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Embracing Bratton

March 16, 2007|Lisa Richardson

IT WAS A TOTAL Jerry Maguire moment. Chief William J. Bratton stepped to the podium at the Police Department's African American community forum Wednesday night, threw his arms wide and said, "I love black people!"

In return, the audience of black activists, clergy and business leaders applauded with enthusiasm for the white police chief. Then, space-time fabric tore and the planet lurched on its axis.

All right, it didn't happen exactly like that. Rather, Bratton thanked the black community for its warm embrace of him and his wife, Rikki Klieman, and there was affectionate applause.

But keep in mind how things once were. Remember the betrayal many blacks felt when then-Mayor James K. Hahn ousted Bernard C. Parks as chief and hired Bratton? The move helped cost Hahn his job and created a prickly entree for Bratton into L.A. politics. And remember the hostile community meetings where black residents blasted Bratton and his department, particularly in the aftermath of officer-involved shootings, and Bratton fired back, sometimes testily? Then fast forward to the mutual appreciation-fest.

Bratton, who will formally request a second five-year term from the Police Commission later this month, has achieved what no white police chief has in the city's history: He has convinced many black leaders that he understands their concerns and can actively address them.

Wednesday night, he did this by demonstrating a level of comfort and understanding that was positively Clinton-

esque (Bill, not Hillary). Bratton started with an anecdote about his fondness for Harold & Belle's -- the famed Creole restaurant on Jefferson -- then segued into the $20 million he's spending on patrol car cameras, in part to track racial profiling.

The auditorium at the Soka Gakkai International center on Venice Boulevard possibly had more black police captains, commanders and chiefs than it did civilians. The Police Department is 13% African American, Bratton noted, reflecting the racial makeup of the city. In return, the black officers present vouched for Bratton's sincerity and administrative abilities (which the chief attributed to his willingness to pick up the tab at Harold & Belle's).

Still, the gathering wasn't all harmony and light. Real concerns and lingering wounds still fester. The shooting of unarmed 13-year-old Devin Brown in 2005 and the subsequent clearance of the officer's conduct by the department's board of rights remains an outrage to many African Americans. Audience members wanted to know why 80% of homicides in their neighborhoods go unsolved and what the department is doing to halt the Latino 204th Street gang's targeting of blacks.

Nonetheless, the forum ended with much schmoozing and backslapping -- and probably a dinner meeting or two at Harold & Belle's.


Lisa Richardson

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