Four days after the violent death of Christopher Dorner, a small crowd gathered at police headquarters in downtown Los Angeles. Dorner, a former police officer suspected of killing four people, perished last Tuesday from a single, likely self-inflicted gunshot wound, while the mountain cabin in which he was barricaded burned to the ground. But rather than support the LAPD for having cornered him, the protesters came to condemn the way the manhunt was conducted – and even to express support for Dorner himself.
Though none remotely condoned his actions, those who congregated on Saturday said they sympathised with the words of the “manifesto” that Dorner posted online shortly before he began his shooting spree. In that lengthy rant, the 33-year-old accused the LAPD of corruption and racism, and insisted he had been wrongly fired in 2009, after he made a complaint against his female training officer, whom he accused of having kicked a mentally ill man during an arrest.
According to Dorner’s screed, in his time with the LAPD, he heard the “N-word” casually exchanged by his fellow officers, and watched police academy recruits taunt a Jewish colleague by singing Hitler Youth ditties. His murderous rampage, he claimed, was “a necessary evil that I do not enjoy but must… complete for substantial change to occur within the LAPD.”
The alleged killer’s accusations have drawn more than 27,000 supporters to a Facebook page entitled, “We Stand With Christopher Dorner”. At least three current and former black LAPD officers have come forward to say they recognise his grievances. One of them, 48-year-old Brian Bentley, told The Independent, “It was almost as if I’d written [Dorner’s] manifesto myself. I experienced what he experienced.”
These charges threaten to unpick the LAPD’s delicate and newfound reputation for racial probity. As he announced the re-opening of the disciplinary case that led to Dorner’s firing, the city’s police Chief Charlie Beck said: “I am aware of the ghosts of the LAPD’s past, and one of my biggest concerns is that they will be resurrected by Dorner’s allegations of racism.”
One of those ghosts is that of William H Parker, LA’s Chief of Police throughout the 1950s, who ran a department that was often faulted for its brutality and racial antagonism. It was towards the end of Parker’s tenure that 34 people died in the 1965 Watts Riots, which were incited by a white policeman pulling over a black driver on suspicion of driving under the influence.
The same tensions flared again more than 20 years later, when an amateur filmmaker with a Sony Handycam shot a grainy, nine-minute video of LAPD officers beating the black motorist Rodney King. In 1992 an all-white jury set free the four officers involved, sparking days of unrest that left 55 people dead. The then-Chief Daryl Gates was seen as responsible for the LAPD’s brutality; he resigned shortly after the riots. Among the laws created later was a two-term limit for LAPD Chiefs, so no one could rule the department for longer than 10 years, as both Parker and Gates had done.
Yet despite the appointment of its first African-American Chief, Willie Williams, the LAPD’s image failed to significantly improve in the 1990s. At the 1995 trial of OJ Simpson for the murder of his ex-wife Nicole and her friend Ron Goldman, the defence used the proven racism of LAPD detective Mark Fuhrman to suggest he had prejudiced the case. Later that decade, the Rampart corruption scandal saw several officers from the department’s elite anti-gang unit convicted of a range of crimes including shootings, drug dealing and bank robbery. Three of those rogue cops were accused of involvement in the 1997 murder of the rapper Notorious B.I.G.
The scandals eventually led to reform. Last year the LAPD released figures suggesting just 37 per cent of its staff are white, compared to 59 per cent in 1992. Following the Rampart scandal, anti-gang and narcotics officers were required to disclose their finances. The department also vacated its old home, the Parker Centre – named after William H Parker – and moved to the sleek new Police Administration Building beside City Hall in October 2009.
Connie Rice is a civil rights lawyer who brought a series of lawsuits against the LAPD in the 1990s, when, she says, “They were still at war with the black community. The LAPD was a militaristic and cruel force: abusive, hostile, openly racist and uninterested in change.”
When Bill Bratton was made Chief of Police in 2002, however, he invited Rice to be one of his advisers – a role she continues to perform for his successor. “Chief Bratton was the first catalytic transformer of the LAPD, and Chief Beck picked up the baton,” said Ms Rice, who refuted Dorner’s claim that, “The department has not changed since the Rampart and Rodney King days”.
“They’ve made enormous changes,” said Ms Rice. “You no longer have a command staff that openly embraces racist jokes and epithets, or racial hostility to minority officers. You have a police force that is no longer majority white male. The leadership requires its officers to view the poor minority community as human and deserving of protection. That’s a sea change. But it’s also true that we have a long way to go. We need more women police officers, and the LAPD is not an interracial nirvana. But the culture no longer flagrantly celebrates racism.”
Brian Bentley was a police officer from 1989 to 1999; he served throughout the riots of 1992, and was assigned to guard OJ Simpson’s home in Brentwood during the star’s trial. The day he joined the force, he says, his training officer told him, “I’m going to be honest with you: I think all the blacks on the LAPD are only here because of affirmative action. My job is not to train you; it’s to get you fired.” When Mr Bentley complained to his superiors, his captain refused to act and asked him to leave his office.
