Ted Rall’s Fight With The LAPD Happens To You
Aug. 17, 2015 (Mimesis Law) — At the end of July, syndicated cartoonist Ted Rall was fired by the Los Angeles Times. During his tenure, he provided snark and insight through the medium of the comic strip and the occasional blog post. On May 11, Rall wrote a blog post for the LA Times about his less-than-pleasant encounter with Officer Will Durr of the LAPD way back in 2001.
Shortly thereafter, the LAPD gave Rall’s bosses at the LA Times an audio recording of the incident which they claim proves that Rall lied about the incident. Rall claims that the tape was edited. After a weekend of reflection, editorial page editor Nicholas Goldberg, under pressure from really no one except the LAPD brass, fired Rall. What has happened since has been remarkable, to say the least. Rall has taken his case to social media and, not unsurprisingly, found support from a growing number of people who had no idea who he was until this scandal broke. Suffice it to say, Rall has shown himself more than capable of defending his version of events, quickly turning a rather small story into one that focuses on the unseemly fact that an upset law enforcement agency not only demanded the firing of a journalist who wrote an unfavorable story about them, but that the LA Times caved to their pressure so quickly.
The LAPD’s audio recording purports to contain the full conversation between Rall and the cop. The recording is of the poorest quality, and fails to provide anything close to “proof” that Rall’s account is not accurate.
But while Rall fights back against his accusers and former employer, it bears recognition that this episode should matter to all of us. The LAPD, like most of America’s larger, urban police departments, has a problematic track record. That is to say, they have a reputation for abuse in an environment totally devoid of accountability. When the leaders of the LAPD demanded Rall be fired for alleged dishonesty, it smacked of utter hypocrisy. Glass houses, LAPD. Glass houses.
The entire situation essentially boils down to a “he said/she said.” But this is not a dispute over a murder, or a robbery, or even a person kicking a car that almost ran them over. Ted Rall was cited by the LAPD for jaywalking. In 2001. We all understand why there are crosswalks and why walking outside of them is illegal, but running afoul of the law can rarely be less severe than jaywalking.
The ill-fated blog post that Rall wrote in May 2015, fourteen years later, claimed that he was manhandled, cuffed, and generally treated poorly by a member of the LAPD, who charged him with jaywalking, even though he was innocent. It is very unlikely that anyone got to the end of Rall’s post and found themselves gobsmacked by the idea that a cop (especially in LA) would harass someone over something so petty as alleged jaywalking. But when the LAPD called up Rall’s bosses at the LA Times, they had to know that they were disputing nothing more than allegations in a literary afterthought. They had to know that they were making a mountain out of a molehill.
So why did they do it?
The short answer is, they did it to send a message. Journalists should beware when writing unflattering stories about the members of the LAPD. But from the backlash, it appears that the LAPD misjudged the public’s opinion of cops, as well as their own power to silence dissent.
While so much of the commentary on this incident is over which version is true, Rall’s or Durr’s, what is so much more striking is the stance of the LAPD. A department with its own credibility problems publicly scolded Rall, a cartoonist, for allegedly fudging some facts. Exactly how many people are currently locked up in California based upon lies told by members of the LAPD?
But the larger point, and perhaps the most concerning aspect of the entire ordeal, is that this recording was from 2001. At the time, there was neither the technology nor the public demand for mandated recording devices on police. This was either a personal decision by this officer to record his encounters, or he was told to do so by his superiors. In any case, there is a strong likelihood that this officer (and possibly many, many more) recorded a lot more conversations than the one with alleged jaywalker, Ted Rall.
From a strictly legal perspective, where are the other tapes? The LAPD kept this tape in their back pocket and rolled it out when they thought it would benefit them (even though it seems as though Rall, who may have lost the initial battle, is very much winning the war). What about all the criminal defendants who got arrested based upon the word of this officer? Were any of these recordings disclosed to the court or defense counsel? How many exculpatory pieces of evidence have not seen the light of day because they do not benefit the LAPD?
Beyond the Brady implications (exculpatory evidence must be turned over the defense) of this incident that should lead to a reexamination of numerous cases within that department, there is the gloating. In a statement released on the website of the Los Angeles Police Protective League, which has since been deleted, the LAPD praised the LA Times for exacting the appropriate punishment upon Rall for his crime — dishonesty.
To put it into perspective, Rall told a personal anecdote about one cop, from 14 years ago, who aggressively detained him and rudely cited him for a minor infraction he did not commit. Would that the LAPD could muster the same incisive outrage for one of their own who lies about something much more important than Ted Rall’s story. Apparently in their view, a few lies in a blog post are much more important than false charges or actual perjury. Or those people imprisoned who shouldn’t be.
It is unsettling that an organization that has a reputation for consistently misplacing the truth feels that it has the right to scold anyone for alleged dishonesty. It is nauseating that while untold numbers of wrongly accused and wrongfully convicted human beings languish in California penitentiaries, the LAPD chose to spend time and energy to dig up an audio recording from an old Internal Affairs file, forward it to the LA Times and then write up a press release extolling the virtues of honesty and accountability.
We see proof, day after day, of cops lying. That is why Rall’s account is so easy to believe. It is the LAPD’s version, of a courteous cop merely protecting and serving, that is so difficult to swallow. For those lucky enough not to live under the constant campaign of harassment that police perpetrate upon certain communities, most of us have, at the very least, been shown disrespect by the police at some point in our lives. This is what the LAPD refuses to acknowledge.
Both the police and the publication that are currently in the crosshairs of Rall and his growing legions of supporters should have seen this coming. The LA Times’ decision to believe the LAPD over one of their own has tarnished the reputation of a paper that actually has been somewhat critical of police misconduct. And in choosing to pursue a witch hunt against Rall for his supposed dishonesty, the LAPD has proven Rall’s point more forcefully than his blog post ever could.