Spotlight on police brutality

Many see the videotaped beating of a man by LA officers as a pattern of abuse against minorities


New York Times News Service

LOS ANGELES—Since it was first broadcast on local television, the videotape of a black man being beaten and kicked for nearly two minutes by a group of white police officers has shamed the city and outraged minority groups who have insisted for years that they are targets of an abusive police force.

Two weeks after it occurred, the beating has pushed the issue of police brutality to the forefront of the criminal justice debate nationwide. Local and federal law enforcement agencies have opened investigations to determine whether indeed there is a pattern of police brutality, not only in Los Angeles but around the country.

For black and Hispanic people who have long complained that police brutality is directed primarily at them, the March 3 beating of Rodney G. King, for Which four police officers have been indicted, may prove to be a watershed, much as the brutal treatment of marchers at Selma, Ala., in 1965 helped to galvanize the civil rights movement.

A number of points have heightened the sense that the beating was far from the aberration claimed by Police Chief Daryl F. Gates, including these.
Beating: Incident not an aberration, professor says

Although 11 officers are standing by during the beating by three patrolmen under the eye of a sergeant, none makes a serious effort to stop it. And no one moves to care for King after he is hogtied, dragged to the side of the road and left bleeding until an ambulance arrives five minutes later.

The beating is carried out with impunity with no evident concern for the fact that, barely 60 feet away, up to 20 local residents are watching, some shouting, "No, don't kill him!" or that they are acting in full view of people in cars that drive slowly by.

Nearly two-thirds of the people, including a majority of whites, who were questioned in a Los Angeles Times poll published March 10 said they believed that police brutality was common here.

Court records depict a history of similar cases in Los Angeles, some of which seem to differ from the beating of King primarily in the fact that there was no camera to record them.

"This is going to be the defining incident in police brutality; it's going to be the historical event for police in our time," said Jerome Skolnick, professor of law and sociology at the University of California at Berkeley and an expert on police behavior.

"It is highly unlikely that this is unrepresentative of Los Angeles police. Two people can go crazy, but if you have 10 or 12 people watching them and not doing anything, this tells you that this is a normal thing for them."

Although several national organizations, including the National Association of Chiefs of Police and the Police Foundation in Washington, monitor law enforcement issues and compile statistics on police practices, none keeps complete statistics on complaints against the police by citizens. Many large cities rely on their police departments' own internal affairs units to take such complaints and to compile statistics about them.

For all the details captured by the video camera in Los Angeles. several questions remain about what exactly set off the beating. Police and eyewitness accounts of the moments after the chase ended and the beating began are in conflict, with the police accusing the motorist of resisting arrest. And there is no evidence of anything that might have been said to spark the outburst.

No matter what actions King might have taken before the videotape was switched on, there was a widespread feeling here that nothing he did or said could justify the beating he received from the three patrolmen under the superivison of a sergeant.

Mayor Tom Bradley, who has condemned the beating as reprehensible, said, "The three officers, clearly with the use of their batons and with their feet, left no doubt in anybody's mind about the charges that should be levied against them."
Events begins shortly before 12:30 a.m. on Sunday March 3.

(1) California Highway Patrol car reports a white 1988 Hyundai driving very fast down the Foothill Freeway. In the car are Rodney G. King, Bryant Allen and Freddie Helms.

(2) The highway patrol car calls in the Los Angeles police when the car leaves the freeway.

(3) Los Angeles police cars pick up the chase.

(4) King's car is pulled over; he is beaten at the site.

Rodney King, continued
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