“Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did, and it never will.”
—Fredrick Douglas, address on West India Emancipation, 1857
By James Preston Allen, Publisher
I find it enlightening that the above quote is most often recognized among my friends of color. That quote was the starting point in the preface of civil rights lawyer Connie Rice’s book, Power Concedes Nothing—One Woman’s Quest for Social Justice in America. To say the least, I was quite moved by her story, the tragedies and challenges, and then the amazing resolution. I doubt that I can do justice to this book here in so few words, except that I highly recommend it to anyone trying to make sense out of the recent verdict and the murder of Trayvon Martin in Florida.
What I can tell you is that Ms. Rice, the cousin of former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in Bush administration, has spent many years in Los Angeles courtrooms, suing the Los Angeles Police Department and others over discrimination, police misconduct and violations of civil rights laws.
You might surmise that such a person would be persona non grata inside the fortress of Parker Center or that her perspectives would be routinely dismissed by those leading the “thin blue line” of Los Angeles policing. What we have seen instead, however, is an amazing about face in the racist Los Angeles Police Department culture that once guarded the “safe neighborhoods” of the city while suppressing the “dangerous ones” following the Los Angeles riots following the not guilty verdicts of the officers involved in the Rodney King videoed beating in 1992.
If you’ve lived in this country for any time over the past 40 years, you’d recognize “safe neighborhoods” as a euphemism for white middle class areas and the“dangerous ones” as black and brown ghettos, to speak plainly about it.
Since the bygone days of California red-lining and racial covenants in certain areas, we have this belief here in the Golden State that we are well on the path to racial equality and the end of discrimination, but that there is much that you just can’t legislate. Furthermore, the path out of poverty in this country is fraught with domestic landmines, like the 60 percent incarceration rate of young black males compared to their corresponding graduation rates from inner city schools. As Rice writes so movingly in her book, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s dream has still not been fulfilled, nor will it be until every child has the right to safety in their schools and neighborhoods. And this safety is from both the gangs and the cops.
She writes, “We must rekindle the hope of the hopeless—dismantle the new Jim Crow and remove the threat posed to us all by the deadly conditions festering in the hot zones. We must invest the cost of achieving our greatest credo, E Pluribus Unum, or pay the price of losing the greatest democracy ever created.”
Rice was eventually invited inside of the LAPD police union to investigate and report on the Rampart division scandal, where afterward she surmised that the system was just “stuck on stupid.” Here investigation resulted in a report entitled: “Rampart Reconsidered: The Search for Real Reform Seven Years Later.” In the report, she noted that the entrenched police department’s culture was resistant against change to a better policing model. She took special note, however, of then-Capt. Charlie Beck who made a 180 degree turn-around that changed (and saved) the Rampart division.
Beck (now Chief of the LAPD) realized mid-career that the traditional “suppression” or hammer model of their CRASH units was not winning the fight against gang wars that were raging in Los Angeles at the time.
There is a greater cautionary tale to be understood from her story of the LAPD’s changing trajectory. And that is, we are plagued by the “bollix of bureaucracy” on many levels and that the stuck on stupid mind set is often at the core of the resistance to change. Better the devil you know than the one you don’t, is the cliché that comes to mind. It’s true, institutions don’t like to change. They resist change. And on the rare occasion they do change, it is only when it is faced with an institutional crisis, a court order or a political uprising demanding that power concedes. However, real change only comes when those on the inside, like LAPD Chief Beck, come to the epiphany and embrace change.
It is said that you can’t legislate morality. But as current events show, “power concedes nothing, without a demand.” And as a citizen of this country and this city, we must learn to effectively demand concessions and not to be complacent with stupid.