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All Eyes Are on the LAPD

June 25, 2004

Eleven times the flashlight rose and fell, and with each blow, Los Angeles flinched. But as much as Wednesday's televised thrashing of a black suspect by a white police officer invoked nightmarish memories of the Rodney King beating, the reaction of city and Los Angeles Police Department officials was no repeat of 1991. If Los Angeles is not yet where it wants to be, it's at least not where it was.

Officers were pursuing a stolen car when driver Stanley Miller, 36, bolted from the vehicle in Compton. On the videotape shot by television news crews, Miller soon stopped running, raised his arms and started to crouch. An officer tackled him and another helped hold him down. A third is seen kicking and then striking Miller with a flashlight. Miller was treated for what police described as scrapes, then booked on suspicion of grand theft auto.

By early afternoon, LAPD South Bureau Deputy Chief Earl Paysinger had assembled about 50 mostly African American community activists, pastors and business leaders to meet with Mayor James K. Hahn, City Councilman Martin Ludlow and other officials, including the head of the civilian Police Commission and the commission's chief investigator. Despite the absence of three of the LAPD's four top officials, including frequent traveler Police Chief William J. Bratton (who returned Thursday), it was an impressive turnout in keeping with the gravity of the situation. Rather than slow and defensive, the response was quick and forceful. All promised a speedy, open and transparent investigation.

Equally welcome was a caution by civil rights attorney Connie Rice -- whose credibility as a firebrand police reformer carries weight -- that the investigation must be judged by how rational it is, not whether it finds officers guilty. That such a statement needs to be made at all is because of the LAPD's past reputation for closing ranks and upholding a code of silence, especially in neighborhoods that are heavily populated by minorities with long memories of abuse. The LAPD has worked hard in recent years to win trust. Wednesday was a grave setback, but now comes the real test.

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