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#DefundLAPD Part Deux: Dave Chappelle, Apples & the Thin Blue Line

The second part of Alex Fumero’s primer for those just coming to the police abolition movement in LA

Photo Credit: Caroline Johnson

MYTH #2: “JUST A FEW BAD APPLES.”

By now there’s a decent chance you’ve watched the 8:46 Dave Chappelle special. Having worked in comedy most of my career, I can say Chappelle is unquestionably one of the most talented stand ups of all time, with an equally unquestionable hankering for transphobic bullshit, with pretty glaring track record of anti-trans rhetoric (in an earlier version of this I failed to address it until somebody on our team called me out).

Despite that, Dave Chappelle continues to be regarded as a living legend in the world of stand-up comedy, because of his ability to communicate the Black male experience, including to otherwise confused white people. Chappelle’s first hour-long HBO special 20 years ago was in large part about police brutality — it was called Killin’ Them Softly. It’s continued to be a theme throughout his entire career (you’d think he’d be an abolitionist by now!), and that’s what makes 8:46 significant—it’s somebody who is a cultural authority about racist violence against Black people at the hands of police feeling compelled to self-produce yet another stand up special about it in his own backyard in the midst of a pandemic.

Anyway, at one point Chappelle brings up this guy, a former cop named Christopher, who grew up in Orange County and served in the Navy. One day in 2002, while still a cadet, Christopher and his buddy found a bag with $8,000 in it. He and his friend turned it into the police. Turns out it was donations for a local church. When asked why Christopher didn’t keep it he said, “The military stresses integrity… I didn’t work for it, it wasn’t mine.”

In 2007 as a rookie LAPD officer, Christopher and his training officer responded to a call at the Doubletree Hotel in San Pedro. A man having a mental health crisis was apparently “causing a disturbance.” Later, Christopher reported the incident to a supervisor, saying that his training officer had used excessive force on the man in the hotel. Christopher explained that his training officer had tasered the man, and then proceeded to kick him in the chest while he was down. Christopher reported this despite already being on “probation” for complaining about what he viewed as inappropriate behavior from other cadets in the police academy.

A disciplinary hearing was held, two police captains and a civilian oversaw the proceedings (file that away for later), but after the victim was deemed to have given “generally incoherent” testimony (he was dealing with a long term mental illness), the oversight committee ruled that Christopher had been lying. He was subsequently terminated from the LAPD. Christopher was shocked. By his measure he had done exactly what he had done when he found the bag of money: the right thing. Christopher was the “good apple” people talk about.

He appealed, but under California law, appeals regarding LAPD “administrative findings” put the burden of proof on the petitioner (in this case, Christopher), and since it’s hard as fuck for humans to prove a negative — just like you can’t prove to me that you don’t secretly love Nickelback, you fibber — he was unable to prove that he wasn’t lying.

Oh, by the way, that young man’s full name was Christopher Dorner, and what happens next is what most people remember him for. In 2013, feeling betrayed by the system that was supposed to be upholding justice, Dorner snapped. He wrote a manifesto and went on a vicious killing spree, targeting and murdering LAPD officers and their family members. In the manifesto, Dorner states:

“I know most of you who personally know me are in disbelief to hear from media reports that I am suspected of committing such horrendous murders and have taken drastic and shocking actions in the last couple of days… Unfortunately, this is a necessary evil that I do not enjoy but must partake and complete for substantial change to occur within the LAPD and reclaim my name. The department has not changed since the Rampart and Rodney King days. It has gotten worse….”

And when the police finally caught up to Dorner, holed up in a cabin in Big Bear, the police handled the situation as they do. Over 30 LAPD officers, armed with assault rifles, created a perimeter around the cabin, pinning Dorner inside. A SWAT team came in overhead by chopper. He was a dangerous man, no doubt, but he was finished. They had him surrounded. Desperate, Dorner began firing rounds out of the cabin. But, ya know, waiting for him to give himself up or run out of ammo just doesn’t have that Butch & Sundance ending, so instead dozens of cops started firing back.

Ultimately, the impatient LAPD SWAT team, aided by the San Bernadino Sheriff’s Department, fired pyrotechnic tear gas (that’s a thing cops have apparently) into the cabin, which unsurprisingly lit the fucking place on fire. It was a military-style operation with a “take him dead or alive” Osama Bin Laden-type vibe.

A transcript of the radio transmissions from the preceding moments obtained by the LA Times says it all:

On their radios, deputies orchestrated the end-game.

“We’re going to go forward with the plan, with the burner….”

Hot gas went in at 4:09 p.m. Flames began to spread. They waited for Dorner; he did not emerge.

“Seven burners deployed, and we have a fire.”

“We have a fire in the front and he might come out the back….”

At 4:20 p.m., from the cabin, there came the sound of a single gunshot.

