YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Dealing With Problem of Gang Violence

April 30, 1988

I want to thank Alan Bell for his excellent article (" 'Colors': A Monochromatic View of Gang Life in Los Angeles," Op-Ed Page, April 18) in which he criticizes the movie "Colors." This film and the recent hysteria surrounding the age-old problem of gang violence in the African-American community have legitimized a local state of affairs reminiscent of Nazi Germany and the Old South and akin to modern South Africa.

I write not as a detached, socially conscious bystander, but from personal experience. On April 21, I left my office at about 9 p.m. after putting in a 12-hour day. I was tired and my brother, who had borrowed my car, agreed to pick me up and drive me home.

As we drove West on Compton Boulevard in Compton, a local police officer looked in our direction, followed us for a while and then drove away. Within two minutes, this same officer, backed by another police unit and a helicopter hovering over us, demanded that we exit the vehicle. Three officers, at least one with his gun drawn, stood before us as we cautiously approached one of the units and complied with their request to stand spread eagle.

After our car was searched and the officers were convinced of our innocence, we were told that two black men driving a car of our color and make (the year was not mentioned) had reportedly just shot someone. The officers apologized for the inconvenience, but even after my identity was clearly established, one of them snapped at us as if to imply that we had escaped prosecution by the skin of our teeth.

Now I am not suggesting that as a 37-year resident of the city of Compton, an elected member of the Compton College Board of Trustees or even as chief deputy city attorney, who often represents our police officers in court, I should have been familiar to the police or that they should have given us special treatment. I am insisting, however, that while arguably in our specific case the officers' actions may have been justified, throughout Los Angeles County every black man is now under a general cloud of suspicion; and no matter how articulate, well-dressed, prominent or law-abiding one may be, if any black man anywhere has committed a crime, we all, unjustifiably, stand accused.

There was a time when black leadership vehemently opposed police harassment and brutality--even when practiced under the guise of community protection. Regrettably, in our zeal to punish our children--who, after all, are the products of this racist society that has never seriously attempted to socialize or educate them--we blacks have, inadvertently, opened the door for police repression, and created a climate for the acceptance of movies like "Colors."

Many black people are relieved by the arrest and expulsion of large numbers of our children and youths from the black community, even though many of the arrestees are not gang members.

If we are not careful, however, we shall have sacrificed our freedoms along with those of our children and permitted our entire community to be placed under permanent siege.


Chief Deputy City Attorney


Los Angeles Times Articles