L.A.P.D.’s Black Police Officers Association Weighs in on Keeping Parker Center Name

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Still on the case of what to do about the renaming of the new Police Administration Building, I caught up with Sgt. Ronnie Cato who is president of the Oscar Joel Bryant Foundation, which represents the Department’s 1183 Black personnel and its communities.

Here’s what he had to say…

To be honest, I never gave Parker too much attention. I knew his past and then people moved on. But in watching that video on your website and reading about him again, it really rejuvenated a lot of emotion and I totally agree that his name should not be on that new building.

I agree with Parks that if that building we were talking about changing the name on was the current Parker Center, then I could agree with his argument, his concept, and ideology about hey—it was named back then and this is the name today. But we’re not talking about changing it from the building, we’re getting ready to start anew and we have a new building. So I don’t think that we should carry that on, that old legacy on. Let’s start anew.

The Oscar Joel Bryant Foundation started in 1968 and that’s when the conscious of African-American officers got enough of the racism and discrimination and started to meet in order to form their own Black Police Officers Association—which had to be underground because they would have been fired and ostracized by their white counterparts if they knew that they were meeting. So they would hide and meet. And Parks was one of the founders of the Oscar Joel Bryant Foundation so he knew what black officers had to go through just to have a meeting.

When I came on Gates was the Chief, and it wasn’t that much different from Parker’s regime. You know I watched Chief Gates when people talk about how racist the Department was and he looks with shock on his face. Like he really didn’t realize. He lived in a time warp. Gates really didn’t know how much the black community disliked him or either he was just in denial. He really thought he was doing a good job. I mean it was the same thing. It was brutality against African-Americans that was covered up by any means necessary by white officers. Again Gates—if you stole anything, there was a zero tolerance. You got fired. But if you beat black people—hey, it was okay, we was going to cover it. Or if you shot any body. We had a shooting team—Lt. Higsby—and he was so loved by all the officers. Well Higsby was a crook. Higsby would come and tell officers what to say in the shooting—walk them through it before he turned his tape on. That’s why if you go back, when an officer is involved in an officer involved shooting, none of them—the Department circles the wagon. Back then you never saw an officer get in trouble for an officer involved shooting. And we never had a bad one because they would cover it.

Things started to change when Rodney King was captured—this was something that was happening all the time. And when that man finally caught that on tape so the world could see—it shocked the conscious of a lot of people. But it didn’t shock the conscious of people who were on the Department and seen it. Because that’s what was going on at night, behind the cloak of darkness. And so—you know, people knew that was happening. But once it was captured and the world was able to see how L.A.P.D. was operating that’s when the changes came when the Federal Consent Decree. And thank God for the Federal Consent Decree and that young man who caught Rodney King’s beating on tape. It changed the dynamics of the Department.

It’s a lot of positive changes that have been made. I’ve seen a big difference in the service of African-Americans. Crime goes up in the black community it’s addressed. It’s addressed fast and swiftly. I’d never seen that before when I was on the Department. It was always a double standard in policing—don’t get me wrong—there’s still a double standard in policing, but it’s gotten better. I can honestly say that under Bratton, black people are getting their bang for their buck. Bratton deals with crime across the board equally. If the crime perks up in the black community, he puts resources there. If it’s in the white community, he puts resources there. I never saw that before in my 28 years on this Department.

It’s still a resentment for a Black Police Officers Association because white officers want to believe that everything is fair and equal today and we really don’t need it. They’re still in denial. There’s disparity in treatment between blacks and whites in promotion and discipline and the whole thing. But it’s not as blatant as it was before. But see, I track all that and it’s very obvious. And so they want us to really believe that things are so much better so they act like they’re in shock when they hear black officers say we’ve still got racism in the Department.

The phone calls and conversations I’ve had with my people is that the name Parker Center should not be put on that new building. I am going to make sure that before the Commission and the Council meet next Tuesday that we put out a written statement.

The course of action is that we should definitely change the name of Parker Center because historically of the racist attitude that Parker had and this Department wants to move forward and represent and reflect the community as much as we can. And so starting anew with a new building, I think we should start with a fresh new name and move forward.

I think the Council works for the people. I think we all work for the people. So I don’t think that we can just legitimize this process unless we involved the community. So I would like to see what we do for elected officials. Let’s take it to the community and see what they have to say about it. That’s what we try to do when we want their votes.

And we can do emails, we don’t have to just have a forum. Let’s set up an email where people from different communities can email their responses. Or even a phone number where people can vote—press 1 for Parker Center or 2 for something else. We can do that. See if we really want their input we can do that. C’mon this is 2009. We can do that. So I would like to see that done. Let’s reach out to the community and see what they say.

Click here to read what you’ve missed in the Curious Case of Renaming the L.A.P.D. Police Administration Building

The Court of Public Opinion

  • devil’s advocate

    Mayor Tom Bradley(along with Gil Lindsey, John Ferraro, Billy Mills… etc.) was among those that approved the name of “Parker Center”. BTW Parker actually promoted Bradley to Watch Commander.

    Others who either weren’t born, weren’t in the city or weren’t with the LAPD during Parker’s tenure seem to be the most adamant about making the change.

    Also, it’s interesting that OJB was founded in 1968… about a year after the naming of Parker Center. It would be fascinating to know if members of OJB would mind changing the name of their group , especially considering that Oscar Joel Bryant wasn’t the first black police officer killed in the line of duty as originally thought.

    Just playing devil’s advocate…

  • Brent B.

    In response to the advocate. I was not around during the Parker legacy. He died in office one year after I was born. However, I have studied history and spoken to those that were around to gage the issue of the brutality of the police of the past. And there are many many sad stories.

    Tom Bradley earned his promotion to watch commander, but like many other Blacks in that day, Lieutenant was the ceiling for Black officers in the LAPD. No Black could promote to Captain until Parker was gone.

    I’m pretty sure Lindsey and Mills voted for the name change because in those days, the support was great. On Parker’s positive side, he made the LAPD into the world class Department it is today. For police work and innovations in the police community, he is credited with those changes. He also deserves credit for seeing patrol cars integrated during his tenure.
    So it is no surprise to see Mills and Lindsey support the name change to honor a Chief that did some good things toward police work overall. But the bad things that were allowed in relation to Black people are being brought to life here.

    Has anybody ever asked why Parker recruited officers from the deep south to come to LA? There were many men (and women) here that could have been recruited. The LAPD had recruitment signs in Mississippi. WHat was that really about?

    And for John Ferraro, as great as a man in many ways he was, he voted against the consent decree the federal gov’t wanted to place on the city in its hiring practices of new firefighters and police officers of color.

    It was a member of OJB that made the discovery of Charles Williams as the first Black officer killed in the line of duty in 1923. And it was made clear during this discovery in the late 1990’s that the name would not change because Oscar Joel Bryant’s death sparked the start of a movement, not Williams’ death.

    Another question is why didn’t any retired Black officers come forth back then and remember Officer Charles Williams? There were a few officers that were on the job in 1923 and still alive in 1968, but none of them came forward and made the correction of OJB not being the first Black Officer killed.

    Just wanted to weigh in on this conversation. Thanks Ronnie Cato for lending your voice and thanks to Jasmyne for her hard work in the community!