The Greek philosopher Plato’s ancient question, “Who guards the guardians?” was answered dramatically last month by a Los Angeles plumber and amateur video buff.
Video seen around the world
As most of the world now knows, plumbing contractor George Holiday glanced out the window of his Lake View Terrace apartment at 12:30 a.m. on March 3, and couldn’t believe his eyes. Fifteen white Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) officers surrounded a single black man lying prone on the cement.
Mr. Holiday quickly grabbed his newly-purchased video camera and began recording what was happening. The tape footage, now seen on network television all over the country, shows at least three LAPD officers viciously beating the man, Rodney G. King, 25, with their nightsticks.
Both witnesses and the tape itself testify that King, although a convicted armed robber allegedly stopped for speeding, was not resisting.
Begging for Mercy
In fact, King appeared to be begging for mercy, holding his hands up and attempting to fend off the more than 55 blows the police delivered to him. He flopped pathetically to the ground, his central nervous system already scrambled by the 10,000-volt Taser stun gun used on him, while the officers kicked him and swung their nightsticks like baseball bats.
Quite correctly the incident has provoked a nation-wide uproar. The FBI, the U.S. Congress, the local Grand Jury and the LAPD Internal Affairs Division have all instituted investigations.
LAPD police chief Daryl Gates and L.A. City prosecutors have announced that they will probably file criminal assault charges against the three most active police officers. What is less clear is what will become of the dozen or so other policemen who stood around and watched the beating.
Unfortunately, as the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights recently pointed out, “the brutal beating of Rodney King. . . is not the only case captured on video of gratuitous violence by Los Angeles police.”
Pro-life demonstrators from organizations such as Operation Rescue have been videotaping police violence against the peaceful protesters for more than three years.
These videotapes show that LAPD officers have routinely used ‘pain compliance techniques’ (including martial arts weapons) against pro-life demonstrators. In some cases they have broken arms, cracked skulls against curbs and openly mocked the religious beliefs of pro-lifers. Police in most other cities simply carry nonviolent political protesters to paddywagons.
And yet throughout this time there has not been a single word of protest heard from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the L.A. City Council, or the District attorney’s office.
Quite the contrary, in fact.
It was to appease fanatic pro-abortion partisans on the L.A. City Council that Chief Gates, then running for governor, first directed (or allowed) LAPD officers to apply maximum force when arresting peaceful Operation Rescue Demonstrators.
The L.A. City Council in March 1988, dragged Chief Gates into its chambers and demanded that the department “toughen up” its enforcement of Operation Rescue sit-ins. City Council members Zev Yaroslavksky and Michael Woo – now among the loudest of area politicians denouncing police violence against Mr. King – actually came out and watched, laughing, while LAPD officers ground the faces of rescuers, including some young women, into the concrete and broke their arms.
L.A. judges, the very people who are supposed the protect the rights of citizens against unconstitutional police coercion, looked the other way at police brutality against pro-lifers and themselves handed down outrageous sentences – six months in jail for misdemeanor trespass, for example.
As for the ACLU, it is only now, when the victim of police violence is a convicted arm robber, and not a prolifer, that it is speaking out.
The answer to Plato’s question is, therefore, clear.
It is the citizens themselves who must guard the guardians – with vigilant watchdog organizations and now – thanks to technology – with videotape.
Politicians, the media and the courts won’t do it for them.
Video can be a dramatic tool to document police violence, but only if people see it, only if it is shown on television or in court rooms.
Rescue organizations have had video tapes just as appalling as that of the king incident for two years now, and yet, despite repeated attempts to have them broadcast on television, both the networks and local TV stations have refused to show them.
It is the citizens, therefore, who must make the difference.
It is only when the citizens of a community decide that the law should protect everyone equally – no matter the color of a person’s skin or his or her political or religious views – that police brutality will be, as Chief Gates claims it is, an isolated incident.
Robert J. Hutchinson is a freelance writer living in southern California