The Power of the People vs. Police Abuse of Power, by Michael Zinzun 2002

Presentation On The Inglewood, California Police Beating of Donovan Jackson-Chavis  by Michael Zinzun, Coalition Against Police Abuse, July 13, 2002

On Saturday, July 6, 2002, shortly after Donovan Jackson-Chavis was beaten by the Inglewood P.D., his father Coby Chavis and his cousin, Taliba Shakir, a woman who had been a member of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense in L.A., called CAPA. What is CAPA?

 

The Coalition Against Police Abuse (CAPA) was formed in Los Angeles in 1976 in response to a wave of police shootings, beatings, and harassment, and rapidly expanded because of the 1979 LAPD killing of Eula Mae Love. CAPA's membership over the years has been drawn from the Black and Latino communities, workers' organizations, churches, the gay community, the women's movement, and concerned individuals. In the wake of the beating of Rodney King, CAPA pushed forward a plan for an elected civilian review board and special prosecutor, which was derailed by the inadequate reforms of the Christopher Commission. During the exposures of routine police brutality and criminality in the Rampart Division, CAPA, uniting with Mothers ROC and other groups, led a campaign for community control of the police exposing the systematic involvement of the courts and the prosecutors in this abuse. We exposed the fact that the same crimes are being committed throughout the LAPD, not only in Rampart but in Southeast, Foothill, Hollenbeck and all communities of color. Members of CAPA have ourselves been subjected to physical abuse by the police. A measure of our effectiveness is that the LAPD was caught infiltrating and trying to disrupt our group, and 80 other groups and individuals who worked with CAPA. We sued and forced them to adopt a local Freedom of Information ordinance, to pay $1.5 million in damages, and to expose the names and identities of the undercover officers illegally engaged in political espionage. CAPA maintains extensive files both on individual officers and the systematic practices of police abuse, which we have shared with families victimized by the police and all those fighting back.

 

CAPA believes that the reign of terror by the LAPD, and by police and sheriff's departments in L.A. and across the country - including the FBI, CIA, and INS - must be opposed and can be stopped. This means mobilizing and uniting a wide base of forces into a mass movement against police crime and abuse. CAPA is committed to calling attention to the many instances and the systematic nature of police abuse, and to bringing public pressure to bear in order to obtain justice. We want to educate people about our human and civil rights. We are training new leadership so that people can unite to defend themselves and their democratic rights from further attack. We seek to unite as many people and organizations as possible from all races and nationalities, so that in our numbers we will have the unity and strength to defend our homes, families and human rights. We intend to mobilize, rely on, and give concrete direction to the people in our communities to stand up for their rights against police harassment, beatings, racist insults and murders. Only an aroused and united community can control the police.

We have a motto in CAPA that we all should relate to: "WE WON'T STRUGGLE FOR YA ... BUT WE WILL STRUGGLE WIT'CHA." We can bring some lessons and experience to the struggle, but the most important one is that the people are their own liberators.

Many of you will find or have found yourselves thrust into leadership roles in organizing in this and other fights for justice. James Forman, a leading organizer with the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) once said, "The acid test of effective leadership by political organizers is their willingness to submit their role for examination, evaluation, and criticism. They must be willing to do this with the people with whom they are working and within the unit they represent. It is their responsibility to lead this discussion and to always insist that their role is up for constant evaluation. Naturally they must be willing to evaluate their own efforts, to admit mistakes, to correct them and move on, for there is work to be done."

He continued, "They must pay attention to details and follow through. Lack of follow-up is the graveyard of most ideas and plans. This death often flows from taking on too many jobs, inadequate planning or record keeping, and some times downright laziness."A step some political organizers must take if they are to be effective, Forman said: "They think they know, and yet, they may not know. The others may be right, for organizers must learn from the people with whom they work. Others can teach something and they must learn it. There is no place for a dogmatic position nor for a belief that 'I, the organizer, am absolutely right: I must have the last word.' This attitude may well lead to the final word, but there will be few people around willing to listen". It's important for the community to take the lead in this fight for justice, and then the politicians can follow our lead.

