly
basis in the thousands of neighborhoods just like mine
all over los angeles gives you a sense of where the LA
riots came from.  the guy who wanted me to get out of
there because i was white i imagine could see me as a
comrade if there was an interracial movement of
workers that really took on questions of racism and
police brutality while also linking these questions to
traditional working class demands.  the atttitude of
this guy towards me as a white person i imagine is in
many ways the historical result of the abstention of
the AFL-CIO leadership in the 1960's and 1970's to
take up the demands of the black movement for a second

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