And so it begins. Authorities in Dallas have announced the indictment of three (now-former) police officers involved in the Sept. 5 arrest of Andrew Collins. Collins, you’ll recall, was arrested after two officers spotted him riding a motorcycle on a Dallas sidewalk. He refused to stop when the officers tried to pull him over and, at the end of a short pursuit, the dashboard camera in their patrol car captured images of one officer striking him with a baton and the other officer punching him. Both officers have been indicted by a grand jury and charged with assault. A third officer, who arrived after the arrest, has been charged with tampering with physical evidence, allegedly by diverting a dashboard camera away from what was happening to Collins.
Unless prosecutors produce evidence not yet made public, and unless any of the accused succumb to the temptation of a plea bargain, I’m confident none of them will be convicted of anything. There is simply nothing — nothing! — in any of the videotapes so far released that conclusively establishes that any of the accused officers committed a crime. Yes, Collins was struck with a baton, a fist, and a knee, but merely from watching the video it is impossible to determine what his actions were at the time he was struck. The officers will claim he was combative and the videotape will not disprove it. And yes, a camera was moved minutes after Collins was arrested, but none of the other cameras running at the same time captured anything that would lead a fair-minded viewer to conclude that something improper was taking place. Reasonable doubt abounds in this case, and if the officers are given a fair trial they’ll be acquitted. You read it here first.
The swiftness with which the officers were removed from their jobs and charged with crimes suggests that prosecutors were motivated by something other than a quest for justice. Indeed, if it was justice they were seeking, they would have seen to it that Collins, too, answered for his crimes, which the videotape revealed with greater clarity than anything the officers are accused of doing. Instead, all the charges against him were dismissed even as the officers who arrested him are being hauled into the dock.
No, despite the many lofty pronouncements from Dallas Police Chief David Brown and District Attorney Craig Watkins about the officers’ alleged misdeeds, it was not a quest for justice that roused these men to action but rather a desire for political steam-venting. This steam-venting is often seen on an international level, as when American foreign-policy decisions are made with an eye toward the “Arab street,” the gutters of which presumably would be filled with the severed heads of infidels should proper deference not be accorded to Muslims’ delicate sensibilities.
And so it is here at home whenever lawbreakers of certain ethnic groups come into violent contact with police officers of another. When these incidents coalesce to produce that combustible mixture of racial politics and publicity, the modus operandi among civic leaders is often to throw a cop or two under the bus lest members of “the community” express their outrage, first by breaking into stores and helping themselves to large quantities of merchandise, and then by putting the torch to whatever can’t be carried away.
The incident in Dallas is but the latest example of this, but there are many others. In Houston, for example, a white police officer from suburban Bellaire was acquitted in May after being tried in the non-fatal of shooting of a 23-year-old black man he erroneously believed had been in a stolen car. In Indianapolis, a white police officer is awaiting word on whether the police chief’s decision to fire him will be upheld by a civilian board. The chief recommended the officer be fired for his role in the violent arrest of a black 15-year-old who allegedly interfered when his brother was detained for burglary. And here in Los Angeles, an LAPD officer was fired five years ago after a television news helicopter showed him striking a suspected car thief with a flashlight. The suspect had led officers on a high-speed, early morning chase before abandoning the car and fleeing on foot. In an act of uncommon political courage, the district attorney declined to file charges against the officer, but pressure from “the community” led to then-Chief William Bratton’s decision to fire him and to prohibit LAPD officers from carrying large metal flashlights.
All of this makes recent developments here in L.A. all the more extraordinary. In another incident I wrote about last month, on the same day Andrew Collins was arrested in Dallas, a police officer shot and killed a man who was waving a knife and menacing passers-by on a busy Los Angeles street corner. The dead man was an illegal immigrant from Guatemala, a biographical detail that has aroused passions in L.A.’s very active immigrants’ rights industry, members of which have labeled the shooting as “murder.” But rather than cower before this mob, both Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and LAPD Chief Charlie Beck, both of whom are in most instances disturbingly receptive to demands from ethnic interest groups, have spoken out in support of the involved officers. Villaraigosa went so far as to call the officers “heroes,” and Beck has made several public pronouncements supporting them. Beck even authored an 850-word essay that appeared in both the Los Angeles Times and the Spanish-language La Opinión in which he defended the officers and vouched for the integrity of the investigation into the shooting.
This has not gone over well with some, including longtime LAPD critic Joe Domanick. Writing in the Los Angeles Times on Sept. 24, Domanick addressed Beck’s surprise at the local reaction to the Sept. 5 shooting. He writes:
A big piece of community policing is informational give-and-take between cops and the neighborhood people they police. Beck has admitted that the LAPD was surprised by the anger in [the neighborhood where the shooting occurred], caused in part by aggressive ticketing of unlicensed street vendors, many of whom received $250 tickets while subsisting on $10 a day from their street sales. Beck needs to examine why the department seemed so clueless, especially about the mood of the people in an area of the city that has given us both the 1999 Rampart scandal and the May Day 2007 police attack on peaceful demonstrators and the media in MacArthur Park.
Thus does Domanick appear to advocate that police not enforce laws against street vending when the practice is engaged in by immigrants, this despite the fact that most of the complaints regarding this activity come from local merchants who are themselves immigrants, albeit legal ones. They find their legitimate business being undercut by illegal immigrants plying their wares from pushcarts while unburdened by such annoyances as taxes, health inspections, and business permits.
And later in the piece Domanick writes, “But the LAPD has work to do. It must concentrate on keeping its ear closer to the ground to avoid the next potential crisis in a troubled community. The chief, not to mention the mayor, has to be more careful about his message and the words he chooses before going public.”
Telling Charlie Beck and Antonio Villaraigosa to be attentive to public opinion is like telling a pair of fish to swim. But the police chief and the mayor have responsibilities to people beyond the hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants who live just west of downtown Los Angeles. They owe it to the rest of the city, despite the woeful neglect of federal immigration authorities, to ensure that the area where the shooting occurred retain at least some measure of its tenuous grasp on American culture, beginning with a respect for the rule of law.
And, as the most visible members of municipal government, the police chief and the mayor have a duty to the city’s police officers, three of whom risked their lives when they confronted a drunk with a knife on Sept. 5. As has been vividly demonstrated here in Los Angeles, when cops detect a lack of spine in their leadership, they are less inclined to take the kinds of risks required to deter crime and bring order to troubled neighborhoods.
You may not have heard of a recent police shooting in Los Angeles as the racial calculus of the incident failed to tickle the national media’s antennae, but on Sept. 28, about a mile from the site of the Sept. 5 shooting, three LAPD officers attempted to stop a stolen car when the driver emerged with a rifle in hand and a pistol in his pocket, apparently intent on resisting their efforts to return him to the prison from which he had recently been paroled. The officers shot and killed the man before he had a chance to do them or anyone else any harm, but had those officers’ minds been clouded by thoughts of political repercussions, had they hesitated only slightly in making the decision to fire, the outcome might have been far different.
Back in Dallas, this is a lesson they are about to learn the hard way.