Nothing is surprising anymore, say those in the black community who have followed the Rodney G. King beating case through the not guilty verdicts, the worst civil unrest in modern U.S. history and reports last week that a confidential Justice Department memo was leaked to the defense.
"The worst thing about the leak, the thing that makes it so sad, is that it didn't really surprise me," said Ralph Sutton, a member of the Brotherhood Crusade. "The justice system continuously seems to be taking black people for granted."
Celes King, state chairman of the Congress of Racial Equality, said: "It's almost as if this whole affair has become a sitcom. What could possibly happen next?"
When the federal government announced the indictments of the four Los Angeles police officers on civil rights charges in August, many who had been jaded by the not guilty verdicts in the state trial were elated.
"I think that this action," Mayor Tom Bradley said at the time, "is going to help bring about a sense of confidence on the part of the people that this system is now working."
But the leak of the secret strategy document has only reinforced widespread suspicions among many about the fairness of the judiciary. Although the ramifications of the unauthorized release remain unclear, the credibility of the government's effort took a major blow.
"There was already little comfort in the justice system," said Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas. "Anything that further diminishes the integrity of the judiciary . . . foments cynicism, despair and ultimately lawlessness and anarchy."
It was outrage over the verdicts, Ridley-Thomas said, that led to the outbreak of rioting on April 29 amid cries of "No Justice, No Peace." Also fresh in everyone's mind, he said, was the controversial case in which Korean-born grocer Soon Ja Du was given probation for fatally shooting black teen-ager Latasha Harlins.
The internal Justice Department memo, which outlined the prosecution's case and questioned the credibility of King and others as witnesses, was apparently mailed to Michael P. Stone, the attorney for officer Laurence M. Powell. After word of the leak got out last week, angry members of Congress called for a swift inquiry into who was responsible.
Danny Bakewell, president of the Brotherhood Crusade, said he is convinced that race is a factor in all the twists and turns of the case.
"This just reinforces the African-American community's paranoia that justice is always twisted when it comes to African-Americans," Bakewell said. In fact, the injustices have become so pervasive that the concerns are no longer paranoia, he said.
Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles) puts the leaked memo in the same league as the bizarre new developments in the racially charged case of truck driver Reginald O. Denny.
Dennis Palmeiri, a former attorney for one of the men accused of beating Denny on the first night of the riots, testified last week that he had been ordered not to vigorously defend his client, Damian Monroe Williams, by superiors at the defunct Center for Constitutional Law and Justice.
The former deputy director of the center, Frederick George Celani, has said in a taped statement that he was hired by the federal government to sabotage Williams' case. The judge, John W. Ouderkirk, is considering a motion by Williams' new attorney to throw out the charges.
"These are unheard of problems," Waters said. "Why are they happening all of a sudden with this case? We're at a point in time where we are increasingly suspicious of the criminal justice system. (These developments) don't help us any."
A former gang member who has spent time behind bars agreed.
"You can't trust the justice system a bit," said Smokey, who wore a T-shirt that showed the Bill of Rights in flames over the slogan "Can't Trust This." "We know it ain't fair. There ain't a brother in the neighborhood that thinks he's gonna get a fair trial."
Councilman Michael Woo, one in a large field of mayoral candidates vying to replace Bradley, said skepticism of the justice system extends to all of the city's ethnic communities, although it is most pronounced among African-Americans.
"I'm extremely alarmed," Woo said. "There were millions of people all over the country that thought justice was denied in the first trial. It's very disturbing to think that justice in (the) second trial may have been jeopardized."