Though he has no sympathy for Dorner, Mr Bentley says he was surprised something like the alleged cop-killer’s case did not occur before. He knows a number of other officers who, he claims, drew up hit-lists of LAPD officials whom they believed had wronged them. “Ultimately those officers ended up killing themselves,” he says. “There’s three suicides I know of in recent years: two black officers and one white female. They were so angry that they couldn’t take it.” A 2008 study found that LAPD officers were more likely to die at their own hands than to be killed by criminals.
Both Mr Bentley and Ms Rice believe the Board of Rights system, under which cases such as Dorner’s are reviewed by senior officers, ought to be replaced by outside oversight. “I don’t think cops can be expected to investigate their friends,” said Ms Rice.
Mr Bentley’s own experience gives some sense of the treatment afforded to whistle-blowers. He was fired for writing One Time: The Story of a South Los Angeles Police Officer, a memoir of his experiences, and given a misconduct charge for every incident of racism that he described in the book but had failed to report to his superiors. He left the LAPD with more misconduct charges than any other officer in its history.
her children don’t even want to miss school for a holiday saying they will fall behind.
A Lodi mom is starting a petition to add Eid al-Fitr to California’s list of holidays that would automatically excuse a child from school. The 24-hour Muslim holiday falls after 30 days of fasting during daylight to observe Ramadan each year, and this year will fall on Aug. 7 and 8 — in the first week of the 2013-14 school year.
Veronica Aziz lives near Blakely Park with her husband and three sons. She and her family are Muslim and attend the Lodi Mosque. Growing up, she remembers missing a day of school each year for the family gathering and prayers.
“We just didn’t go to school. Our community was so small that if we missed a day it didn’t matter,” said Aziz. But her children don’t like to miss school. They tell their mother if they miss one day they will fall behind.
“They get upset,” she said. “I want to be able to tell them not to worry.”
The Lodi Unified School District allows children to take the day off as an excused absence, according to California education code. This differs from an unexcused absence, which means a child cannot make up any homework assignments or tests from that day — but it still counts as an absence.
Aziz would like the district to allow students of all faiths to miss school for religious holidays without counting it as an absence.
At Borchardt Elementary School, where 10 to 15 percent of the children come from Muslim families, principal Janis Morehead and the teachers put a major emphasis on perfect attendance. Those who make it through a full semester without missing a day — even for an excused absence — get ice cream at lunch just before the winter or summer break.
The incentive makes sense for the school. It’s a simple prize, but high daily attendance keeps money flowing into school coffers.
Aziz’s youngest son, Sajaad Aziz, is nine years old and attends Borchardt. Aziz said he is reluctant to miss any school, even for a day when his whole family is together and he may even be getting gifts from grandparents.
Eid al-Fitr follows Ramadan, when the faithful do not eat, drink or let anything pass their lips from sunrise to sunset for 30 days.
At the end of the month, when the moon is visible in the night sky, the family comes together for a meal. The next day is spent in prayer and with family.
“Children still go to school for (Ramadan). They still keep up all their activities,” said Aziz. “Our prayers are to thank God for letting us know the meaning of Ramadan. It is acknowledging fact that people around the world are hungry, and helps us be more thankful for what we have.”
Aziz’s children went to school last year. They begged not to be kept home, she said, to keep up their perfect attendance.
Among Borchardt’s 800 students, 133 earned their ice cream last semester. Morehead said that many other families will be making the choice between religion and school, with Good Friday coming up in a few weeks.
“It’s not perfect attendance minus the flu, or perfect attendance minus when you broke your arm. And it’s not perfect attendance minus the day you took off for a religious observation. You make a commitment with religion, and with that comes sacrifices,” Morehead said. “I don’t have time to keep track of perfect attendance except for this or that. Perhaps the family can take them for a treat of their own.”
Aziz said it’s not about a scoop of ice cream. It’s about teaching her kids that school and their religious faith are equally important.
Aziz contacted the district and spoke with Superintendent Catherine Pennington. Pennington explained that providing an excused absence for a religious holiday isn’t a local decision, and a petition must be submitted to the state.
However, Giorgos Kazanis, a representative from the California Department of Education, said school districts have more leeway on these decisions than they think.
“Generally, most of these decisions are made on a local level,” he said.
Aziz is not sure how far a petition would go. But she is willing to try.
“I don’t want to ask the question, ‘Should I let you go to school that day?’” she said. “There would be peace of mind for us, and I could tell my children, ‘Tomorrow is our day.’”
this is not about protecting children. it’s about maintaining white supremacy.
So, this is a thing: a white parent has spent 6 months trying to get the Fairfax County,Virginia school system to ban Toni Morrison’s novel Beloved from its schools. Why? She feels its content isn’t suitable for children – where “children” here means older teenagers in an Advanced Placement class intended to provide college-level instruction – and is upset that reading the book gave her then 18 year old son nightmares.
