LAPD Scandal Not Sparking Outrage

LAPD Scandal Not Sparking Outrage

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‘In A Community Like Ours, This Has Become A Part Of The Air You Breathe’

LOS ANGELES, Updated 4:15 p.m. PST December 12, 1999 —

One of the largest police corruption scandals in the city’s history has yielded revelations of officers dealing drugs, planting guns on innocent people and even a suggestion that one helped plan the murder of a rap star.

But perhaps most surprising of all is the lack of community outrage in a city that spawned virulent riots in 1992 and 1965 after perceived police misconduct.

“I don’t know what it is about L.A.,” said Ramona Ripston, executive director of the Southern California American Civil Liberties Union. “I’m shocked by the lack of response.”

No officers have been charged since the corruption was uncovered, none of the lawsuits filed has been resolved, and only two officers have been fired. Yet the only visible community response has been a rally in favor of the beleaguered police division at the center of the scandal.

The internal probe focuses on former Officer Rafael Perez, who in September began telling investigators about officers in the Rampart Street division involved in beatings, planting evidence, perjury and wrongful shootings, one of which left a man paralyzed and in prison.

Perez’s information, given in return for a reduced sentence in a cocaine theft conviction, led to the dismissal of 11 other cases, as well as the suspension of a dozen officers. Dozens of other convictions are in question.

Last week, police documents surfaced suggesting a link between Perez’s former partner, David Mack, and the shooting death of rap star Notorious B.I.G., whose real name was Christopher Wallace.

Detectives are looking into whether Mack, now in prison on a bank robbery conviction, conspired with Death Row Records founder Marion “Suge” Knight to arrange the contract killing of the 24-year-old rapper as he left a party in March 1997.

Knight is a possible suspect in the killing, even though he was in jail at the time. Investigation notes show a witness placed Mack at the scene and another picked him out of a photo lineup.

The police department calls the discovery of the corruption in the Rampart division a credit to its own internal oversight, while activists criticize officials for claiming the damage is limited to that division.

“If anybody thinks that this is a thing that can get weeded out, they’re being naive,” said the Rev. Gregory Boyle, who years ago began a project in East Los Angeles to give former gang members jobs. “This is not about weeding out the bad apples, it’s about changing the way business is done.”

Boyle and others said the reason the community hasn’t protested is because the disclosures have revealed nothing new.

“Outrage comes when something out of the ordinary has happened,” Boyle said. “In a community like ours, this has become part of the air you breathe.”

Lt. Sharyn Buck said the department investigates corruption whenever it becomes aware of it.

“I’m sorry that they feel that way,” the police spokeswoman said. “It’s not something that has been going on. That’s not the way our department normally operates.”

The Rev. Richard Byrd, an activist with Los Angeles Metropolitan Churches, said it’s possible the real protests won’t happen until after the prosecutions, if officers get light sentences or immunity. That’s what happened after a jury acquitted four officers in the beating of Rodney King in 1992.

“Remember, the real outrage didn’t take place until the verdict,” Byrd said.

Ripston said the lack of response has prompted the ACLU and other groups to form the Coalition for Police Accountability, a gathering of community groups calling for stronger civilian review of police corruption cases and a separate, independent prosecutor to try them.

The member groups include Amnesty International, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the National Lawyers’ Guild, and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

The coalition will respond to a department report on the Rampart scandal expected in January, but Ripston said previous reports by commissions appointed after the 1992 and 1965 Watts riots had little effect.

“All those reports, if you take them together, say many of the same things,” Ripston said. “And yet, nothing ever changes.”

AP 1999

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