“№4 side fully engulfed….”

A firetruck was told to hang back a couple hundred yards. Ignited by fire, ammunition was exploding inside the cabin.

“This thing’s well-constructed…. I still have ammo popping here….”

“Fully engulfed….”

“More ammo going off….”

“I’m told that there’s a basement in that cabin…. I’m going to let that heat burn through that basement.”

“Good call….”

The fire wasn’t spreading to nearby homes or trees. They let it burn.

Now, I’m not suggesting we shed a tear for Dorner, but there’s a lesson to extrapolate from these extreme and tragic events. His plan to exact vengeance may have been violent and unjust, but it wasn’t completely senseless. It was rooted in his rage at a system that time and time again told Christopher Dorner that it was his fault for policing the police. For being a good apple.

THE THIN BLUE LINE

Ever heard of the phrase “the thin blue line”? Not the groundbreaking Errol Morris film originally panned for its use of lengthy reenactments. It’s the idea that police are the only thing standing between “LAW AND ORDER!” and chaotic violence (I refuse to call it anarchy ’cause real Anarchy is the shit.)

Guess who coined the term, “the thin blue line”? LAPD Chief Bill Parker who oversaw the so-called reforms of the 1940s and 1950s and presided over the Zoot Suit Riots, Bloody Christmas and the Watts Rebellion. Now that’s a guy who knew a thing or two about violence! (If you don’t know what I’m talking about go back and read part one of #DefundLAPD Explained.)

Chief Bill Parker makes sure his guns are ready to kill his fellow Angelenos.

The real “thin blue line” is the protective barrier police departments — and more often police unions — place between themselves and public accountability.

Take, for example, the LAPD union’s support for Hard-on-Crime, Soft-on-Cops District Attorney Jackie Lacey. After running unopposed in 2016, Lacey faced two challengers in the 2020 primary. One was public defender Rachel Rossi. The other was George Gascón, former District Attorney of San Francisco and LAPD officer. Both ran on platform of reforms, and because Gascón made it through to the general, let’s look at what he is proposing: reducing prison admissions in LA by 20 percent in his first year, seeking shorter sentences, and abandoning the death penalty. None of this is radical! Though universally hated by Bay Area law enforcement for investigating cases of police misconduct, Gascón also failed to prosecute SF cops involved in deadly shootings. But for police unions any accountability, anything that threatens that little blue line, is bad. The LAPPL spent $1 million to defeat Gascón in his bid for the DA’s office, and the combined money spent by police unions on Lacey’s behalf in just the primary was over $2 million! Two million dollars to beat a former cop who’s proposing the most basic of oversights. Imagine what they’d do to defeat someone like Gascón’s successor in San Francisco, Chesa Boudin, who recently banned the prosecution of cases based solely on police testimony.

Known as the Los Angeles Police Protective League, the LAPD union opposed Prop 62 (to end the death penalty) and currently support an initiative that will be on the ballot this November: the California Criminal Sentencing, Parole, and DNA Collection Initiative, which would classify certain types of crimes as “wobblers”, meaning at the DA’s discretion they’d be chargeable as misdemeanors or felonies, rather than just misdemeanors. These “wobblers” would include non-violent crimes like shoplifting, vehicle theft, and drug possession. Additionally, persons convicted of wobblers would be required to submit a DNA sample for state and federal databases. So you steal a couple Snickers bars and they want your DNA. Welcome to the Ministry of Love, folks!

As if that weren’t bad enough, to quote a Knock piece from last year, “On the candidate side, the national Fraternal Order of Police (of which the LAPPL is a member) endorsed Donald Drumpf for President in 2016, the same year that all three congresspeople endorsed by the LAPPL were Republicans, including noted racist and all-around regressive ghoul Steve Knight.”

Alleged Homo sapiens Craig Lally

Oh, and their board includes human Mr. Potatohead Craig Lally, who taunted police-murder victim Ezell Ford’s mother and a Black police commissioner. Lally is one of 44 “problem officers” according to the Christopher Commission, along with Steve Gordon, a SWAT Officer involved in multiple shootings of residents that has made excuses for officers who fail to turn on their body cameras, and current LAPPL President Jamie McBride AKA the way less successful, less cool little brother of Stone Cold Steve Austin. Jamie did appear in a series of shitty movies though, and this amazing clip from “LAPD: Life on the Beat” where he tells a guy who was running away from him, “You’re lucky you didn’t get shot.”

McBride also penned a column called “Bleeding Blue” for the LAPD monthly magazine, which (I shit you not) is called… Thin Blue Line Magazine. (Side Note: DO THESE PEOPLE KNOW THAT BEING A COP IS NOT A PROTECTED CLASS?! THE ONLY PEOPLE WHO ACTUALLY BLEED BLUE ARE FUCKING SMURFS.)

