Posted on June 9, 2005

Compton “Cowboys”

Jack Dunphy, National Review Online, June 9

If you’ve watched any television news at all in the past few weeks, you’ve surely seen the video footage of Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies firing their weapons at a white Chevrolet Tahoe. The May 9 incident took place in Compton, a small city adjacent to South-Central Los Angeles, when deputies responded to a report of a shooting.

The suspect, the deputies were told, was driving a white SUV, and when they spotted one in the area and tried to pull it over, the driver, 44-year-old Winston Hayes, refused to stop. Hayes led deputies on a low-speed chase through the residential area for about twelve minutes before finding his path blocked by squad cars. Rather than surrender, he drove onto the sidewalk and toward a home before stopping and reversing toward some deputies who had now left their cars. In the next 18 seconds, ten deputies fired 120 rounds at the Tahoe, hitting Hayes four times, but also sending bullets up and down the street to lodge in several homes. No bystanders were struck, but one deputy was wounded in the crossfire. Hayes was charged with felony evading and driving under the influence of drugs.

As has become standard in such incidents, the reporting on the shooting included the racial calculus of those involved: Hayes is black, the neighborhood where the incident occurred is black and Latino, and the deputies who fired were of varied ethnicities. And because Hayes is black, the shooting also aroused the inevitable display of orchestrated outrage in the usual quarters, which of course included a visit by that peripatetic minister of grievance, Al Sharpton.

Granted, it wasn’t pretty. Any cop who sees the tape can spot the tactical mistakes following one upon the other, the most glaring of which comes when deputies on opposite sidewalks fire at the Tahoe as it advances slowly up the street, only to find themselves shooting at each other as the truck comes to a stop between them. What is most surprising is that more people weren’t hurt.

But while some of the published criticism of the deputies’ actions has been responsible and well-grounded, the shooting has also inspired a wave of what can best be described as anti-police hysteria, a glaring example of which was published in the op-ed section of the May 23 Los Angeles Times. Joe Domanick, a professor journalism at the University of Southern California, described the incident as a “drunken-cowboy shooting,” revealing that he, like fellow USC professor Robert Scheer, whose op-ed column appears in the Times each Tuesday, has found a way to spill the contents of his bile duct directly onto the pages of the newspaper. “They rolled out when a driver wouldn’t stop” Dominick wrote, “got frustrated and angry and shot at him again and again.”

This is beyond insulting, but it should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with Domanick’s earlier work. His 1994 book, To Protect and to Serve: the LAPD’s Century of War in the City of Dreams, is little more than a collection of the department’s most controversial incidents, each of them interpreted in the light least favorable to the involved officers. I am not so reflexively defensive of cops as to deny there have been many problems in the LAPD, but if the book were your only reference on the department you would be led to believe it had done nothing right in its entire history.

Of the recent Compton shooting, Dominick wrote, “It’s an L.A. story so old, predictable and familiar—remember 13-year-old Devin Brown?—that it seems almost banal to discuss it again . . .” Yes, we remember Devin Brown, who in February was shot and killed as he attempted to run over an LAPD officer with a stolen car. We were told at the time he was an honor student when he in fact wasn’t, and we were told he wasn’t a gang member when he in fact was.

But some of us also remember Ricardo Lizarraga, Brian Brown, Filbert Cuesta, Steven Gajda, and Mario Navidad, only the last five of the many LAPD officers to be shot and killed in the line of duty. And we remember Stephen Sorensen, David Powell, David March, Jake Kuredjian, and Michael Honeig, the last five L.A. County sheriff’s deputies to be similarly murdered. And, since Domanick and so many others find relevance in such facts, it should be pointed out that nearly all of these officers were gunned down by black or Latino men. If the learned Professor Domanick found any outrage at all in the death of any of these officers, it apparently did not rise to a level that inspired him to publish anything about it.

And if Domanick is so concerned with the perceived erosion of racial harmony in Compton, perhaps we can look forward to his commentary on an incident that merited only a brief mention deep within the second section of the May 25 L.A. Times. Here is the entire story, as reported by the Times:

Seven known black gang members have been arrested on suspicion of beating and shouting racial slurs at two white men who had left the Compton courthouse, sheriff’s officials said Tuesday.

The two, who are brothers, told deputies they were walking to their car Monday in a residential neighborhood when they were confronted by about 15 males shouting gang monikers and racial slurs, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Lt. James Hellmold said. The brothers, ages 34 and 41, had cuts and bruises around their head, face and arms, and one said he was hit on the back of his head with a blunt instrument, Hellmold said.

I suppose it’s a wonder that the story appeared at all, but is there any doubt that if this incident instead involved two black men set upon and beaten by 15 white gang members, that the Times would have played it above the fold on the front page, probably for several days running? And wouldn’t the victims be subsisting on green-room cold cuts for weeks on end as they made the rounds among the television news shows? As it is, you’ll probably never hear another word about it, especially from Joe Domanick.

Joe Domanick would have you believe that the sheriff’s deputies who risk their lives to patrol the streets of Compton are a bigger threat to the city’s well-being than those 15 gang members. It costs a fortune to send a kid to USC; maybe now some parents will have an idea of what they’re paying for.

Jack Dunphy is an officer in the Los Angeles Police Department. “Jack Dunphy” is the author’s nom de cyber. The opinions expressed are his own and almost certainly do not reflect those of the LAPD management.