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Policeman looks back on LA riots with shame

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Lieutenant Andrew Neiman remembers the shame he felt when Los Angeles descended into chaos 20 years ago, after a white jury absolved police of a brutal video-taped beating of a black man, Rodney King.

For more than six hours, as looting, arson and violence engulfed the city’s predominantly black South Central district, police did nothing, kept off the street by their paralyzed leadership.

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“I loved being an officer, I always wanted to be a police officer,” Neiman said. “But when that happened, afterward, I didn’t want to be a police officer anymore. I was ashamed. Because of how we let the city down. We let the people down.”

From the beginning, the riots were all about the Los Angeles Police Department, and its volatile relationship with the city’s black community, which came to a head with the beating of Rodney King.

A bystander watching from his apartment window video-taped King as he lay on the ground in the street below, surrounded by baton-wielding LAPD officers.

As the tape rolled, the police clubbed King 56 times about the head, knees and arms, knocking him down repeatedly as he struggled to get on his feet.

Four officers were charged with assault and excessive use of force, but on April 29, 1992 all were acquitted of the assault charges. Three were cleared of the excessive force charge, and the jury deadlocked in the case of the fourth officer.

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The verdicts set off a torrent of rage in the black community.

“It was sort of scary,” said Neiman, recalling a harrowing ride on a police bus as it made its way through a city ablaze to the department’s command post.

“Things were hitting the bus, people were throwing things at the bus, we didn’t know if they were shooting at the bus, we could see the glow of flames from buildings being on fire,” he said.

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“It was like (going) through a war zone.”

At the command post, Neiman found paralysis had set in among the department’s leaders.

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Los Angeles Police Chief Daryl Gates was out of the city, and his assistants were afraid to take decisions on their own.

Hundreds of police officers were massed at the command post awaiting orders, but as the city burned no instructions were forthcoming.

“I assume they were afraid, but for some reason they would not allow the officers to go out into the street and stop the looting, the violence and the buildings on fire.

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“In my opinion, I think they were afraid that we were going to make it worse,” he said.

For the first six to eight hours on the first day of the riots, there were few police on the streets, he said.

“We had over a thousand officers in this command post and they wouldn’t let them leave. Finally, officers were so upset with that, that they started to sneak out the back gate to go out and try to stop some of the violence.

“And finally chief Gates arrived and screamed to this assistant officers for not doing their job and then we started to go out and arrest people and stop them from breaking in to the banks and burning down the stores.”

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It took “almost three to four days to stop all of that,” Neiman said.

The brunt of the looting and arson was borne by Korean store owners, who armed themselves and set up their own patrols to protect their property.

In all 53 people were killed, thousands were injured, and the damage is estimated to have exceeded $1 billion.

“For me as a police officer, I was very embarrassed,” said Neiman, who was 30 years old at the time and had six-and-a-half years on the force. “I was ashamed that we were not helping to stop it.”

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Reflecting on the experience, Neiman said the riots were also humbling for a force with a reputation for arrogance.

“When I first came on and before I came on, I think the attitude of the police department was that ‘we own the city. It’s our city and people have to do what we say.'”

“And after the riots we learned it’s not our city. We work for the people and it’s their city,” he said.


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2020 Election

Trump and the GOP have become the party of the dead

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There are few morbid topics subject to greater speculation than the religious loyalty of President Donald Trump's "base." Why an alarmingly large amount of Americans refuse even to entertain any criticism of Trump deserves scrutiny from political scientists, psychologists and perhaps horror novelists working in the school of Edgar Allan Poe.

This article first appeared in Salon.

What is abundantly clear is that no matter who votes for Trump, he and the Republican Party on the national level have no interest in governing on the behalf of living human beings — with the exception of ensuring that a tiny minority of billionaires and multimillionaires enlarge their investment portfolios. Trump evinces no concern for Americans dying of the coronavirus, racist violence or any other malady or injustice. He demonstrates no regard for health care professionals courageously trying to save their patients from dying, and appears cruelly indifferent to the struggles of millions of workers whose livelihoods have been destroyed by COVID-19. Needless to say, Trump also shows contempt for Black Lives Matter, immigrants and anyone who opposes his re-election, which at this moment (and throughout his presidency) is more than half of the American public.

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As coronavirus seizes the state, Florida hospitals are in panic mode

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As Florida experiences a surge in coronavirus cases, the residents of the state are facing obstacles like overwhelmed hospitals and a looming shortage in beds.

This article first appeared in Salon.

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2020 Election

The GOP is a suicide cult

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Welcome to another edition of What Fresh Hell?, Raw Story’s roundup of news items that might have become controversies under another regime, but got buried – or were at least under-appreciated – due to the daily firehose of political pratfalls, unhinged tweet storms and other sundry embarrassments coming out of the current White House.

Back in March, we argued that Donald Trump had become the charismatic leader of the dumbest suicide cult ever. There were fewer than 500 confirmed cases of Covid-19 at the time, but it wasn't difficult to see the trajectory we were on at even that early date. At the time, we were commenting on the President's* repeated claims that the whole thing was a big hoax and polls showing that Democrats were twice as likely as Republicans to say they were taking steps to avoid becoming infected.

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