The Police


There is a disparity in perception in this city about the role of law enforcement. On the one hand, there’s lots of middle class people, Westsiders, and newbies that tend to see the police as a dependable backup when something is going wrong, a phone call to safety, someone that can deal with that other element. They’re also usually the ones to laud them for when they do something right, piling on the praise whenever they can. Mostly since all their experiences with the LAPD tends to be helpful and positive.

On the other hand, there’s the people that have lived with the police as a constant source of intimidation. Those that expect almost every interaction with them to be accusatory, that they will be the ones singled out for extra inspection, be asked to step outside of the car, be patted down and have the car searched. Your info will get radioed in, your name will get run through some database to see if they can arrest you for something. This is how I grew up with the police, as a force of harassment, as a sanctioned gang that is allowed to mess with you. Maybe this way of seeing the cops is only part of the picture, but I’m not inclined to learn of the new friendly police everyone else seems to know.

The photo above is just a random capture, over on Melrose by the old Anti-Club. But this is still a regular sight as I make my way around Lincoln Heights, some vato being subjected to that extra attention. It wouldn’t be so significant if this attention was distributed evenly across the city, but I rarely see this scene in certain so-called nicer parts of LA.

I know some will think I’m making nothing of this pic, counter with a “these guys might have done something”, but until you’ve been one of those singled out for the Special, I’m not too interested in those objections.

This entry was posted in Analysis, Greater Los Angeles, Shit I hate, This Chicano Life. Bookmark the permalink.

26 Responses to The Police

  1. apio says:

    The last time, I called the cops for anything was in 1981. I was still young as an anarchist, and though distrustful of cops, not quite clear on a few things. I came home to hear what sounded to me like one of my house mates was being raped. I was scared and felt I had to do something. i stupidly called the cops. By the time they got there, I had learned that although an obnoxious guy had been aggressively coming on to her, he hadn’t raped her and in fact backed off as soon as he realized she was a lesbian. He was gone by the time the cops arrived. And I had a hard time getting them to leave. A month later I was beat up by a couple of cops for telling them not to call another friend of mine a cunt. They had stopped her for DUMPSTER DIVING, which is apparently considered petty theft according to San Francisco law (that’s where I lived at the time). I noticed the situation went over to observe, and when I noticed the aggressive attitude and nasty name-calling, I couldn’t keep my mouth shut (still naive). I got my head bashed against a wall until I had a concussion by a guy who looked like a weasel and a guy who looked like an Aryan nazi – both part of the gang in blue. I knew from that moment that I would never call the cops about anything again. In fact i would not talk to them except when circumstances (like a detention or an arrest) forced me to give my identity to them (and that would be all I would say). My attitude was further confirmed about a year later when I was forced to spend 8 hours in a drunk tank when stone sober, because some rural northern California pig didn”t like my (at the time) purple hair. By the time the pigs let me out, all the bars were closed so I couldn”t even get a beer to calm my nerves! So I don’t talk to cops, I count cops among my personal enemies and see them as an invading military force in any neighborhood in which I may live.

  2. Bobo says:

    Luckily, I’ve only called the cops once. The woman in the apartment next to mine was getting the living shit beaten out of her at 3 in the morning by her tweaker boyfriend. He was slamming her so hard against our common wall that items were falling off of my shelves. I tolerated this for a while being half asleep but with her persistent wailing and her body continuing to be slammed against the walls I decided to call the cops. They arrived and knew the guy by name and on sight. They talked to him for a while and soon took him away. At least the beating stopped. Faced with this situation again I’m not sure what I would do but I would be very hesitant to call the cops again.

    My policy now is to only call the cops when not doing so would make things worse or put yourself in jeopardy. Like if you came home one day and found a dead body in your place, not calling the cops would put you in a very sticky situation. Not something good to handle yourself. Or if you get robbed and need a police report for insurance reasons. Otherwise, don’t do it!

  3. Edraid says:

    Just to even this post out a little bit. I’m fairly inner city, lower class and have lived in pretty shitty neighborhoods, and I try to treat most cops as decent human beings until they give me a reason to think otherwise.

    I had a situation where my friend had been in a car accident which was clearly the other guys fault. The problem was my friend had been drinking and completely reeked of beer. The cop showed up and easily understood the situation. He told the other guy to stay away and wrote up the report without any mention of alcohol.

