I caught up with Los Angeles Eighth Council District Councilmember Bernard Parks Jr. via phone after yesterday’s L.A.P.D. Police Commission meeting where the issue of carrying the name Parker Center to the Department’s new Police Administration Building was on the agenda.
Parks, who formerly served as Los Angeles’ police chief (1997-2002), and served one year under police chief William H. Parker (1965), recently put forth a motion to keep the Police Administration Building named Parker.
Parker, who served as police chief from 1950 to 1966, like many whites at the time, held discriminatory views towards Blacks. While he is credited with cleaning up the department’s political corruption, he also ran a paramilitary like police department who was known for their constant harassment and abuse of Blacks who had no real recourse for justice.
*When asked about the accusation of racial profiling, Parker once responded: “Anytime a person is in a place other than his place of residence or where he is conduction business,…it might be a cause for alarm.”
It was under Parker’s reign that the relationship between African-Americans and the police reached an all time low and all but disintegrated leaving in its place generations of Blacks raised with contempt and scorn for a department known for unwarranted acts of violence and abuse towards Blacks.
So then why would Parks, an African-American and former member of the L.A.P.D., want to keep the legacy of a man who is not viewed as a friend to minority communities alive? Especially after considering, the amount of resources and efforts put forth by the L.A.P.D. to improve community relations, particularly with African-Americans.
This is what he had to say.
The city of L.A. was the most corrupt city in the United States. And because of that corruption you could buy a sergeant’s badge for $500 and the police department in that era was the political arm of the elected officials.
So here’s a person that was put into position to turn that around and in fact change the whole governance of the city of L.A. by creating a charter that removed the police from the political process and created civil service and developed a integrity issue within the city that spread throughout the country. So when you balance all of that out, you say that upon his death, the city council unanimously, al 15 of them, named the building in his honor and also went through a community process created not only the name but a memorial in his behalf. The issue is larger than just Bill Parker. The issue is if the city makes that commitment to a legacy and to a family and to a person, the fact that generations later may find the person less of a role model for them or a person may find that they don’t know as much as about as they know contemporary people, do you have the ability to just strip them out of the history of the city?
I think it’s so ironic that John Mack is sitting in the commission. Now would John Mack be in favor that as the transition of the community goes forward, that in three, four, or five years a group of people determine that John Mack is not relevant so they walk over to the school that his name is on and ask that it be changed? Because the people there say that who’s John Mack and why should we have a school in our community named after him. So that’s why the seriousness of the naming process goes forward as it relates to a community process, but it prevents, or hopefully prevents, that people rewrite history at a later time and say—you know because I lived 50 years later, I don’t know who Bill Parker is. The same thing—the things that we’ve done in the community, I would hope that down the road that nobody shows up in ten years and say who is Homer Broom and why do we have a station named after him? Let’s take Jess Brewer’s name off of 77th. Let’s the Celeste King statue down off of King and Crenshaw, because we don’t know who these people are. I mean these are things that are a part of the community in contemporary times but they’re not put there with an expiration date. And so if we’re going to hopefully protect what gains we’ve made in identifying who our heroes are, we can’t be selective in deciding later somebody else can take the time and say—hey you know they don’t mean anything to me.
What has historically been in place is that when a city names a building and when they rebuild it, that name goes with the building. They didn’t name a structure, they named the meaningfulness of a person’s involvement. So, if Water and Power built a new building, they wouldn’t be content, and say well, John Ferraro was connected to the old building, so whatever that may become, leave his name on it, there’s new Water and Power building. So the issue is this whole process works out to where it was named specifically the Police Administration Building, where they specifically, by the city council, to be named after Bill Parker. So if the Police Administration Building moves somewhere else and you build a new building, why would anyone come to a conclusion that the name would all of a sudden diminish. It didn’t say just name a building, it was specifically the building that he basically was the Chief of the Los Angles Police Department for 16 years. So, that’s been historically the rule.
Now where it went sideways is the Police Commission and its Department all of a sudden had some different ideas. But rather than they come up in front and say—hey we want to go through a different process as it relates to this naming—they basically sent a message to the Bureau of Engineering to ignore prior history and just don’t put his name on it and nobody will be the wiser. We said wait a minute, you don’t have that authority. It’s the Council that names buildings and the Council in 67’ said this is the name of the building. So if you want to bring forth another alternative, then it should be a public process to debate it and discuss and those things that people get their say. But you don’t just quietly in the middle of the night tell workers in the city, don’t put a name on it and just let it ride.
