Written by Leonardo Vilchis and Becky Dennison, on behalf of the Los Angeles Human Right to Housing Collective (of which LA CAN is a member organization)
As so many reflected on the 1992 civil unrest last week, we heard stories of fundamental change in the LAPD and how conditions have changed so much within the City of LA since then. However, given the experiences in our communities in Downtown, South and East LA, we couldn’t disagree more. The fact that there have been changes does not mean that there have been improvements. Extreme poverty, lack of meaningful employment, a continuously growing housing and homelessness crisis, a deepening economic and social inequality, and continuing police abuse and racial profiling reflect the same conditions that spurred the uprising in 1992. At the same time we are still dealing with the self-righteous arrogance in LAPD that made Daryl Gates famous. Last week the Times reported that Chief Beck was giving only “conditional reprimands” to officers committing major violations, including unjustified police shootings (sound familiar?), causing discord among some Commissioners and the public. Yet, just one week later spurred by the 20-year anniversary, the same media outlets report on the supposed “changed” LAPD.
It is fitting, then, that the public meeting on the future of the Old Rampart Station also happened last week. The Old Rampart Station, a symbol of police abuse and arrogance, has been abandoned for the last 4 years and is a painful reminder of LAPD’s past that is worsened by the abandonment, neglect in and around the property, and a total disregard for the community that surrounds it. When the LA Human Right to Housing Collective chose the Old Rampart Station for its International Human Rights Day actions last December, it was selected as a symbolic representation of much that is wrong in the City of Los Angeles: the site of some of the worst and most pervasive police abuses in LA’s history; an abandoned and blighted City-owned property that could instead be used for human rights promoting purposes; the City’s budget priority of more than 50% of its budget going toward LAPD when housing, libraries, schools, parks, and other human rights programs are seeing devastating cuts; and the list could go on and on. The Housing Collective created a human rights camp that cold weekend in December to call attention to the abandonment and to demonstrate to the City and LAPD that this site should be used for community serving purposes. What is the city’s response? Rampart is planned to be the new headquarters for LAPD’s Metro Division, including SWAT.
There are two problems with the Metro/SWAT proposal. First, the community was unaware of these plans. There was no community input process in deciding what should happen at a space that holds such painful memories of crime and abuse. In fact, the LAPD representative at last week’s public meeting admitted there had been no community involvement, simply stating they weren’t required to do it. Second, what is the message sent by establishing a SWAT training ground in a community that was victimized and abused by the Police? The site will be turned into a militarized zone controlled by the police without providing any community services. The self-righteous arrogance of LAPD and the complicity of the city with its plans ignore the community’s needs and reaffirm the role of the police as an occupying force in Rampart. Certainly nothing has changed, and most definitely we see no improvement. The police plans and policies do not take into consideration community’s needs and desires.
Since January, local residents and other concerned Angelinos have been working to Reclaim Rampart – to ensure that community-serving purposes are included in any plans for the site and that the site is not solely used to house Metro Division, which will not serve the local community. Community members are also demanding transparency and more comprehensive public input as the City moves forward with its plans. The hearing was the first step, but much more work is needed by local residents, City Officials, and other concerned residents to be sure that LAPD is accountable to the community on this infamous site, and fully accountable to our communities across Los Angeles. That will be a change to welcome and a certain improvement for this community.