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National Activists Decry Inglewood Incident

Police: The Rev. Al Sharpton and attorney Johnnie Cochran are among those joining local voices protesting police beating.

July 15, 2002|TINA DIRMANN and GEOFFREY MOHAN | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

A number of prominent speakers used the pulpits of area churches Sunday to spread their message that legislation is needed to toughen penalties against the kind of police brutality that they said occurred in Inglewood.

On a day when Johnnie Cochran's law firm was hired to represent an Inglewood teenager beaten by police, the Rev. Al Sharpton and others urged Washington lawmakers to pass reforms such as civilian oversight panels for any police agency that receives federal funds.

"I am happy to be here and to be a noisemaker," Sharpton said at a news conference at Los Angeles International Airport. "It's noise that got us out of the back of the bus.... But so far, the White House has been silent. And if they continue to be silent, we will continue to see these issues."

Sharpton, a civil rights activist from New York, and others, including Cochran's co-counsel, Sanford Rubenstein of New York, said it's time to hear from the White House on the issue of police brutality, calling on President Bush to treat the issue with the same seriousness that he has embraced in fighting terrorism.

"If they can fight terrorism across the world, then let's fight terrorism here at home, committed by men and women in uniform," Sharpton said.

Cochran confirmed Sunday in a telephone interview that he had been hired to represent 16-year-old Donovan Jackson, who was captured on videotape as his handcuffed and limp body was slammed onto a police car and he was punched in the face by Inglewood Police Officer Jeremy J. Morse.

Cochran, retained by Jackson's mother, Felicia Chavis, said he had already reviewed the videotape several times and reached a few conclusions.

"I am struck that the kid seems totally helpless at that moment," Cochran said. "I know people talk about what happened before. But at the moment of the tape, when this young man is helpless and in custody, he is picked up and slammed up on that car.... Pure and simple, that is a crime and the officer appears to be out of control."

Talibah Shakir, Jackson's cousin, said at the LAX news conference that the boy had already been knocked unconscious by the time he was hurled onto the police car and that he did not realize what had happened to him until he saw the tape later on television.

Now, she said, he's at home, afraid to leave his house for fear of being arrested. She compared his situation with that of Mitchell Crooks, the man who videotaped Jackson's encounter with police and was later taken into custody on outstanding warrants from Placer County. To help deal with his fears, Jackson has been seeing a therapist since the incident.

"He's just frightened they will kidnap him like they kidnapped Mitchell Crooks," said Shakir, who described her cousin as a mild-mannered boy who shied away from speaking in public because of a speech impediment. She also fervently denied police reports that Jackson had grabbed Morse's genital area, prompting the officer to punch the boy in the face.

"If Donovan touched his genitals, it was an involuntary reflex because he was unconscious when he was slammed into that car," Shakir said.

Ralph Harrison, Crooks' attorney, attended the Power of Love Christian Fellowship Church service in Los Angeles on Sunday where Sharpton delivered the sermon.

Harrison said his client had been mistreated while behind bars in Placer County, suffering cuts and bruises and a shoulder injury that required a visit to the hospital.

Crooks, Harrison said, was touched by the fund-raising efforts for his defense fund by people such as Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles), who hopes to raise $10,000 to help with his legal bills. Sharpton added to the fund Sunday with a $1,000 donation. Crooks is scheduled for a hearing Tuesday on a burglary and a 5-year-old hit-and-run accident.

"He appreciates all the love and support he's getting, knowing no one is letting him hang out to dry," Harrison said.

Sharpton was trying to arrange a visit with Crooks late Sunday or this morning. Sharpton said he considered it an outrage that Crooks would be jailed after bringing attention to the police beating.

"Anytime someone can body-slam your children and the only one in jail is the one who turned in the crime, that's trouble. There's something wrong with that picture," Sharpton said.

Sharpton stirred up emotions in the small Los Angeles church, eliciting shouts of support from the congregation.

The same scene was echoed at the First African Methodist Episcopal Church in the West Adams district, where State Assembly Speaker Herb Wesson (D-Culver City) told a packed gathering that "we dropped the ball" on police brutality after the Rodney King beating, and said he would form an Assembly committee to examine police reform.

"This incident is a wake-up call to us all," Wesson said to more than 500 congregants, who shouted occasional words of encouragement toward the pulpit.

"It is the job of law enforcement to protect, to serve and to partner with us," he said, adding, "I am going to make sure they do that."

Wesson said the committee would invite "progressive" police commissioners and other law enforcement officials, as well as outside experts, "to hunker down in a room, so that no more will we have to turn on the television and see a child beaten."

Sharpton and Rubenstein also discussed legislative reforms, such as civilian review panels.

Rubenstein said it was important for civilians to be allowed to file federal court cases, instead of the way it's done now, where only federal prosecutors are empowered to bring such cases before a judge.

But the most important first action officials must take, the activists said, is to fire Morse.

*

Times staff writer Henry Weinstein contributed to this story.

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