The death of 35 year-old mother of two Alesia Thomas, and the brutal arrests of 34-year-old nurse Michelle Jordan and 20-year-old college student Ronald Weekley, Jr. have refocused national attention on Los Angeles, a city which was nearly brought to its knees following the acquittal of four officers who stood trial for the brutal beating of Rodney King in 1992, the ensuing riots, as well as the subsequent Rampart scandal, which saw shocking revelations of witness tampering and evidence planting brought to light.
These recent incidents have raised the question of whether Los Angeles’ age-old police brutality problem is making a comeback, a mere three years after a federal judge released the LAPD from the settlement obligations that ushered in an era of sweeping reforms meant to reduce corruption and incidences of police misconduct in the wake of the Rampart scandal.
Benjamin Crump, the civil right attorney who represents Trayvon Martin’s family, also represents Alesia Thomas’s family and Ronald Weekley, Jr., and he is increasingly concerned about this alarming trend –so concerned, in fact, that he wrote to Attorney General Eric Holder, and requested that the Department of Justice investigate what he described as “a recurring present day theme” of police misconduct by Los Angeles police department officers.
Crump maintains that the tragic death of Trayvon Martin opened people’s eyes and helped members outside the African-American community see that in his words, “a problem exists when it comes to profiling and equal justice.”
Crump points to the videos of two of the incidents as stunning examples of police brutality, and credits the public for recording and publicizing the videos. The video of Michelle Jordan’s arrest for a cell phone violation shows two officers dragging her from her car and twice slamming the young woman (who was wearing a dress) to the ground twice before giving each other a congratulatory fist bump.
The video of Ronald Weekley’s arrest shows police officers tackling Weekley for skateboarding on the wrong side of the road in front of his home, and punching the college student repeatedly in the face while onlookers pleaded for the officers to leave him alone and recorded part of the arrest.
As for video in the case of Alesia Thomas’s death, it is unclear what will be revealed because Crump’s efforts to obtain the surveillance video of the circumstances that lead to Thomas’s death have been met with resistance (though the LAPD has admitted that the video “revealed some questionable tactics and improper comments.)
Crump notes, incredulously, that the police have thus far refused to release the video, instead choosing to describe the contents of the video, “as if we need them to interpret it for us.”
“It’s just sad,” Crump said.
Crump hopes that public demand for justice will force the police department to release the video tape and account for the “questionable tactics” and “inappropriate comments” of the officers involved in Thomas’s arrest.
Crump has similar concerns about the less-than-forthright manner in which the LAPD is handling the Ronald Weekley case. In the course of his representation of Mr. Weekley, Crump requested that the LAPD conducted an investigation into the allegations by Mr. Weekley of police misconduct. In response, the LAPD has begun to conduct its investigation, but seems to be doing so in a manner that unjustly burdens Weekley’s constitutional rights.