It looked like 1966 in South Los Angeles this week when the community galvanized into a united force to confront an issue many thought had long been overcome — allegations of police brutality against defenseless black citizens.
Community activism in its most effective form was resurrected when TV news broadcasts repeatedly ran a video of a barefoot black woman, lying on her back, being pummeled by a burly California Highway Patrolman on the shoulder of the Santa Monica (10) Freeway in the heart of the black community on July 1.
The agonizing video was shot by passer-by David Diaz, and his film now joins the historical images of infamy that includes the Abraham Zapruder film of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy on Nov. 22, 1963, and the George Holiday film of the four LAPD cops beating up Rodney King on March 3, 1991.
The beating of 51-year-old Marlene Pinnock was all people talked about last week, and instead of barbecuing on the Fourth of July, community activists — some of whom weren’t even speaking to each other — were pulling together, organizing meetings, planning confrontations and making demands for justice for Pinnock and punishment for the unnamed state officer who beat her.
By Monday morning, activists had descended on the Los Angeles office of the California Highway Patrol — unannounced like they did in the good old days — demanding answers. The mass of angry activists, organized by Najee Ali of Project Islamic Hope, included members of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the National Action Network, the National Association for Equal Justice in America, the Community Coalition and the Los Angeles, Compton and Santa Monica/Venice chapters of the NAACP.
U.S. Rep. Karen Bass and state Sen. Holly Mitchell sent representatives to join the outraged people assembled to get answers from the CHP. Since the people had no appointment and had no intentions of leaving without speaking with someone in authority, CHP officials sent Ramona Prieto, a deputy commissioner, to speak to the people.
Prieto, who refused to reveal the name of the officer who beat up Pinnock, said “we take these things seriously” and promised a “complete investigation” of the beating will be conducted with the assistance of the District Attorney’s Office. She said the officer who beat up Pinnock had been removed from field duty and assigned to a desk. None of this sat well with the people.
“He needs to be fired,” Ali said. “And involving the D.A. in this doesn’t mean a thing. The first thing D.A. Jackie Lacey did after she was sworn into office was announce that the 2012 Pasadena police killing of the teenaged, unarmed black college student Kendrec McDade was justified. The people can’t expect justice from her. We’ll have to take her on — now and when she seeks re-election. She has to step up.”
It should be noted that McDade’s parents hired attorney Caree Harper, who sued the city of Pasadena for McDade’s death and received more than $1 million dollars for the killing of their son.
Harper has also been retained by Pinnock’s family. She told this reporter it took her 30 hours to find Pinnock, a Jefferson High School graduate who is the mother of two and grandmother of two, because the CHP had the beaten woman admitted into a hospital under three different aliases and then transferred her to another hospital.
“They wouldn’t even tell me her name,” Harper said. “When I finally found her, I saw that she was not being treated. She was bruised and battered and the hospital personnel weren’t doing anything to or for her. My first duty was to try to get her treated.”
“I had to get her x-rayed because to look at her one would think she would have been better off if she had been hit by a car!” Harper said. “They put her in some kind of mental health facility in South L.A., but the way that man savagely beat her, he’s the one who should be in a mental health facility. I’m going to sue the state of California for this.”
In the meantime, Earl Ofari Hutchinson and his Los Angeles Urban Roundtable group hosted a community meeting Tuesday with the head of the CHP, Commissioner Joe Farrow, who said basically the same thing Commissioner Prieto said the day before.
But he did describe the beating as “the most shocking case he’s ever seen in my career of over 30 years,” and added that the incident has “wounded” his agency. He, too, promised a thorough investigation and the Urban Roundtable said it would call for a federal probe of the incident.
But that’s already been done. Rep. Bass has already sent letters to U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte and Bill L. Lewis, assistant director in charge of the FBI, to investigate whether the officer’s conduct violates the prohibition against excessive force by law enforcement.
“I am pleased that the CHP has announced it will investigate the circumstances surrounding this incident and that the CHP has invited the U.S. Department of Justice to participate in is investigation,” Bass told this reporter. “However, I am requesting that the Department of Justice conduct its own investigation into whether the officer’s conduct amounts to a violation of the woman’s constitutional right to protection from excessive force or a criminal violation of Section 242,” Bass said.
Sen. Mitchell, chair of the California Legislative Black Caucus, twice (Monday and Tuesday) asked the commissioners for a copy of the regulations under which the officer engaged in the encounter with Pinnock and her arrest. By Tuesday night, she had not received it.
Rep. Maxine Waters also weighed in on the subject.
“I maintain there is nothing that can justify the officer punching a helpless woman on a freeway,” Waters said. “This type of police brutality happens too often with African-Americans and we have seen it time and time again. There are those who should know by now that we will not keep quiet when incidents like this occur.
“I stand with the community in demanding a complete and thorough investigation of this incident. Based on the video shown of the patrol officer's forceful punching of Marlene Pinnock, this is enough to demand his dismissal.”
Rep. Janice Hahn said she supports the CHP’s decision to conduct an investigation into the beating, but she said the issue is speed.
“I want a swift and thorough investigation of this extremely disturbing footage of a CHP officer repeatedly punching a woman in her face and head on the 10 Freeway in my city,” Hahn said. The congresswoman urges the CHP to get a move on and investigate because “the family and this community deserve immediate answers.”
The people will gather in Leimert Park Saturday at noon to vent, to mobilize, to determine who is responsible, and what they plan to do about it.