    I try to imagine that they’re TRYING to do the right thing, although having to be the “party pooper” constantly probably makes them bitter. Ultimately I’m not defending them, just saying that (Like people in baggy pants) there’s a huge range of the type you could be encountering.

  4. bikinginla says:

    I have to admit, as a middle aged, middle class white guy living on the Westside, my experience with the police is entirely different these days — and has been ever since I cut my long hair back in the ’70s, which seemed to change their perception of me from “hippie commie pinko fag” to “respectable young man” virtually overnight.

  5. apio says:

    Edraid, i am sure that among the individuals who decide to become cops there is variety. As individuals, some of them may even be decent folks. But as cops, they are playing a specific social role, that of maintaining social control. And this means that their normal, required daily activity, their job, is to interfere in the lives of other people. This (plus the fact that they are well-armed) means that in every interaction they have while carrying out their job, they are in a position of power over those they interact with. No level of decency can change that fact.

  6. blue demon says:

    I’ve only had to call the police once when two guys tried breaking into my house. It was around 2am when it happened & I was sound asleep. I called the police & they said they would send a cop car right over. After the window shattered & they were in my house I pulled out a machete yelling at the top of my lungs. They ran out the window. I decided to stay up because I figured I’d have to fill a police report. I waited one hour, the police didn’t come. Then two hours had gone by, the police still didn’t come. Then I decided to go to sleep since I had to be up really early for work. Point is, the cops NEVER CAME.

  7. Jeff says:

    I once called the cops because a homeless guy was getting the shit beat out of him outside my window. I was pretty scared, but when I crawled over to the window to get a better look, I got the surprise of my life. The guys beating this poor guy up were cops themselves! The next night my place was lit up by a police helicopter for a good half hour.

    Sometimes I want to give them the benefit of doubt, but when I see how they behave toward people at rallies or protests, such as the debacle at McArthur park, I’m quickly brought back to reality. These days they no longer automatically have me pegged as the enemy, but I know what’s in their hearts.

  8. I grew up in Boyle Hieghts in the ’70s. I was harrased over and over from the age of 12. I was not or have I been a gang member. I was just one of the neighborhood kids that always got stopped. When I was old enough to leave the city of LA I did. Twice when I looked for a home to buy I avoided the city because of bad memories with the LAPD.

    Both times I decided to buy in East LA where the LAPD is not a daily problem.

  9. Mark_Pasadena says:

    I agree with “bikinginla” who admitted it was cutting his hair and no longer going against the grain that changed his view of cops, as well as their perception of him.

    I grew up in Boyle Heights. My parents are very traditional first-generation Mexican immigrants who made sure I always had a respectable clean-cut haircut and never wore oversize baggy jeans and shirts like these two “suspects” in the picture above. “No te pongas camisas blancas y pantalones dickies como los cholos, o te va a ir mal!!” is what I heard from my parents. Unfortunately, many children in my old neighborhood lack good parents who prevent them from looking like “suspects” in the first place.

    The nice men in blue gave me Fernando Valenzuela baseball cards on several occasions when I was a little boy at the Wabash recreation center.

    As a respectable member of the community (who looked like one since I was a little boy) I can honestly tell you they always harassed the trouble-makers, not the good kids with good parents.

  10. browne says:

    Well as you know El Chavo I hate cops. Hate them alot. Specifically for the reason that you have pictures of above. The difference between people of color and cops and white people and cops is that a person of color can have a suit on and still get the above treatment whereas a white guy can cut his hair and put on a suit and cops no longer a problem.

    My boyfriend white, former punk, bad attitude can do all kinds of things and the cops do nothing. I look at them too hard on the blue line and they are ready to arrest me, I’m a woman. I’m 31 and that’s some straight up bullshit.

    F*ck the police.

  11. Fuck you Mark _Pasadena.
    “As a respectable member of the community (who looked like one since I was a little boy) I can honestly tell you they always harassed the trouble-makers, not the good kids with good parents.”

    I was harrased all the time and I NEVER was associated with gangs. My parents were hard working, honest Mexicans.

  12. browne says:

    Maybe certain people don’t know what being treated with respect is so they can’t tell the difference when they are being disrespected.