 

THE REIGN OF TERROR

The latest documented attack, on Donovan Jackson-Chavis, occurs in a context. I want to focus on the recent history of police in this country and the L.A. area, but we must also look further back. Bear in mind the historical period when many police laws, customs, and practices were developed. Post-slavery America was rife with white supremacy, victimizing Blacks, Latinos/Indigenous and Asians in every part of the United States. Lynching, segregation, and invasions and destruction of Black, Mexicano and Chinese towns by white mobs went unchecked from Florida to California. Many public police departments grew out of private slave catchers and strike breakers, or vigilantes like the Texas Rangers. It was a time when legalized racism was basically upheld by the Congress, state governments, and social institutions nation-wide.

Over the last few years, corrupt politicians and corporate media hype have tried to create hysteria about crime and terrorism to build support for aggressive policing. But in reality, crime is falling in every category, and the grass-roots "gang truce" efforts have reduced violence. There is, however, one category of crime that has steadily increased, and one source of terror on the streets that has gone unchecked - the reign of terror by the police against the community.

A few high profile cases of brutality or murder, such as the beating of Rodney King, the torture of Abner Louima, or the killings of Johnny Gammage in Pittsburgh, Anthony Baez and Amadou Diallo in New York, Margaret Mitchell in L.A. and Malice Green in Detroit, make front page headlines. These accounts claim such cases are "aberrations" or exceptions. Yet night after night, day after day, far from the headlines and the TV cameras, the police harass, abuse, brutalize, and kill without fear of discipline or punishment. The same week that New York City cops rammed a toilet plunger stick up the rectum and down the throat of Haitian immigrant Abner Louima, police in Chicago, Baltimore, and several other cities shot and killed unarmed young Black men; an officer in Philadelphia set his girlfriend on fire; another cop in Texas was let off for killing a mentally challenged person. None of these incidents were even mentioned in the national coverage of the Louima case.

In Los Angeles and surrounding cities, the police and sheriff continue to shoot civilians on the average of once a week, and to kill someone on the average once a month. This was true under Gates and remained true under Williams and Parks. In Philadelphia, Indianapolis, New Orleans, Washington DC, and here in Los Angeles, massive scandals have erupted about police criminality and planting of evidence. In cities everywhere in the U.S., police abuse, brutality, corruption, and murder are rampant. The situation continues to get worse, in spite of every civic reform, because the police act as enforcers of the wretched and oppressive conditions of this society. Many police act as storm troopers, an occupying army who beat down any person who opposes or resists or speaks out against growing exploitation and poverty. It's not a question of individual "good cops" and "bad cops." The real criminals are the economic and political elite, the owners of the huge international corporations that extract billions of dollars in profits by forcing people into slavery, whether in child labor, "work-fare" systems, or the prisons. They use the police as their enforcers. This is why the police are being increasingly militarized, with helicopters, armored personnel carriers, heavy automatic and chemical weapons. Even so-called reforms, like "community oriented policing," are part of this military assault on our communities. Police describe "community oriented policing" as the domestic equivalent of "psychological operations" in the military. "Psy-ops" are the attempt to control the thinking of the population or the enemy. The real answer is not community oriented policing, but community control of the police.

 

HAVE THINGS CHANGED SINCE THE LA REBELLION OF 1992?

  Yes, things have changed in California since the LA Rebellion of 1992.

We have a DA's office which relies on local police departments to investigate their own, and to refer a token few criminal cases against police officers for prosecution without any real independent investigations, resulting in far fewer charges being brought against police, and far more police getting away with crimes.

We have the Three Strike Laws, and the governor's attempt to eliminate parole.

We have Proposition 21 (The Anti-Youth Law, to send children to adult prisons).

We have more attempts to criminalize our youth through programs like Operation Weed & Seed and anti-gang task forces, which racially and geographically profile many innocent youth as gang members or drug dealers.

We have the further expansion of racial profiling to include walking, shopping, traveling, and flying. This plot is expanded by police chiefs refusing to document the ethnic make-up of those being stopped by police officers for public review.

