Sunday, July 27, 2008

Why I Called for a Christopher Model Commission on Inglewood Cop Killings

Earl Ofari Hutchinson

Beleaguered Inglewood police chief Jacqueline Seabrooks dropped a faint hint in her July 25 press conference that she would welcome an independent agency to take a hard look at the policies and procedures of her department. Seabrooks dropped the hint that the department welcomes outside intervention mostly in response to the call this writer made for a Christopher style Commission in Inglewood.

She had little choice but to welcome an outside look at her department. Three very questionable fatal shootings in three months, piles of complaints from citizens of police abuse, harassment, and misconduct, and a department under intense public and media fire. This screamed for some kind of action to dispel the fervent feeling that the Inglewood police are wildly out of control.

The shooting of postal worker Kevin Wicks by the same cop who gunned down a black teen weeks earlier was the last draw. Almost no one believes the chief’s vehement contention that the department is capable of conducting a fair and impartial investigation of itself.

This has nothing to do with the heat, passion and fury over the Wicks shooting, or even distrust of Seabrooks. It has everything to do with the history of cops investigating other cops who are alleged to have committed or actually are guilty of misconduct, and especially misconduct that involves the overuse of deadly force. These investigations rely heavily on often tightly orchestrated statements, or carefully scripted reports from the officer or officers about the incident, cursory review of citizen complaints, forensic evidence and a crime scene reenactment that’s heavily weighted to support the under fire officer’s version of the incident. Meanwhile, the statements and testimony from witnesses that contradict the officer’s version of the incident are often treated with skepticism, disbelief or are outright dismissed.

Often police officials tip their hand and publicly declare even before the first scarp of evidence is gathered that the shooting or physical confrontation was probably justified. The result of police investigating themselves is virtually preordained. The accused officer is almost always exonerated. If the officer kills or maims the shooting is almost always ruled in policy.

But the stain of these investigations is not totally scrubbed away when an officer skips off scot free. There are the grieving families, the inevitable and costly lawsuits, and increase in public ill-will toward the police.

There are even more deadly consequences. Questionable cop shootings and their subsequent pro forma stamp investigations stir turmoil and unrest, and deepen the distrust and cynicism of blacks and minorities toward the police. They reinforce the deep seated belief that cops are only out to cover up their dirt and that the lives of minorities are cheap.

The Wicks shooting doesn’t have to follow that predictable and infuriating script. Inglewood officials have a made-in-heaven chance to rewrite that script. The call for a Christopher Model Commission was a good call in the wake of the Wicks shooting. The Christopher Commission was established by L.A. officials after the beating of black motorist Rodney King in 1991. It tore apart all LAPD policies and procedures, but it took the hardest look at the department’s lax use of deadly force, and the almost total absence of any checks and balances and punishment for such use.

Inglewood officials, led by Mayor Roosevelt Dorn, took a big step in the direction of bringing in independent scrutiny when it agreed to push for an Independent Counsel to take a hard look at the Inglewood police shootings. Here are the crucial questions that an Independent Counsel must ask and Inglewood police officials must answer:

What is appropriate use of force?

Under what circumstances should an officer use deadly force?

What type of force is necessary in specific situations?

What type of training do officers receive on when to use or not use deadly force?

What is excessive force?

What are the current department policies on the use of force?

What are the alternatives to deadly force, and when should they be used?

What are the investigation procedures into the use of deadly force?

What punishment is imposed when deadly force is found to be out of policy?

Inglewood police officials did the right thing when they expressed deep regret over Wick’s killing. They can do the right thing again by putting iron clad guidelines and rules in place on the use of deadly force. This will do much to insure that they will not be back again in a few months or even weeks to express regrets to yet another family for a police killing that should never have happened.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His new book is The Ethnic Presidency: How Race Decides the Race to the White House (Middle Passage Press, February 2008).