Another example of the LAPPL evil is their misleading support of Measure C.

Measure C was designed to give accused “bad apples” the option to choose between appearing before a Board of Rights (oversight board) composed of two police officers and a civilian, or three civilians. The voters of Los Angeles thought they were voting for more civilian oversight by passing Charter Amendment C with over 57 percent of the vote, despite the opposition of BLM, The L.A. Times Editorial Board and the ACLU. But here are some fun facts from the Report of the Chief Legislative Analyst on Measure C:

  • Of 287 BOR hearings from 2011 to November 2016, in 229 cases the Chief directed an officer to the BOR recommending that they be fired.
  • BORs returned a guilty verdict in 83% cases, but only recommended firing the officer in 49% cases.
  • In the 39 cases where the Chief recommended termination, but a BOR acquitted the officer, the civilian member voted for acquittal in every case.
  • 16 of the remaining 190 termination cases heard by BORs were decided by 2–1 margins. In every case, the civilian voted for the more lenient option.
  • In cases where the officer was found guilty, civilian members voted for reduced penalties in every case, and have also consistently voted for lesser punishments or acquittals in cases dealing with demotions or suspensions.

This is just one of a series of examples of reforms that sound good on paper, but in practice actually end up changing nothing or even making matters worse. No wonder cockroach alien from Men In Black Craig Lally celebrated the victory:

REDLINING

There’s another line we don’t talk about enough when it comes to policing, the thin red line.

via Josh Begley

According to the Home Owners Loan Corporation (HOLC), this 1939 map of Los Angeles designated the level of risk lenders would assume if they gave mortgages to people living in those areas. HOLC, the granddaddy of government home loan programs, came out of FDR’s New Deal as a way to make home buying affordable for Americans who had lost their homes in the Great Depression. That’s also when the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) was born, which gave government guarantees to banks if they lent money to homebuyers. In the 1930’s, no state had more FHA activity than California.

With data from almost 240 cities, HOLC gave grades to different neighborhoods, and created a corresponding color-coded map (above): A was green, B was blue, C was yellow and D was red. That’s where we get the term “redlining”. These ratings were supposed to be objective, but as a report from KCET’s Ryan Reft points out:

“Racism snuck in; the HOLC and FHA valued homogeneity over heterogeneity, particularly in regard to ethnicity and race. Those communities depicted in “red” usually contained minorities: African-Americans, Mexican-Americans, Asian-Americans, and sometimes newly arrived immigrant groups like Slavs, Jews, and Italians. This system of redlining ultimately drew private investment away from heterogeneous communities like Boyle Heights and Watts.”

Boyle Heights, where the Zoot Suit Riots spread to only 4 years after this map was printed. Watts, where a generation later there would be an uprising.

Basically if you lived in a redlined neighborhood you were shit out of luck with the banks. “Neighborhoods fell into a vicious circle of decline: the inability to access capital led to disrepair and the physical decline of a community’s housing stock, which in turn reinforced the redline designation,” continues Reft.

And this inability to own your own home has a huge impact. According to a study done using data from the U.S. Census, renters are twice as likely as homeowners to get displaced by gentrification. Given these biases within the financial system it’s easy to see why Black people can feel like the system isn’t set up for them to succeed — a game of Monopoly where someone else has been “playing for 400 turns” before you’ve even started, as author Kimberly Jones’ now viral explanation of Black economic frustrations puts it.

“When they say why do you burn down the community? Why do you burn down your own neighborhood? It’s not ours — we don’t own anything!”

Across America, but here in LA in particular, we can draw a conclusive connection between redlining and the homelessness crisis. Black Angelenos make up 7.9% of the county population, but 33.7% of the homeless population. According to a NYTimes report, “Across the country, a third of black households experience severe rent burdens, with their housing costs equaling half or more of their income,” but “In South L.A., the share of black households experiencing severe rent burdens is about 50 percent.” As Knock and the LA Times have pointed out in the past, LAPD love to criminalize homelessness, and even disrupt efforts to help our unhoused population, which disproportionately affects Black Angelenos.

And if we want to see the correlation between redlining and crime rates, all we have to do is overlay a current crime rate by neighborhood map, over that 1939 HOLC map:

Notice all that dark purple (dark blue over red) and gray (dark blue over yellow) — an 80 year difference and still the impacts of redlining remain.

Given LAPD’s tendency to protect and serve their own interests, and our systematic disenfranchisement of Black economies and communities, how are Angelenos supposed to believe that police are here to keep us safe and that public spending should be diverted to police rather than towards social and economic services? That’s a fucking rhetorical question — we aren’t. They don’t give a fuck about you.

Wow, I can’t believe you actually read all of that, but at least now you have a small taste of what we’re up against. In the third and final part of this #DefundLAPD for Dummies Like Me series, I’ll look at what a world without police might look like.

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