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Blue vs. Black Hardcover – September 13, 1999
The horrific images of the Rodney King beating by the LAPD and the torture of Haitian immigrant Abner Louima by New York cops are the most blatant reminders of police brutality against blacks in the United States. But as Oakland-based civil rights attorney John L. Burris (who represented King) and co-writer Catherine Whitney remind us in this disturbing book, the problem is more widespread than most white Americans are willing to admit. "Our nation practices a selective blindness," they argue. "In this great and strong nation, we have all become unwitting accomplices to the continuation of the conflict."
Along with alarming statistical data, Burris and Whitney chronicle several nightmarish incidents of law-abiding African Americans at the mercy of police officers, including an Oakland community leader who raised his children to respect the police--and was then beaten senseless in front of their eyes. The authors also examine the closed "blue wall of silence" mentality that pervades police culture, reinforcing an "us against them" point of view. But, offering more than a catalog of well-justified complaints, they present a good 10-point "Blueprint for Police Reform" that includes "a dual training focus of force and communication" to supplement nonviolent procedures, as well as the denial of career advancement to officers who have racked up numerous citizen complaints. "If law enforcement is to abandon the culture that supports misconduct, silence, heavy-handedness, and disrespect," they write, "a new scaffold must be erected to replace the old." --Eugene Holley Jr.
From Publishers Weekly
A noted civil rights lawyer, Burris represented Rodney King in the suit against the LAPD that thrust the issue of police brutality into America's consciousness. With the able assistance of Whitney, he debunks the myth that the clash between cops and African-Americans is largely confined to the inner city, pointing to examples and statistics that indicate widespread abuse throughout the country. Careful to avoid listing "a catalog of horrors," Burris calmly spells out the details of several headline-grabbing incidents of police violence, such as the 1997 broomstick rape of a Haitian immigrant in a New York City police station and the 1991 savage beating by cops of the late rapper Tupac Shakur for jaywalking in Oakland, Calif. A series of lesser known situations involving average citizens sadly underscores the seriousness of police misconduct, including an incident in which a black father rushing his injured daughter to the hospital was stopped by police and assailed with stun guns before any questions were asked. Burris notes the high cost to taxpayers nationally for these violent outbursts, calling for a more effective review process to weed out rogue cops, extended investigative powers for Internal Affairs Departments that are independent of precincts and greater cooperation with those filing citizen's complaints. Though many of Burris's recommendations aren't revolutionary, this sane, practical book provides a promising call to action in the ongoing debate about this persistent societal blight.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Perhaps the saddest commentary of the text is the solutions offered by Mr. Burris, as they sorely miss the mark.
In a society where it is hip to portray the police as evil, Burris is nothing more than a legal carpetbagger who wants to be viewed as a crusader for minority rights. I feel sorry for the good men and women in uniform who have to suffer the egregious slanders of the likes of Burris and other unethical lawyers who are making fortunes by perpetuating racial strife and unrest in today's culture.
Stand tall and ask yourself who are the REAL villains here. I'd love to see someone write a book about alleged abuses and misdeeds committed by the infamous cadre of legal eagles (more like vultures) that have become media darlings simply because of the controversy that they represent.
I am the author of Blackjack and Jive-Five, a book that chronicles many of the internal barriers faced by black police officers as they struggled to become part of the Oakland Police Department in the early 1970s. White officers did not want them and were in no mood to accept more than just a token few-so you can imagine the furor that affirmative action unveiled. I was a white sergeant in that department, one who helped to recruit and train these fine, young black men, and one who also tried to help them assimilate into an overwhelmingly white-majority police culture. It was a brutal time for those black officers. So, this question comes to mind for those persons who criticize John Burris' book as being fictional, slanted, and self-serving:
If so many white Oakland officers could not even be civil to the black persons within their own ranks, how can the abuse of black citizens be denied??
There indeed was abuse toward blacks-both internally and externally-and it was widespread. Moreover, if I shock some by stating this, consider the fact that abuse would have been much worse had it not been for a very tough police chief during the late 60s and early 70s who would not tolerate open racism and did everything within his power to control that which was clandestine. Mine is a sad commentary, but true. It amazes me that other former Oakland officers reviewing this book can have lapses of memory about the racial issues brought forward by Mr. Burris.
I read a borrowed copy of the book, but have since purchased a copy for my personal library. I am sure I will consult it many times during my future writings.
Here is an objective bit: Read Martindale-Hubbell (they have a web site) and see what Burris's rating is. M-H rates lawyers. This is done by sending out evaluation forms to lawyers and judges who know the person being evaluated in some professional capacity. These ratings are highly prized and hard to get. The highest rating is "A-V", which means A for highest legal ability, and V for highest ethical conduct. Burris is rated "A-V".
The complaints by the right wingers about the cost to the city of settling these police misconduct suits conveniently avoids mentioning that it is a jury of city citizens who levy the verdict on the city.
The city is well defended and in fact has a lot of advantages in the legal contest. So when they still lose and lose big, that simply means the misconduct was real, and the plaintiff's damages real.