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In Diverse Inglewood, Many Support Police, Decry Video's Violence


July 14, 2002
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In Diverse Inglewood, Many Support Police, Decry Video's Violence

by Paul Wilborn, Associated Press

INGLEWOOD, Calif. (AP) - Two large TVs hang from the ceiling at Granny's House of Soul Food and this week customers have been paying as much attention to the screens as they have to Granny's BBQ meat loaf, smothered chicken and black-eyed peas.

They have been focused on the video - the violent snippet of reality TV that shows a handcuffed black teenager being body-slammed by a white policeman onto the trunk of a car, then rocked by the officer's roundhouse punch.

Like many of his restaurant customers and neighbors, 39-year-old Christopher Randle, who is black, is struggling with what he has seen. He supports the city and the police department. A lot of officers, he said, are regulars. And after Sept. 11, people here are hesitant to criticize the police.

"I think the Inglewood Police Department is a fine department, I really do," said Randle, whose family owns Granny's. "But it has problems like any other department."

Since the video went into heavy rotation on CNN and other channels on Monday, Inglewood's image has been tainted along with the reputation of its police department.

The reality, residents say, is quite different.

Inglewood is not a racist city, they insist. Blacks make up 47 percent of the population, and both the mayor and police chief are black.

Police here do not have a history of using excessive force, according to federal, state and local officials who track such claims. The violence that has plagued the city has come from gangs, not cops, those officials said.

At Zahra's Books-N-Things, which specializes in black authors like Terry McMillan and Toni Morrison, owners Jim and Renee Rogers refuse to condemn their city or their police force.

"I'm more or less happy with the city," Jim Rogers said as his wife nodded behind the counter. "I'm not happy with the incident. But I think it is more of a bad apple situation."

The incident happened last Saturday during an arrest at a gas station in this city on the edge of Los Angeles. Sixteen-year-old Donovan Jackson and his father were stopped because the car they were in had expired tags.

A bystander's videotape shows Inglewood Officer Jeremy Morse roughing up Jackson. Morse has a streak of blood next to his ear.

The video evoked memories of the 1991 beating of Rodney King by Los Angeles police. Morse was put on paid leave, the mayor said he ought to be fired, and federal, state and local agencies opened an investigation.

Morse's lawyer said that the officer showed restraint in his use of force. He said Morse struck the teenager after Jackson grabbed the policeman's crotch.

The beating was the latest blow to a city that has had its share of hard knocks. The defense industry, which brought boom times after World War II, is all but gone. As the jobs left, so did many of the town's white residents.

The beloved Los Angeles Lakers fled Inglewood's aging Forum in 1999 along with hockey's Los Angeles Kings for the new downtown Staples Center. Hollywood Park racetrack remains its only major attraction.

The town that once called itself the "City of Champions" is trying to reinvent itself as a clean, progressive community that provides good business opportunities, progressive politics and affordable housing.

Inglewood's 113,000 residents live in neighborhoods ranging from middle-class to poor. Census figures show the median household income is $34,269, and 20 percent of families live below the poverty level.

Many of those neighborhoods are in the flight path of Los Angeles International Airport. Jets fly so low over the city that residents can see the faces of passengers in the windows.

The 192-officer police force is 43 percent white, 25 percent black, 27 percent Hispanic and 4 percent Asian. Detective Neil Murray, the police union president, said racism was not what led to the incident.

"I don't believe this had anything to do with race," said Murray, who is black. "The department is made up of diverse individuals with many different backgrounds and ethnicities."

Outside La Brea Seafood, where the motto is "You buy, we fry," Jestin Campbell, 55, said she also supports the police: "I didn't like seeing what I saw, but I didn't see the policeman get the gash on his face. The police sometimes get a bad rap."

Marshawn Hall, who plans a career in law enforcement and has volunteered as a cadet with the police department, said the officer who hit the teenager and those who stood by should be prosecuted.

"I feel like it was more or less punishment, rather than detention. That boy was helpless," she said.

At one of the growing number of stores catering to the city's growing Hispanic population, Nueva Vallarta Carniceria, where you can buy a pink Barbie pinata, customers condemned what they saw on the video, not the city or the police department.

"I didn't like it, because they had him in handcuffs," said Luis Garcia, a 26-year-old truck driver. "But the cops have to do their jobs, and we didn't see the whole story."




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