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From her perspective, the most pressing issues facing the city of Los Angeles are reducing vehicular traffic, making the city friendlier for pedestrians, and clean air.

The System is changing

Detective Pjai Morris, Homicide Detective, Northeast Division, LAPD

Det. Morris was interviewed in a large, isolated conference room at the department headquarters building. He is dressed formally, but without a jacket. His movements are deliberate and seem to represent practiced patience. He is African-American and has worked as a police officer with the LAPD for 28 years.

The beating of Rodney King took place in the Foothills division of the L.A. police department and at the time there were no African-American officers assigned to that division. Det. Morris was immediately transferred to that division and assigned the task of spending time out on the streets to "… calm things down a bit." What's interesting is that officer Morris described that he was shot at all the time during the riots. Apparently, the rioters were more color blind than the 'system'. This view was further validated by what Det. Morris learned after going undercover to 'listen' to street gangs, that hatred against whites wasn't nearly as strong as the hatred of a racist system. Det. Morris's experience as an LAPD police officer also validates Francisco Gomez's comments that the media seems to exploit negative racial stereotypes.

The perspective of Det. Morris, though, is that of a person working within the system, rather than being a victim of the system. He prefers to emphasize the positive changes that have occurred as a result of the riots, rather than what hasn't changed. If Det. Morris agrees with Francisco Gomez's sentiments that the system is racist, then he does so, it seems, only by virtue of his past undercover work infiltrating street gangs.

Discussion

The theme of systemic racism came up in the interviews with Francisco Gomez, Bunnie Jatkowski, and Pjai Morris and seem to represent a consensus opinion among both Hispanic and African-American communities in Los Angeles. In contrast, the notion of systemic racism did not to appear on the 'radar screen' of Rabbi Susan Laemmle unless prompted. If this is representative of the various ethnic communities in the Los Angeles area then there are still significant barriers to having a shared experience.

What seems most remarkable is that racism seemed to be less prevalent among the minority communities than in the system. For example, Det. Morris talked about rioters shooting at all police officers regardless of their skin color. If this view is accurate, then what needs to change isn't the existence of ethnic neighborhoods, but the racist system. The good news is that theoretically, ending a racist system is a conceptually straightforward task. The only barrier is the system itself, which still happens to be controlled by a relatively white, economically-advantaged, 'ruling' class.

Det. Morris suggested that part of the solution to ending racial tensions between the LAPD and the communities they serve is communication. Although this can't hurt, it won't have a significant impact on the entrenched racism within the system unless the barriers to minority participation in the system are eliminated. The most obvious examples were provided by Bunnie Jatkowski when she encountered blatant housing discrimination and strong institutional resistance to her becoming an LAPD police officer.

With such a large and diverse minority population it seems imperative that the system needs to become more ethnically diverse. Only then will Los Angeles become a place where dreams can be realized and hope nurtured from within.

References

Ramos, George. (1992, May 4). When loving L.A. turns to heartache: A native son's affection for the city is lost amid the flames and the violence. For him, everything has now changed. Los Angeles Times. p. A1.

Ramos, George. (1995, Mar. 6). No sign of the spark to rekindle a love gone cold. Los Angeles Times. p. 3.