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Published on August 21st, 2014 | by RLn Staff

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The Shortest Distance from Missouri to Los Angeles

By James Preston Allen, Publisher

Before Michael Brown was shot six times by a Ferguson, Mo. police officer about two weeks ago, no one ever thought much or even heard of this small community outside of St. Louis. Nor did anyone consider the mounting problems of many small Midwest towns in red states like this one, who have suffered through the great recession with job losses. The inequity between Main Street and Wall Street has hit record highs.

Most of the people in my circle of friends condemn the militarization of the Ferguson police and for that matter, the use of military weaponry across this nation in large cities or small. And wonder out loud, “How can this kind of overreaction still happen in America?” Well… if you give the police the military weapons, they’ll find an excuse to use them.

The question I have for Angelinos is this: “What’s the shortest route from Ferguson, Mo, to Los Angeles?”

The answer: The next officer involved shooting in which the official explanation begins with a character assassination of the victim, rather than a plausible explanation of how the police killed an unarmed person.

The Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department is at the top of the list, with the Long Beach Police not too far behind. Take a look at the statistics on officer involved shootings.

However, as we have seen this week, the Los Angeles Police Department is also not immune with issues of its own like the shooting of Ezell Ford, a young unarmed black man with mental health problems, on the streets of South Central.  

This is an area of Los Angeles that I have personally seen explode in racial violence not once, but twice in my lifetime.  And I’m wondering aloud if we aren’t in for another episode of the Fire-This-Time because of the ongoing economic inequities, social injustice, deteriorating infrastructure, stagnant unemployment rates, rising cost of education, increased military weapons and, yes, a word most white editors avoid: racism.

“Oh, but the LAPD has changed,” I can hear Chief Charlie Beck or anyone of his senior lead officers say . The chief is dedicated to “Constitutional policing” his defenders announced. That’s why he was appointed to another five-year stint to lead the department.  I, however, will reserve my judgement to see how this, and the incidents to come, play out in this city with its long history of racial violence.  Has Los Angeles, city or county, really changed and has its police department(s) gotten the new paradigm shift that gets ordered from high command? The evidence seems doubtful if not spotty at best.

What most of white America doesn’t see is what white America doesn’t experience, and it’s not simple to understand.  So let me explain.

Last year, I organized a community-policing forum through the Central San Pedro Neighborhood Council. In one of the planning meetings for the forum held at the LAPD’s Harbor Division community room, the white members of our group entered the lobby of the police department and were promptly ushered by officers into the community room. But when the only black woman attending the forum showed up she was asked by the front desk officer, “Who are you here to pick up?”

Clearly, there was a situational ethic at play here that went completely unnoticed by myself and the others who were already in the meeting. But when this was explained to the others at the meeting, there was a growing sense of disbelief, until it really sunk in. “They really said that to you!?”

Few of the liberal white readers of this paper and even more of the conservative ones, ever experience the terror of being pulled over by the police driving through say Torrance as people of color do or ever experience the harassment as a Latino driving up to Palos Verdes for work by a Los Angeles Sheriff’s deputy.  “What are you doing here?” are the officers’ first question. But the real question is, “Who are they protecting and who are they serving?”

When the apparent reason for being stopped has nothing to do with how they are driving or being bent over the hood of one’s car for a minor traffic infraction, the question of racism is begged.

I, as a white American, have been taught to stand up to authority and confront injustice. If I were pulled over for no apparent reason in Torrance or Palos Verdes, I’ve would have questioned the police officer.

Yet, my friends and associates of color who have been taught from a very early age not to be confrontational with the police may consider me, by my actions or words as harboring a strong sense of “entitlement.”

Well, yes, I do feel entitled. I’m entitled to my constitutional rights as both a citizen and as a reporter and I will stand up for those whenever and wherever I see injustice.  And the America that I believe in is where every citizen feels confident in their entitlement of their rights, unabridged under color of the law in either Los Angeles or Ferguson, Mo.

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