The L.A. Times today unquestioningly quotes Erwin Chemerinsky as follows:
“I see a tremendous difference in response,” said Duke University law professor Erwin Chemerinsky. “Chief Parks and Chief Gates refused to admit or recognize the problems. Chief Parks never admitted that there was a Rampart scandal. He said that it was ‘ginned up’…. Chief Gates always blamed the Rodney King beating on Rodney King.
Chemerinsky is just flatly wrong. From “Official Negligence,” by Lou Cannon:
The shock was shared by Chief Gates, who had returned from Washington, D.C. to Los Angeles around midnight on March 4, after participating in a conference on violence sponsored by the Bush administration. The chief’s security aide told him about the incident when he picked him up at the airport, but Gates was not prepared for what he saw when he watched the tape the following morning. Staring at the screen in disbelief, he played the tape twenty-five times. “To see my officers engaged in what appeared to be excessive force, to see them beat a man with their batons fifty-six times, to see a sergeant on the scene who did nothing to seize control, was something I never dreamed I would witness,” Gates wrote later. “It was a very, very extreme use of force — extreme for any police department in America. But for the LAPD, considered by many to be perhaps the finest, most professional police department in the world, it was more than extreme. It was impossible.”
Erwin Chemerinsky: does he ever get tired of being wrong?
P.S. The main point of this post is that Erwin Chemerinsky got something wrong again. But a subsidiary point is this: police chiefs have always responded to videotaped uses of force by police with criticism. Bill Bratton does it, and as much as he was admired within the LAPD, so did Daryl Gates. He also expressed culpability on the part of Rodney King, to be sure, and properly so. But his first reaction was to view the use of force as excessive.
Of course, anybody who just watched the video (and knew nothing else about the case) would agree. But police chiefs are not supposed to publicize their knee-jerk reactions. They’re supposed to know that there is often more to the story.
But all often, they open their mouths before they learn the rest of the story.
P.P.S. A full discussion of the Rodney King case is beyond the scope of this post. If you’re interested in learning more about the King case and the context in which it took place, I recommend Cannon’s eye-opening book. Here is a Salon interview with Cannon in which he discusses some of the book’s major points. Here is a representative quote from Cannon, a longtime Washington Post reporter, about the first few seconds of video (edited out by most stations) showing King violently resisting:
[I]t explains why the jurors in Simi Valley, who were from a very pro-police, conservative community, ruled the way they did. They thought that the media hadn’t told them the full story, and lo and behold, we hadn’t.
Right. And the media’s lack of explanation of the whole picture helped spark the riots, as Cannon explains in his book.
For more insight, here is a good account of the event and trials. I watched a 2-hour Court TV special on the Simi Valley trial, and I think this account is very accurate — and something most people are unfamiliar with.