Interviews: Do you trust the police?
What to do if the police stop you

By Jennifer Clark, 16, Pacific Coast HS
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My dad used to say some cops are bad. Not all the gangbangers are lying when they complain about police brutality, he said. So when the Rampart police scandal broke in the news nine months ago, I thought to myself, "My dad’s right." Every day, as he drove me to school, we’d listen to the radio news together. I’d hear more and more shocking details about what has become the biggest police corruption scandal ever in Los Angeles and maybe even in the country.

Corrupt cops beat and framed people

What happened was this: former LAPD officer-turned informant Rafael Perez confessed that some police officers in the Rampart Division have beaten, shot and falsely framed innocent people, many of them youths. Even though most of these youth were in gangs, this still doesn’t give police the right to infringe on their civil rights.

The Rampart division spans over six miles of the Koreatown and Mid-Wilshire area. Over the years it has seemed to turn into a playing field for an anti-gang unit called Community Resources Against Street Hoodlums, known simply as CRASH. While gang activity is high in the area, cops also formed a gang of their own. Perez, a nine-year veteran of the LAPD, was arrested last year for stealing eight pounds of cocaine from an evidence locker. In return for a reduced sentence, he agreed to "rat out" other officers who were involved in criminal activity. In court, Perez said that he started out as an honest policeman but later fell into the gang mentality among his colleagues. They covered each other’s backs while inflicting mayhem on the streets.

Los Angeles police officers were robbing banks, stealing cocaine and they even stole one man’s food stamps, according to the Los Angeles Times. I guess they thought they were doing Angelenos a favor—getting the "criminals" off the streets. Their actions are expected to cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars next year in lawsuits against the city.

One person suing the LAPD is Javier Francisco Ovando. At the age of 19, Ovando was shot execution-style by Perez and partner Nino Durden. The two cops then framed Ovando by planting an assault rifle on him. They testified in court that Ovando attacked them. He was sentenced to 23 years but was released recently after Perez’s testimony. Ovando is paralyzed from the shooting.

The District Attorney is now reviewing all the criminal cases Rampart officers worked on. To date, 67 criminal convictions have been overturned as a result of the investigation.

As the cases against the LAPD continue to swell, more information has come to light about the bad cops of Rampart. News journals around the country have reported that a pink stucco apartment house near the Rampart station was the "animal house" for them. While on duty they had sex with girlfriends and prostitutes there. On some occasions they even had wild parties like fraternities do.

Rampart officers even designed their own T-shirt with a grinning skull on the front and playing cards fanned in the background. The two aces and two eights was the CRASH officers’ unofficial logo, called "dead man’s hand." So instead of tagging their gang signs on a wall, our cops decided creating a T-shirt would be cool. I was shocked to find out that when an officer killed or injured a person, they supposedly had "shooting parties" at the Los Angeles Police Academy where officers would be given plaques and celebrated for their criminal activities.

They betrayed our trust in the law

How could they do this to us? Here we are, thinking they will protect and serve us, yet they raped us of our security and trust in the law. These tainted cops have sent a mixed message to youth. One second they’re telling us to respect the law, yet at the same time they break the law. We can’t trust hypocrites.

"I think it’s a shame. The cops who are supposed to protect and serve aren’t doing their jobs. They’re hiding behind their badges," said Adrian Jenkins, a youth leader at the LA-based organization Youth Empower-ment Project. The 15-year-old added that he never had an opinion about the cops before the Rampart situation unfolded.

Rosario Mendoza, a 16-year-old Manual Arts High School student, said that cops "use their power too much. Just because they’re cops doesn’t mean they can do whatever they want."

But lately cops around the country seem to be taking that same attitude — doing whatever they want. Some high-profile incidents in New York show that police brutality is a bigger problem than just L.A.

In August of 1997, three New York officers attacked Haitian immigrant Abner Louima. In the precinct bathroom, they assaulted Louima with a broken broomstick, causing him to need surgery for a ruptured bladder and colon. Back then, New Yorkers thought the police couldn’t get any worse, yet the cops shocked them again in February of 1999. Four white officers killed African immigrant Amadou Diallo in a hail of 41 bullets. The four shot him on the stoop of his apartment building, believing that he was holding a gun. He was actually holding his wallet.

How could our guardians of the law get so out of control? They’ve sunk far below the justice system, losing sight of what a police officer’s job is. This has raised a question in my mind. Have the police failed, or have we as citizens failed by not believing youth when they said they were getting assaulted by cops? Sure cops rough up people a little, but should they paralyze people? Certainly not.

It’s apparent that not only the victims have to heal but also Los Angeles and other cities have to heal. The Rampart scandal has dealt a huge blow to the justice system, and we’re all going to suffer until the police system begins to change. This is not a problem that we can confine to just a few "bad neighborhoods." From Boyle Heights to Beverly Hills, it should concern everyone.

We can’t let the police beat up and frame teens or adults no matter who they are— whether they’re in a gang or not.