Had the people done what they have done historically, such as when the building moves, you put the name on it, the same thing we’ve done when University Station moved from Jefferson to King Blvd. it was still University and later renamed Southwest. When the Harbor Station was rebuilt, they didn’t go through a renaming. When Hollenbeck was rebuilt—when West Valley was rebuilt. Now when they built brand new stations like Mission, they went through a community process and named it the Mission Station. When Canoga Park, a brand new station was just built, they went through a community process and named it Canoga Park. When the station on Olympic was just built, they went through a community process and called it the Olympic Station. When Rampart was rebuilt, they called it the new Rampart. So, we have a long history of buildings and names follow when they are rebuilt. And if the Commission wanted to alter that, they should have come to the Council and said, we think we have some input and we’d like to go through a different process where the Council could have made the decision yes or no. The fact that they just on the sly told the builders just don’t put his name on it and just nothing official, on the QT, when you open the building in November, just put L.A.P.D. on it. Who gave them that authority?
The reason I did the motion is because I asked the question, when did the name come off of it and everybody looked at the floor like they didn’t know what was going on. And I said well I don’t think you get to change the process in the City just by saying we’re going to ignore it. So I said, put a motion together, put it forward, and say that it has been the history of the city of L.A. and how we deal with this and unless something is altered, then let’s go forward with the history of the building. If I hadn’t done that, there would have been no community discourse, it would have just been a building built with no name on it.
What people are riled up about, I don’t quite understand because the name has been there for 40 years. And most people who are around aren’t 40 years old.
I think it’s so unfortunate because we could all rewrite history. And it’s so easy to through out the racist word. And people all call—those in public life– all call us names or whatever, whether it’s deserving or not. And there’s little research on it. Unfortunately, those who like the name, clearly can carry it. I think it’s kind of interesting, that when you mention that there’s tape after tape of Parker making these comments, I think that if you put it in context, although those statements were never appropriate, they were not out of character in that era.
I think it’s also interesting that the current chief of police, who’s kind of behind pulling the strings of the Commission—what community has he not offended in the last six years? We have a Commission that’s basically saying that we’re concerned about this 50 year old image and we want to rethink what we should be doing, but yet in the five years they’ve been a Commission, their chief of police has disparaged almost every community in the City, and they’ve taken no action. When he was asked about calling black people “tribal thugs,” you know what his answer was? Well whoever is offended by that, that’s their problem, not mine. And yet we’re in a society today that’s supposedly in this society of enlightenment. If you’re talking about people being out of the contemporary mode, you certainly would find his statements in 2008, 2009, going on into 2010, are far more offensive than what was viewed as contemporary in 1940 and 50.
When we had this issue of let’s do something positive in the community and redo the Crenshaw Boulevard, how many black folks said it’s more important to me to be able to cruise on ‘the Shaw’ than having a Tom Bradley image, even though he’d been the mayor for 20 years? And we found out later that Crenshaw was the one who put the covenants in the properties that we can’t live in the community.
My Two Cents
I attended Tuesday’s Police Commission hearing where I was disappointed, but not surprised, with the number of Blacks in the room who were not officers or members of said Commission. In total, 4 people, two Blacks, including myself offered public comment regarding the Commission’s eventual recommendation to the Council.
Members of the Commission, including former Urban League director John Mack, offered personal comments all amounting to their disapproval of keeping the Parker Center name on the new Police Administration Building. However, the issue was rolled over to next Tuesday’s Commission for a final recommendation.
The reality is that no matter what the Commission recommends, the Council is who will make the ultimate decision. They are expected to address the issue next week.
The last time I checked the Council, the Commission, and the L.A.P.D. were servants of the people, not to each other. In all of the conversations about the naming of the new Police Administration Building, it’s the residents whose opinion matters the most and is missing from the equation.
Now if L.A. doesn’t care about keeping the name of Chief William H. Parker on a building that Black and brown tax dollars paid for, then so be it. But if they do, then there should be some way to get the input of the community. It’s not a decision that should be left to the Council alone, the Commission alone, or the two collectively. Regardless of what the process was. It’s a new day. And no—I am not buying the idea that the public can offer input during Commission meetings or by making the trek to City Hall. Everybody isn’t able to do that. What needs to happen is that there is a series of town hall meetings in each Council District where people can come and voice their support or dissent. You know, like the ones that always take place when someone is running for office. If people don’t come then that’s on them, but at least the City made an effort to get the input of the people. We like to call that transparency.
Just because something once was, doesn’t mean it should always be. The process used to be to travel across the Atlantic, snatch up the dark skinned people, bring them here to America, and make them slaves. The process used to be that people like me couldn’t swim in certain pools, attend certain schools, or live in certain neighborhoods. The process used to be women couldn’t vote and on and on I could go. The process was changed. There’s no rule that says that we can’t change the process on how we name buildings. Parker’s legacy is negative. In a city with a collective minority majority, no public building, funded by those same minority taxpayer’s dollars, should ever be named after anyone with the legacy such as Parker’s. And if the L.A.P.D. wants to continue rebuilding its public image and community relationships, they’ll discontinue the use of the name Parker Center.
And that as they say is that.
*(Sides, Josh (2003). “Black Los Angeles and L.A.P.D., L.A. City Limits, pp. 135. University of California Press.