Smile, officer. You're on candid camera.
That's the message that should have been sent to law enforcement officials all over the country as a result of the brutal beating of black motorist Rodney King three years ago at the hands of Los Angeles police - a sickening episode captured on videotape.But evidently the message didn't get even as far as the Los Angeles suburb of Compton.
This week a Los Angeles TV station aired another home video of a burly Compton police officer beating a 17-year-old youth who had confronted him during an investigation of child neglect at the youth's home. As the Los Angeles Times describes the situation:
"The tape - apparently made without the officer's realization at the trailer park where the teenager lives - shows the officer smacking the youth on the side of the head with his police baton, pummeling him with baton blows after he has collapsed to the ground, jumping on the back of the much smaller teenager to handcuff him and then using the baton to drag the youth across the ground by his handcuff chain."
Incredible! How could any law enforcement officer anywhere in the country not have learned anything from the King case and the nation-wide furor it generated? Even the rawest rookie should realize that episodes like the King case and now the one in Compton hurt their colleagues all over the country even though the vast majority of them are so highly professional they manage to exercise firm self-restraint even in the face of flagrant provocation.
These episodes make it harder to dismiss periodic reports of police brutality as just the products of hysteria or as cynical efforts to win public sentiment for lawbreakers who don't deserve it.
Consequently, such episodes make it needlessly hard for police everywhere to maintain the public confidence and support they need to do their difficult jobs effectively.
Now public attention is focused on Compton. People all over the country will be watching closely to see how vigorously police supervisors there respond in this particular case - and how well they strive to prevent a recurrence of similar episodes.
Meanwhile, police and deputy sheriffs need to realize that video cameras are becoming increasingly popular and prevalent. Consequently, more and more of their fellow citizens are going to be watching - and recording - how law enforcement officers do their jobs.