Laura Murphy, the book-banning mom in question, has apparently also tried to get Cormac McCarthy’s The Road and Joy Kogawa’s Obasan, a novel about the Canadian government’s internment of Japanese-Canadians during World War II, removed from the county curriculum. I have no idea what her objection to Obasan is, but there appears to be a pattern here, and it looks an awful lot like whiteness.
There’s so much one could say about this.
Firstly: Yes, Beloved is a deeply disturbing book, no doubt about that. It’s the story of a mother who would rather kill her children than be forced to have them grow up as slaves. Morrison doesn’t spare feelings or constitutions in her descriptions of all kinds of horrific violence.
I’ve read a good portion of Beloved, but have never finished it, because I was strongly advised that it wasn’t a book I wanted to read while I was pregnant (I believe my friend’s exact words were “STOP READING IT RIGHT NOW”). So, I get it. It’s an unsettling read.
It’s a bit sad that this needs saying, but many books that are worth reading can be profoundly unsettling and scary, even traumatic to read. And this is in part because many unsettling, scary, traumatic things are part of the human experience.
It’s hard for me to imagine there aren’t several books on Fairfax County’s AP English curriculum that are potentially as disturbing as Beloved or Obasan. Say, for example, Lord of the Flies, which gave me nightmares when I read it in 10th grade. Kids going feral after being stranded on a desert island and hunting and killing each other is pretty nightmarish stuff, no? Or how about Hamlet? Dude pretty much slaughters everyone at the end [eta: hyperbole alert :-p]. Let’s ban, that, too.
But no, those books are part of the awfully white male “Western canon,” and not so vulnerable to these sorts of crusades. Their literary merit is established, so the violent and disturbing aspects are more easily taken for granted. Despite Murphy’s claim that her objection to Beloved is purely about protecting kids and has nothing to do with her assessment of its literary merit, it’s quite obvious that her concerns about literary violence don’t apply equally to all books or all authors.
Two of the books Murphy has objected to are by women of color. Both of them are also about the history of white supremacist violence in North America. These things don’t seem like a coincidence.
Murphy says she’s no book-burner and that she has no problem with teens learning about “mature” topics like the Holocaust and slavery. But the content of Obasan and Beloved – which includes graphic depictions of violence and some mentions of bestiality – are apparently a bridge too far. One has to wonder exactly what Murphy thinks happened during the Holocaust and under American slavery, or if she realizes that children were victims of both.
Beloved is based on the true story of Margaret Garner. It’s an unflinching look at a legacy of incredible violence and trauma that many Americans – especially many white Americans – would much rather not think about.
You think a novel about an institution so violent and depraved that a woman would rather kill her children than be forced to hand them over is the stuff of nightmares? Imagine the waking nightmare Margaret Garner lived, faced with the awful “choice” of murdering her own kids or watching them be returned to slavery. And she was just one person out of millions. Any honest account of this history should disturb and unsettle us.
Of course, imagining that nightmare is precisely what Murphy is insisting that her kids shouldn’t have to do. The question is, does the math add up on a claim that one white kid’s bad dreams outweigh the value thousands of students get out of confronting a history we’re all still living with the ramifications of? Including many students who are bound to be the descendants of slave owners or slaves – in some cases, both?
Murphy justifies keeping students from grappling with this history in the name of “[making] sure every kid in the county is protected.” In this reckoning, 17 and 18 year olds need protection from a few lost nights of sleep, from realizing that people are capable of doing truly awful things, from the knowledge that some people live with horrific, daily, inescapable violence.
Here’s another question: which 17 and 18 year olds need protection from this? Many teenagers know these things already. Some because it’s an unavoidable part of their history. So many others know these things from direct experience. To be able to assume a blanket right to protection that can be exercised simply by keeping scary books out of kids’ hands is the product of an amazing level of privilege and disconnectedness from reality.
As Prof. David Leonard says, the argument from a white parent living in an affluent suburb that “children” as an undifferentiated class need to be protected from merely reading about such things “speaks to sense of entitlement and notion of whose innocence, security, and personal joy deserves attention [and] protection.”
This is a roundabout sort of white supremacy that coopts the language of keeping kids safe to say that the experiences people of color actually lived are too volatile even read about. And let’s be clear, it’s not simply the fact that these are stories about people of color that is at issue. It’s the fact that these are also histories of white people, and histories that are fundamentally incompatible with mythologies of whiteness, particularly the myth of whiteness as innocence.
A history where people of color are the innocent victims of white violence is an offense to white supremacy. So demands are made for preserving the “innocence” of white kids, something that requires denying the innocence of communities of color subjected to white violence and colonialism. White students must be shielded from the trauma of confronting the violent acts and legacy of people who looked like them – perhaps even people they are descended from.
The good news is the Fairfax County School Board apparently sees Murphy’s request for what it is: not simply an attempt to “be a responsible parent,” as she says, but a demand that schools provide a a sanitized educational environment tailored for preserving the emotional comfort of white students at everyone else’s expense.