Black leaders in Long Beach reacted bitterly Tuesday to the acquittal of two former police officers in the Don Jackson "sting" case, but few were surprised.
"The criminal justice system does not work for blacks the way it works for whites. And this case proves that," said Frank Berry, former president of the Long Beach chapter of the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People.
Ernest McBride, one of the founding members of the NAACP branch, recalled the 1920s, when members of the Ku Klux Klan rode down Ocean Boulevard. "I knew racism existed in Long Beach, but I didn't think they'd get 11 out of 12," said McBride, 81.
A jury Monday deadlocked 11 to 1 in favor of acquittal for former officers Mark Dickey and Mark Ramsey, forcing Municipal Court Judge James Wright to declare a mistrial. Dickey was cleared of misdemeanor assault charges and he and his former partner were cleared of falsifying a police report on the incident. The case will not be retried.
The two men were charged after an NBC-TV crew secretly videotaped them Jan. 14, 1989, stopping black activist Jackson during a traffic stop that turned violent. Jackson, a former Hawthorne police sergeant, had set out with the TV crew to conduct a sting to record acts of racism by police. During the confrontation, Dickey appeared to push Jackson into a plate-glass window, shattering it.
During the two years Dickey and Ramsey awaited a trial, local police support for them was strong. Some officers picketed NBC and some wore T-shirts that read: "We Do Windows." On Monday, word "spread like wildfire" at the police station that the pair had been cleared of wrongdoing, said Officer Mike Minton.
"Morale probably went up 100%," Minton said. "Everybody is behind them. (Dickey and Ramsey) were the true victims in this thing."
"We think it not only vindicated Mark Dickey and Mark Ramsey, but the entire Police Department," said Sgt. Buz Williams. Most jurors said they did not believe Jackson's side of the story. Enhanced versions of the videotape, they said, showed that Jackson acted suspiciously and that the officers reacted appropriately. It was Jackson's elbows, and not his head, that hit the window, most jurors said.
The dissenting juror, Charles Woolery, the only black on the panel, called what he saw on the screen "excessive force."
Charles Townsend, president of the Long Beach NAACP, said: "In our community, we're looking at the tapes, and whether it was his elbow or his head that hit is not important. There appeared to be a shove."
Although the case is over, it will have some long-lasting effects.
The videotape of the Jackson confrontation became a national story. Police Chief Lawrence Binkley seized the opportunity to make changes in the Long Beach force. At the time, Binkley called his department "a predominantly white, male organization that's a very closed society." He mandated, among other things, that officers attend a weeklong class called "Conduct and the Community." He refused to comment for this story.
The Jackson case prompted a change in state law that makes falsifying a police report a felony. "That city will never be the same and I know it hasn't (been). I can take some satisfaction knowing I was a part of it," Jackson said.