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Published: Thursday, 8/14/2003

What did police learn?

The hung jury in the California trial where a white police officer was charged with beating a black teenager evoked a variety of emotions: understanding, frustration, relief, and memories of Rodney King.

The case of Donovan Jackson's abuse at the hands of former Inglewood, Calif., police officer Jeremy Morse and his partner, Bijan Darvish, caused tension throughout Los Angeles. It brought back memories and images of the 1991 King beating, trial, and violence, because some of what happened to young Jackson was caught on videotape.

The fear that the verdict would lead to violence sent demonstrators to Superior Court, where “Peace After the Verdict” signs were prominent. The L.A. police department had increased patrols, but there was no uprising, bringing relief to residents who worried that angry rioters would take over, and that death and destruction could follow, as happened during four days of rioting after the King case ended 11 years ago.

Yet the calm does not lessen the frustration of the Jackson family and other African-Americans. The jury deadlocked on convicting Mr. Morse of assault under color of authority, and Officer Darvish was found innocent of falsifying a police report and is expected to return to work. Despite the hung jury, Mr. Morse was fired.

Young Jackson was 16 when the incident occurred at a gas station last summer. The teenager became upset when he saw police questioning his father, Coby Chavis, about his expired license plate.

The teenager said the officers began to abuse him, but attorneys said Donovan resisted arrest. At that point a bystander began to record the event, and a white officer was captured on videotape slamming and punching the handcuffed black teenager onto the hood of a police cruiser.

What happened after the videotape began is clear; what occurred before is not. But even though the images on the tape were clear, not all jurors saw them the same way. One juror said “The tape was a big thing. We played that over and over and over ... but people saw different things.” Now, prosecutors already are working to retry the case.

Meanwhile, the father and son have civil rights suits against the officers, city, and county. But the suits and retrial don't diminish the family's feelings of anger and that they were wronged. What is certain is that California police may not have learned much from the Rodney King case.

Police can't worry whether a civilian will catch their conduct on videotape. But they shouldn't need the threat of that possibility to go by the book.



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