Give us a little credit, won't you?
Isn't it possible we've learned something in 11 years?
I speak of the Donovan Jackson matter in Inglewood, the videotaped incident of a 16-year-old black kid in handcuffs being slammed down on a police car and punched by a white police officer.
It has been accompanied by protests and demonstrations, the deja vu street lullaby of "No justice, no peace."
But what a difference a decade makes. This disgraceful video moment has generated maybe half a dozen investigations, a scramble to be first in line with the subpoenas. Does anybody in public life really want to be on the wrong side of this one?
Donovan Jackson was 5 years old in the spring of 1991, when in the space of two appalling weeks, we saw first the video of Rodney King being beaten and then the video of 15-year-old Latasha Harlins being shot in the back of the head by a shopkeeper after a tussle over a $1.79 bottle of orange juice.
A year later we saw the acquittals of the four Rodney King cops. And then we saw the rioting that razed hopes and jobs, livelihoods and lives. It changed this city, its people, and, one begins to hope, its Police Department.
Ten years ago, Ron Banks wore LAPD blue. He joined the year after the Watts riots, and got the full ration of grief from white cops who thought a black man in uniform was part of the problem, not part of the solution. In 1992, he was one of the first LAPD brass to show up at Florence and Normandie. Now he's the police chief of Inglewood. Don't you think he remembers?
Ten years ago, Roosevelt Dorn was a Superior Court judge, a black man about to preside over the trial of the three black men charged with beating trucker Reginald Denny nearly to death at that same intersection. Prosecutors yanked him off the case. Now he's the mayor of Inglewood. Don't you think he remembers?
Yet some people are acting as if the Rodney King incident and its Richter-scale consequences never happened.
First, about those expired license plate tags on Jackson's father's car, a middle-aged tan Ford Taurus, the reason sheriff's deputies say they questioned him in the first place. Expired tags-- yeah, wasn't that how they nabbed Capone? Don't today's cops have computers in their cars, so they can check on the spot on a possibly hot car?
Second, you don't hit someone who's already in handcuffs. Bernie Parks, the recently departed L.A. police chief and now candidate for Los Angeles City Council, spoke last week at a dinner honoring Roosevelt Dorn, and he talked about that video: Once you handcuff someone and have him in that position, a blow is not necessary--that's bad police work, plain and simple.
Inglewood is not the same city it was a quarter-century or so ago, when its population was turning black but its council was white, and the new City Hall had a deliberately small council chamber to keep down crowd size. But Inglewood is in for some of the same rough navel-gazing that L.A. did a decade ago, over issues of police and power, as it should be. There is always reason to wonder whether any establishment, black or white, can rap its own knuckles.
But along with the sincere anguish over this incident is what looks like insincere grandstanding.
"New York Al," the Rev. Al Sharpton, who has been front and center in this, blew into town with advance notice of his flight number and arrival time. He's a big noise in the Big Apple, and there are mutterings about him running for president, but in all these years he still hasn't been able to make his bones in L.A. Maybe he figures this can do it for him.
And over in the right corner, President Bush, who is running for president, sent his attorney general swooping in to deal with this problem in a black city the same week Bush was being flayed by the NAACP over his civil rights policy.
Lou Cannon, whose book "Official Negligence" analyzes, as its subtitle says, "How Rodney King and the Riots Changed Los Angeles and the LAPD," finds similarities, in that the images of both the King and Jackson beatings are videotaped moments out of large episodes, "a partial record of a partial record."
But King, says Cannon, was not under police control when the whacking began, 56 video blows in all. Donovan Jackson was, and "there's a bright line between what you do when someone is handcuffed and when he isn't."
Moreover, says Cannon, "I don't see any evidence of anybody saying, 'We're not gonna prosecute this guy [Morse].' I guess the rhetorical question is: What breakdown of the justice system has occurred that we need help?"
Kerman Maddox is an African American, an L.A. native, a political consultant and a friend, and I asked him for his take on the Sharpton role in the protests that have thronged Inglewood's official places.
"There's no need for a guy like Al Sharpton to come in; he creates a misinformation campaign, giving the impression that nothing is being done. Things are happening; this is not Rodney King 1991. Everybody's doing what I think they ought to do in a responsible and swift manner. Al is giving the impression he's doing what no one else in this town could have done, and that drives me crazy."
"Some people want this to be Rodney King," he added. "It's not Rodney King. The city's different. And we've all learned."
Patt Morrison's columns appear Mondays and Wednesdays. Her e-mail address is patt.morrison @latimes.com.