The largest organization of black Los Angeles police officers says racism does not exist within the 8,300-member department. But a splinter group of black officers and an outspoken community leader say it does.
The split among the department's 1,300 black members is yet another troublesome consequence of the March 3 videotape that shows white officers beating black motorist Rodney King.But the video is not the sole source of contention between black and white officers. Highly publicized racial slurs made by the policemen who beat King have made the incident even more personal to black Los Angeles officers.
As the King beating continues to simmer, black officers are stepping forward to say bigotry is alive and well in the LAPD.
Last week, Officer Janine Bouey told of white colleagues leaving a calling card from the Ku Klux Klan on her windshield two years ago. Officer Carl McGill, head of the recently formed African-American Peace Officers Association, said discrimination complaints he has made during a six-year tenure have been ignored or used against him by the department.
"Nobody is acting in our behalf," said McGill, whose association numbers 40 LAPD members, as well as firefighters, sheriff's deputies and other law officers. "The racist tone is set by individuals who hold key positions. If your superior makes racist remarks, where do you go?"
Danny Bakewell, president of the group Brotherhood Crusade, said he has heard from more than a dozen "absolutely outraged" black officers who are afraid to come forward.
"That outrage is clearly tempered by survival and underscored by fear," Bakewell said. "If they speak out, there will be clearly focused reprisals."
Four white officers have been indicted on charges of assault with a deadly weapon in the attack. The videotape of King being kicked, clubbed and shocked with a 50,000-volt stun gun has been seen by millions of television viewers across the country.
One of the four indicted officers made racist comments the night King was arrested, referring to a previous domestic dispute call involving blacks as being "right out of `Gorillas in the Mist,' " a movie about ape research in Africa.
The remarks were contained in publicly released transcripts of patrol car computer messages.
The national uproar created by these incidents highlights a department that prohibited black officers from riding in patrol cars with white colleagues until 1965, more than 10 years after the U.S. Supreme Court outlawed school segregation.
Mayor Tom Bradley, who became the department's first black lieutenant before retiring in 1961, said last week that the King beating presents an opportunity to investigate "constant and continuing" complaints from black officers who say they have been passed over for promotion.
Such complaints resulted in a ruling last year by the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing that the department systematically denied promotions and advancements to black officers.