The Michigan Daily- Tuesday, November 17,1992- Page 7
Strossen: Citizens can remedy police racism at local level
Continued from page 1
think there are many other incidents
that weren't given an investigation?
Strossen: Ofcourse. I'm very sick-
ened by the fact that there is not much
public uproarabout the Malice Green.
Maybe there is in Michigan, but not
on a nationwide basis the way there
was about King.
Moreover, there was a police kill-
ing of a Latino man by the foothills
division of the LAPD last week, the
same division that was responsible
for beating Rodney King. They shot
this Latino man nine times. That has
gotten hardly any publicity, and I think
the difference is that we are a public
that is very riveted to the screen and
we are not seeing videos of either of
these killings. It is therefore not cap-
turing the imagination and stirring the
fury that the King incident did.
At the time that Rodney King was
beaten, the southern California chap-.
ter of the ACLU ... was receiving on
the average of 50 complaints a week
of brutality or excessive force by the
Los Angeles Police Department or
Daily: And that was justin South-
Strossen; That was just in Los
Angeles. But Los Angeles should not
be singled out. We know police bru-
tality is a nationwide problem. Obvi-
ously not every police department has
a problem to the same extent. Obvi-
ously not every officer is involved in
it to the same extent. To the contrary,
it is usually a very small percentage of
officers that are responsible for a dis-
proportionate amount of the exces-
It is one of the most common civil
liberties complaints at all ACLU of-
fices ... all over the country, every
day of the week. That's why in some
sense, there was something positive
in the silver lining to 'this terrible
tragedy of the Rodney King being
beaten. It brought alargerpublic prob-
lem home to many people who had
not realized its extent before.
The King beating was aberrational
not in that it happened, but in that it
was captured on tape. If we are to
have something constructive come
out of that terrible tragedy, it has to be
for people to lobby their governments
to adopt reforms that will both mini-
mize or hopefully prevent excessive
police force in the first place.
Secondly, if it does occur, people
should have some meaningful re-
sponse to it. One of the positive things
that happened in Los Angeles as a
result of the King beating was the
adoption of very seriousreforms ... in
the structure of the police department
- the role of the police chief for the
first time, making him or her, ac-
countable to the civilian government
in a way that Daryl Gates never was.
We have to make police account-
able to the public through civilian
control of the review boards. For ex-
ample, both Rodney King's brother
and George Holiday, the person who
took the videotape of the King beat-
ing, both tried to file complaints with
the LAPD about the brutality and in
both cases, the complaints were not
accepted. So people are just discour-
aged. Why bother complaining if
nothing's going to be done about it?
The 50 a week is definitely an under-.
Daily: Is thejudicial system a valid
Strossen: It's difficult to say. I
think that in the Rodney King case,
the one unfair aspect of it for sure was
the location of the trial -the fact that
the venue was moved from Los Ange-
les to Simi Valley resulting in a jury
that I think was not a fair jury for
evaluating the competing claims of
the officers and of Rodney King.
Beyond that, what should be
faulted is not the legal system per se,
but its the racial prejudice and stereo-
types that are major social problems
in our society.
I've heard at least one or two ju-
rors quoted as saying they believe
Rodney King was in control of the
situation and that's why the police
needed to beat him to subdue him. I
think this is a deep-seeded prejudice
on the part of many white Americans
that goes back to the earliest days of
slavery in our country - believing
that a big Black man is dangerous and
threatening and perceiving him as
being in control even when he's
I do think that I'm willing to give
the jurors the benefitof the doubt, that
they really did believe that he was in
control and the police needed to use
that degree of force. But that itself
reflects prejudice and stereotypes and
the same kind of prejudicial thinking
that (President) Bush played on so
effectively four years ago, or his cam-
paign did, with the Willie Horton
Daily: You mentioned that people
can talk to their legislators and repre-
sentatives about laws to prevent dis-
crimination by police departments.
Can you be more specific?
Strossen: First of all, you want to
exert whatever influence you can in
the selection of police chief at the
local level to be sure that its going to
be somebody who is respectful of the
various population groups that are
supposed to be protected by the police
department - somebody that will
work with the community rather than
declaring war on the community.
Secondly, you want to make sure.
that person is accountable to the civil-
ian government so that that body can
exert influence over the chief to make
sure that he or she provides appropri-
ate training for police officers to train
them against the use of excessive
force. If you have racial minorities,
ethnic minorities, you want to have
sensitivity training andcounseling and
multi-cultural education for the po-
Also, you want to be sure that
there is a civilian-controlled process
for reviewing complaints of police
abuse. We cannot depend on the po-
lice to investigate and police them-
selves objectively. We need to have
civilian control over that process.
On a national level, the ACLU is
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supportintg something in Congress
called the Police Accountability Act
that will provide two forms of civilian
civil actions for redress. Both would
entitle the plaintiff to a court order
against patterns and practices of po-
It would also require the United
States Justice Department to monitor
local departments and gather statis-
tics on complaints of police brutality.
Right now there's really just haphaz-
ard collecting of information and we
think this is a problem that's a nation-
wide one and it is a violation of civil
Daily: Do you think the problem
in Los Angeles is of excessive police
brutality or is it only in cases against
Strossen: There has been exces-
sive force used against whites as well
as against not whites, but dispropor-
tionately the victims are either Afri-
can American or Latino and male.
That's typical across the country -
racial minorities are disproportion-
ately the victims of police shootings,
police beatings, other kinds of police
abuse, police harassment..
Again, one response to that is an
integrated police force. Los Angeles
has made some strides, but it's still
vastly white and male and we need to
have police departments that have
diversity - not only in the lowest
ranks of the department - but in
leadership positions. We need mem-
bers of racial minorities, we need
women and we also need lesbians and
gays. Gay men, in particular, are also
disproportionately victims of police
Daily: In Detroit, the commander
of the officers that were arraigned for
beating Malice Green is an African
American. IHe knew what was going
on and was also suspended. ...
Strossen: You know, obviously
these things don't tit into neat little
pigeon holes and I'm not saying that
every white police officer is going to
be discriminatory and every non-white
is not going to be. Not at all, life is
In fact, it seems from those who
have studied police forces that cul-
tures are created. They're like mini-
societies and a culture can be created
of race discrimination that's so perva-
sive that it influences even those
people who are themselves members
of racial minorities. They kind of buy
into that culture. The most important
change has to be at the ton. ... The
message is sent by the leadership to
affect and change in a positive way
that whole culture throughout the
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