THE HUTCHINSON REPORT
By Earl Ofari Hutchinson
Thank goodness that two members of the Beverly Hills City Council had the decency and good sense to say no to the lame and insulting resolution the other three members of the council signed off on that declared “no confidence” in L.A. County District Attorney George Gascón. The resolution spouted the by now familiar canned attack on Gascón, that his equal protection under the law reforms will somehow unleash a tsunami of lawless vandals, criminals, rapists and murderers on the county’s streets.
Police unions and disgruntled prosecutors in the D.A.’s office, and the state district attorney’s association has pedaled this silly line against Gascón from virtually the second he declared he was tossing his hat into the D.A.’s race. They have plastered the airwaves and social media with their barrage of lies, taunts, digs and harangues at Gascón nonstop.
To his credit, Gascón has not backed down. He has repeatedly made clear that reform will continue to be the watchword for the remake of the district’s attorney’s office from a lock ‘em up and throw away the key office — the ‘em being mostly poor Blacks and Hispanics — to an office that believes in enforcing the law equitably.
A big part of that equitability ensures that when cops break the law, they will be treated no different than any other thug on the street.
Now the Gascón bashers on the Beverly Hills City Council can’t stomach his reforms for another reason. Beverly Hills is the media and filmdom’s glamour symbol of the richest and most famous place in America. The city has a vested interest in protecting its glamour image.
First and foremost, this means keeping an eye on anything that will sully this image. Nothing threatens that more than the city’s paranoid horror of Black and Hispanic crime menacing the city.
In their skewed and cocooned view, only tough policing and lots of prosecutions can keep that element away from their city. So, Beverly Hills says fortify the police, courts, jails and prison firewall to ensure that the jails bulge with these supposed hordes of predators.
The problem though is that they already do. The wholesale jailing of young Blacks and Hispanics is so great that even former President Barack Obama pointed to the sorry testament of this when he famously said that the nation has more African Americans in prison than colleges. Or, to put it in even more stark terms, there are more African American men incarcerated in the U.S. than the total prison populations in India, Argentina, Canada, Lebanon, Japan, Germany, Finland, Israel and England combined.
The scary fairy tale image of hordes of Black marauders traipsing through a city such as Beverly Hills is just that, a scary fairy tale. Blacks are more likely to be arrested, tried and imprisoned for mostly drug and petty crimes. One reason for that is the still harsh, though much denied, practice of racial profiling.
Beverly Hills is a near textbook example of how that happens. There have been legions off complaints from Black motorists and visitors to the city over the years of being followed, stopped and harassed by Beverly Hills police while walking, driving, biking or just breathing while Black in the city.
The pantheon of stereotypes and negative typecasting of Black males as criminals waiting to be the terrifying image seems real, even more terrifying — and the consequences are just as deadly.
In 2003, Penn State University researchers conducted a landmark study on the tie between crime and public perceptions of who is most likely to commit crime. The study found that many whites are likely to associate pictures of Blacks with violent crime. The Penn State study found that even when Blacks didn’t commit a specific crime, whites still misidentified the perpetrator as an African American.
Five years later, university researchers wanted to see if that stereotype still held sway, even as white voters were near unanimous that race made a difference in whether they would or did vote for Obama. Researchers found public attitudes on crime and race unchanged. The majority of whites still overwhelmingly fingered Blacks as the most likely to commit crimes, even when they didn’t commit them.
Subsequent studies that examine racial stereotypes of Black men still find the same subtle and overt biases and misconceptions. The same can be said about Hispanic men as well.
As Beverly Hills has shown with its silly attack on Gascón, nothing has changed.
The bulging numbers of Blacks in America’s jails and prisons seem to reinforce the wrong-headed perception that crime and violence in America invariably comes with a young Black and Hispanic male face.
So, Beverly Hills’s cheap but dangerous stunt of voting no confidence in Gascón is just one more effort by the Gascón bashers to browbeat, intimidate and ultimately force him to abandon any talk of, let alone action on, long overdue fair and equitable criminal justice reforms in the L.A. County District Attorney’s office. Shame on Beverly Hills.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is the author of “Why Black Lives Do Matter” (Middle Passage Press). He also is the host of the weekly Hutchinson Report on KPFK 90.7 FM Los Angeles and the Pacifica Network.