We have had a so-called economic expansion that produced an increase in jails and prisons, not jobs, schools or justice.

Since 9/11, we have witnessed an attempt by the government, by local police, and police commissioners to further expand police power, even at a time when most major departments are under some form of investigation for corruption, police crimes, cover-ups, and abuse of power. As economic conditions for the masses of poor and working people deteriorate further, this increase in repressive police power will only accelerate.  

 

THE BEATING IN INGLEWOOD

As I said, on Saturday, July 6, 2002, I received a call from Taliba, a relative, and from Coby Chavis, the father, of Donovan Jackson-Chavis. Coby stated that his son had been beaten by the Inglewood P.D. I informed Coby of his son's legal rights, took a report and told him to make sure he took his son to the doctor. He stated he had taken his son to the doctor but would be going back. Little did we know that a good Samaritan, Mitchell Crooks, visiting from out of town, had not only video taped the beating, but clearly revealed the continuing failures of present police policies, which had not deterred police abuses and corruption. You and I know that such beatings and abuse occur regularly. The one that gets videotaped is the rare exception, the tip of the iceberg that brings the problem smack in the face of the larger community and galvanizes people. This beating doesn't indicate a problem with one bad officer or one bad police department, but rather a systematic crisis being repeated time and time again across the country. These racist attacks by police aren't confined to healthy males but include the mentally challenged, seniors, and women of color. An increasing number of women are being killed by the police - two Black women killed by the cops in Long Beach in recent months are only a recent local example. This most recent beating comes on the heels of corruption, brutality, and police cover up in neighboring Los Angeles police departments' crash units. This pattern of abuse will not go away by focusing on just one officer.  

 

Our demands in the Inglewood case are:

Criminal charges must be filed against all those involved in the beating and those officers who stood by and allowed the abuse to continue, or attempted to cover it up.

We need a special prosecutor with parallel powers to the DA, whose sole purpose is to prosecute abusive, criminal police officers countywide.

We need punitive damages levied against corrupt, abusive police. Make them pay out of their own pockets! Why should taxpayers have to pay for police violence? City governments consider settlements and payouts for police abuse to be a 'cost of doing business.' This must stop!

We need an elected civilian police review board with the power to hire and fire police brass and officers, change police policies and practices, and conduct independent investigations, a board with subpoena power.

People, we need to take a pro-active stance to protect our civil, constitutional, and human rights. We can't wait to re-act after the fact. We need to get organized in every precinct, on every block, to defend our rights, prevent police abuse and criminality, and to document it when it occurs.  

 

MORE DEMANDS  

 

In closing I would like to include several more key demands for you to internalize and call for:

Expose and stop the written and unwritten policies, practices and customs that allow police to criminalize, abuse, shoot, and maim us.

Stop the so-called "margin of error" allowed police. It is within this margin of error that most abuse takes place: "My foot slipped," or "I thought he had a gun," or "I feared for my life." It's within that "margin of error" that juries acquitted the cops who beat Rodney King and those who killed Amadou Diallo.

Stop the practice of people being "arrested for suspicion of." This is where an individual is arrested by police for suspicion of a crime; fingerprinted, photographed, found to be the wrong person, and then released. This "booking" stays on your record for the rest of your life, undermining your opportunity to get employment and better paying jobs. In New Jersey last year, such an arrest on suspicion led to the police killing the suspect in custody, before the real culprit was found.

End racial profiling immediately, in all forms. Since 9/11, it is important to know that there haven't been that many new oppressive laws: What has happened is an expansion of existing police powers - to spy, detain, harass, and jail the people of this country who speak out about unjust policies, locally, nationally, and internationally. New groups have been added to the racist profile.

Stop the criminalization of our youth and eliminate the national and local police "gang" database.

Repeal California Evidence code 1043 and Penal code 832.7. This would release citizen complaints filed on officers who were accused of beatings, abuse, shootings, and corruption statewide. We don't need any more government cover-ups. Doctors and lawyers are subject to public scrutiny. Only the history and record of police officers, with the power to beat and kill, is protected. WHY?

ALL POWER TO THE PEOPLE!