    I see that alot with people in LA. Lots of people who don’t know what getting served shit is, because that’s all they’ve ever eaten and they’ve grown to like it.

  13. browne says:

    And those kids look totally normal. What are they supposed to look like? What are they supposed to be dressed like?

    Oh I get it, if you’re a person of color you have to dress more preppy than a white kid to ge the same treatment, maybe? Insane. Calling them suspects, they look normal to me.

    Link to what respectable kids in LA wear. I would like to see a picture of the uniform you have to wear to be brown or black and not be messed with by the cops, maybe a ROTC uniform, maybe a gardener uniform, maybe a LAPD uniform…I would like to know what a young man of color needs to dress like in order to not get bothered by the cops.

    My friends African-American grad student husband got arrested for walking around Westwood, just walking and looking like someone who would commit a crime. That was pretty much it for his eco greenie bastard experiment. He learned black men better have a car.


  14. EL CHAVO! says:

    Mark P,
    You seem to be suggesting that people can just look criminal. You might want to think a bit harder on what that implies. And like calavera, I was often harassed and never looked like a cholo.

    But we shouldn’t need haircuts and ties to be treated fairly.

  15. Mark_Pasadena says:

    It never ceased to amaze me how rampant the “victim mentality” was among all the lazy trouble-makers who were harrassed by police in my old neighborhood.

    If you ask AP students at Roosevelt or Garfield High who don’t wear oversized Blue, Red, or plain White t-shirts with size 40 pants (if they’re actually size 34)–you’ll find they don’t get harrassed. Go and ask the academic decathlon team members. Go ask those who care about keeping a 3.5+ GPA and are excited about being the first in their family to attend college. Go ask them, and you’ll see that no cops are harrassing them, as they never harrassed me or my peers.

    The “permanent victims” who like to do more complaining than actually just “doing” are the ones more likely to have been harrassed.

  16. cindylu says:

    My brothers were raised by good parents. My dad told them not to dress a certain way. They still got stopped by LA County Sheriffs just walking in our neighborhood. And they didn’t look like gangsters, just skater kids in the suburbs.

    For the most part, I’ve had decent interactions with cops. I think it’s a gender thing as my interactions change when I’m with a man, particularly one who is brown. I’ve seen an officer ask an Indian friend (also Muslim) if he was getting a grenade out of the glove compartment. I’ve also felt the intimidation during large rallies and protests.

    Last year my brother told me he was applying to be a sheriff. I didn’t know what to say. Then he started joking that he was going to harass the white “bros” like he’s been harassed by white cops. I thought it was funny.

    I have a cousin who is a cop. I ran into him once at a Dodger game. He was in full uniform looking out for trouble makers. The experience was surreal. I greeted my cousin but feared him in his uniform and dark sunglasses.

  17. Mark,
    You are mistaken. I went to RHS and was an AP student and I was stopped by LAPD on the way to school with other friends . We dressed in jeans, t-shirts and chucks. My dad would have floored me if I wore anything inappropriate.

    This has nothing with embracing a victim mentality. I was taught better than that and I teach my daughter not to take shit from ANYONE. It is just the truth that the LAPD harrased black and brown kids in my neighborhood.

  18. TacoSam says:

    Intersting discussion. I think that police treatment (or mistreatment) has a lot to do with economic class, just like in many other aspects of daily life. If one is poor, more than likely one will always get the short end of the stick. If one is wealthier, you get a better deal. This happens in all aspects of daily life. Yes, its not fair but its been happening since the Old Testament times–poor people have been getting star-fucked for millenia.

    Witness the treatment by police and city officials of the hit and run USC student who was killed, and the Guatemalan who was killed by a hit and run driver in Highland Park on the same day. It made the front page of the LA Times this week.

    I agree with Pasadena Mark. If you dress and look a certain way, you definitely increase the risk of getting harrassed by the police. By the same token, even if you dress “normal” or “preppy”, you cannot eliminate the risk of getting harrassed.

    I think the problem lies in the inherit fact that the police have absolute POWER and GUNS over us. The fact is that Power is abused by everyone who has it–police, politicians, drug dealers, gang members, your boss, etc.

  19. moon says:

    This is a great discussion. I feel for both sides as I have cop friends and a dark skinned husband that, at times, has gotten rousted by the cops. I know people of color are treated different and I have to agree with TacoSam it’s more about economics than anything else. It’s never simple to attach blame.

