Gato and Alex--No Safe Place
The Rampart scandal, which is really a CRASH scandal, cannot be understood as simply another case of police brutality against innocent citizens, or even an example of racism in uniform. It is more. It is a case study in what happens when any means are justified in a shadowy war against society's scapegoats. None of the historic commissions on Los Angeles police misconduct, including the 1991 Christopher Commission, addressed the underlying constitutional issues of this dirty war. Now, in response to public and media furor, the LAPD has renamed CRASH as a "special enforcement unit" without the belligerent label, just as it previously changed its original acronym from TRASH (Total Resources Against Street Hoodlums). That the abuses uncovered in the scandal were not the isolated actions of rogue cops is suggested by LA Times stories revealing the direct involvement of the FBI and INS with CRASH. Thus the very immigration officials to whom Alex appealed for asylum have themselves been implicated in covert operations with CRASH.
So it was not surprising when, on January 20 of this year, Alex was arrested by CRASH officers using a year-old immigration warrant, despite a city policy against police collusion with INS sweeps. "You're all going down, Homies is going down," Alex recalls the CRASH officers jeering at him.
The US Attorney for the Los Angeles District, Alejandro Majorkas, proved to be unusually courageous in declining to prosecute Alex for illegal re-entry. But that left Alex in the custody of an INS eager to deport him to El Salvador, where, according to an affidavit by the San Salvador police chief, Alex is in danger of being murdered. He has initiated an asylum hearing, and in June a team of civil rights lawyers filed a federal suit on behalf of Alex and Homies Unidos against the LAPD.
Meanwhile, Alex is confined to Terminal Island with hundreds of other immigrants. He has been portrayed sympathetically by the LA Times, CNN and Geraldo Rivera. Federal officials like the INS's Meissner, who has the power to free Alex, allow the hostile INS officers in LA to control his fate. Under such conditions, will he grow stronger as a peacemaker? What if another inmate attacks him? What of the gang peace process on the streets? Who will come forward now, seeing the treatment of someone like Alex Sanchez at the hands of police?
These are questions that should concern us all. But do they? The Times has been more critical of the Rampart behavior than any local official or candidate for office, including African-Americans, Latinos and white liberals. Scapegoating the underclass seems to be a staple of politics these days. This is shortsighted, because the politics of law and order diverts billions from programs that will prevent gang violence more than the police ever will.
Perhaps the chief contribution of individuals like Gato and Alex is that they are living proof, even in death or prison, that so-called incorrigibles can change, that homies are human beings. That should rally Americans to their cause of peace at home. As Gato put it in a last interview, "I hope, you know, someday in the future I see guys from MS and my homeboys really forgiving the past. We are humans, and we are killing each other for nothing."