Monday, July 7, 2008

The Southeast Symphony Orchestra’s Message Is Simple: The Classical Music Experience is Our Experience Too
Earl Ofari Hutchinson

Despite what some mistakenly think, classical music is our experience too. That’s the black experience. For six decades, the Southeast Symphony Orchestra in Los Angeles has had this ambitious goal: to nourish the classical music experience among African-Americans, provide a venue for artists and musicians to play and for audience’s to learn and enjoy classical music, as well as to train the next generation of young African-American classical musicians. The orchestra under the direction of nationally renowned musicologist, conductor and concert artist maestro Charles Dickerson will hold its 60th anniversary season closing concert on Sunday, July 20 at 3:00 PM at the Walt Disney Concert Hall with a powerhouse afternoon of American classical music gems. They include Gershwin’s American in Paris, Rhapsody in Blue and Porgy and Bess. The program will feature some of Los Angeles’s renowned black virtuoso performers.
In spite of the symphony’s phenomenal work over the years to deepen the experience of classical music among blacks, there’s one comment that has always stuck with me when the subject is classical music and African-Americans. A couple of years ago when I mentioned that I would attend a classical music performance at a local concert hall, a good friend snapped who, you and three other blacks. She did not mean to offend with her quip. In fact, we both laughed at it. But underneath the pithy and dismissive retort, lay a world of misunderstanding, ignorance, and flat out rejection of the towering, but largely ignored role and importance of blacks in the world of classical music. Put bluntly, far too many blacks still regard classical music as exclusively a white European music form. Or put even more bluntly, many sneer at it as white man’s music that has no relation to the black experience. Nothing could be further from the truth.
African-American Heritage in Classical Music ( lists 52 composers, conductors and instrumental performers - Africans, African Americans and Afro-Europeans spanning five centuries. These artists are unknown to most of us, yet are so numerous the web site can present only a fraction of them. They have made enduring contributions to classical music. Several have composed, conducted and performed classical music. Le Chevalier de Saint-Georges (1745-1799) of Guadeloupe is one of those multi-talented musicians. Cuban classical guitarist Leo Brouwer (born 1939) is another. Over 100 sound samples can be heard at the Audio page and at the biographical pages on the web site and others.
Classical musical world giants Ludwig Van Beethoven, Antonin Dvorak, Camille Saint Saens, Maurice Ravel, Claude Debussy, George Gershwin, Leonard Bernstein, and others have either befriended black classical music artists or incorporated jazz, spirituals, and/or African rhythms in their compositions. Living legend Wynton Marsalis has virtually made a second career in music recording Haydn, Teleman, and other classical music composers trumpet concertos.
The numbers of black singers, dancers, symphony conductors, and virtuoso performers that now regularly grace the symphonic, and Opera hall and ballet stage today is legion. The number of black symphonic groups has increased nationally.
Dickerson, and the dedicated board members and core of loyal patrons of the Southeast Symphony, have labored in the shadows for years to fund and sustain the orchestra and its community outreach programs. It’s strictly been a labor of love, in this case driven by their profound love of classical music and the belief that classical music can enrich the black community and the lives of those that hear, enjoy and play it.
Fulfilling the mission hasn’t been easy. Southeast Symphony does not get the mega foundation or corporate dollars that the big, prestigious, and deeply endowed philharmonic orchestras receive. It must rely on small donations to maintain and grow their efforts.
The July 20th gala concert is the way to help them.
But this is more than a concert. It’s a statement that African-Americans have been and will continue to be in the pantheon of the classical music world. It’s a bold declaration that the black experience has been and continues to be a vital, dynamic, and profoundly enriching part of classical music. The orchestra fully intends to make sure the world knows that.
The Southeast Symphony Orchestra’s message then is simple: The classical music experience is our experience too.

See you at the Walt Disney Concert Hall Sunday July 20th.

Ticket Information: 323-293-7372 310-973-2488 310-519-1806

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His new book is The Ethnic Presidency: How Race Decides the Race to the White House (Middle Passage Press, February 2008).