    I think of the cops as I do the general population; some good, some just assholes. Yesterday, in Ventura, we saw two cops roust five homeless young Anglo kids from a park downtown. Nothing physical, just moved them on their way. I have no idea why they picked them as they left a few other homeless stay. The kids were the dirtiest homeless I’ve even seen but this was obviously the way they wanted to live and if they were clean and dressed decently the cops would have walked on by.

  20. apio says:

    Aware of my own treatment by cops (see the first comment for examples) as an Anglo (or person of pallor), I can only imagine what people of color deal with.
    I have at times looked like a punk or a goth, and am currently a long-hair with a beard, but more often than not, I look like a normal pale working class guy. But, I have been poor my whole adult life, and perhaps the class thing shows in ways I don’t notice, but the cops do. Now that I have reached the age of 54 (okay, not for about two weeks), my harassment by cops seems to be a lot less. Just sometimes slowing down to give me the eye. In any case. I don’t identify as a victim of the cops. They are just doing their job. Their job just happens to be, first of all, to keep anyone who might threaten the social peace (the poor, oppressed groups, conscious rebels and revolutionaries, and, yes, also criminals) in line. And that makes them my enemies. Now that brings up another possibility for my harassment–perhaps its not my poverty, but my hostility that they notice…
    But as the Belgian surrealist Louis Scutenaire once said: “an angry cop reeks even worse than an ordinary one.”

  21. eee says:

    I was rear ended at full speed by two drunk men who immediately jumped out of the car and ran before checking to see if I was okay (I wasn’t). Luckily, some dudes from another car jumped out and tackled the drunk men. I called the police and it took ten minutes for an operator to pick up. 911 is a joke, for real. As a woman, I know I will need to fight like hell if I ever get attacked, because the chance of someone calling 911 and cops arriving is next to null in this city.

  22. browne says:

    It’s not just about being poor or rich. I know lots of people like to believe that, but that’s a lie.

    My cousin went to Beverly Hills High. Grew up in Beverly Hills. Good grades. Used to sit in his room and draw. He got arrested by the cops and held when he was 18 because a white guy said he looked like someone who robbed him. (The guy was angry because my cousin who had a very nice car cut him off on Wilshire, he later admitted after my cousin and his dad and lots of money and a lawyer pried the lie out of him.) The LAPD told my cousin to plead guilty and he would get to go home. Yeah with felony, but he would go home, thank god he wasn’t poor, because he probably would have went home with a felony so that he could work his piece of crap job at some fastfood hell joint.

    LAPD obviously did not have enough since to figure out that someone with a Beverly Hills address even someone who is black, probably has access to a lawyer. Of course he got off, but did he do anything, nope. Was he poor, well I don’t know too many poor people in Beverly Hills, but you know if people want to believe its only about economics then I’d like you to sit down and talk to my cousins who are of black and white heritage and grew up in Beverly Hills and Malibu.

    Being a black man even one with a white dad still means criminal to the LAPD.


  23. apio says:

    Of course, it isn’t JUST about rich and poor, and I also know from direct personal experience that it isn’t JUST about race. Cops use both factors (and others) as ways of profiling people. But, ultimately, due to the nature of their job, they assume that everyone is potentially a criminal, but some are more easily harassed than others.

  24. Bobby Squires says:

    This is Racial Profiling, plain and simple. I have a “There’s No Excuse for Racial Profiling bumper sticker on my car. I had 5,000 printed and I disitributed them in L.A. for free. (What a fucking mensch I am!)

    Police do check me out just because of the bumper sticker, I’m sure. They’re probably asking themselves what a fucking gabacho is doing with this slapped onto his Saab.

    Anyway, I have a few more, if anyone wants one. The authors of this blog know how to contact me.

  25. Mrow says:

    Nobody else seems impressed but me . . . hey, this definitely is Helen’s ANTI-CLUB! I only witnessed a couple gigs there in the late 80’s, but those shows remain etched in my brain in a deeply felt way. Betcha more than one cop car got a bottle thrown at it from a patron of that old space.

  26. rolo says:

    Chavo, how do i get my “What a fucking mensch I am!” bumper sticker?

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