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EXCERPT: AN ADAPTION FROM POWER CONCEDES NOTHING

Adapted from Power Concedes Nothing, by Connie Rice.
Adaptation by Connie Rice



     Barring the Nobel Committee or a drunk telemarketer in Japan, nothing good ever comes from a 3:00 a.m. phone call In twenty years as a civil rights attorney in Los Angeles, I’ve had my share of nocturnal alarms from cops, gang intervention workers, clients and social workers, commandeering me to shooting scenes and emergency rooms.  But few summons shook my world like the one I got from Fred Williams on a moonless October night in 1994.  It not only woke me from sleep but also to the reality that gangsters brandishing guns were not the only predators roving the streets of L.A.’s kill zones. A few wore badges.
On the second ring my eyes dragged open and squinted at the neon red numbers on the clock. A bleary 3:00 a.m. bled through the darkness.  I sat up to jog my brain into gear.  Had to be another shooting.  Who was it this time?
     “Hello?” I moaned.
     “Connie, Connie…It’s Fred.”
     Fred Williams was my sherpa to the streets, a recovering Grape Street Crip who now ran Cross Colours Common Ground Foundation, a homegrown outfit dedicated to keeping kids out of gangs. He sounded anxious but not injured. At least this time, it wasn’t Fred.
     “Fred…what’s wrong?”
     “I really need you to do something. I mean, I hate to pull you into this, but really you have to do this….” 
     He seemed to realize this stumblingly ominous opening was not the way to begin a request at 3:00 o’clock in the morning.  He took a breath and hit restart. He asked if I remembered a shooting last year in which Jamal (not his real name), a young Crip, had killed a fifteen year old pregnant bystander and then fled from the police. I did. Fred explained that Jamal, the shooter, wanted to turn himself in to LAPD.
     “Good for him.” I said, “What do you need me for?”
     I wasn’t exactly awake, but Fred wasn’t making sense.  Jamal was a surrendering homicide fugitive.  Given their sky-high pile of 6,000 unsolved murders, LAPD should have been throwing a ticker tape parade for him. Was Fred back on crack?
     “Nah, Nah, Connie, you don’t understand…,” he countered.  Stammering slightly, he explained that if I didn’t escort Jamal into the station, the cops on LAPD Southeast Division’s graveyard shift would shoot Jamal dead in the street before he could turn himself in. Now I was awake. Fred was not high, but I still wasn’t buying it.
     “What in the hell are you talking about?” 
     “No, no, li-listen, Connie,” he pleaded.  “Jamal has a $50,000 warrant out on him.  He killed two people in a wild shoot out.  He’s got no support in the community ‘cause he killed that girl. He escaped from LAPD, and like the fool he is, shot at the police while fleeing.  I’m telling you, LAPD---Graveyard--- don’t let shooters like that make it to the station.”
     My dearth of synaptic activity at three in the morning did not explain my difficulty in processing what Fred was saying. Even though I knew some cops, especially on the late night crews, targeted other officers viewed as traitors, I still resisted an ex-gangster’s charge that LAPD had death squads.  This was not Guatemala.  Nor were we in backwoods Mississippi.
     “Fred, where are you?”
     “At the phone booth across from Jordan,” he replied, referring to Jordan Downs, the Watts public housing project dominated by the Grape Street Crips.
     “Give me the number. I’ll call you back.  I need to check something out.  If I don’t call within fifteen minutes, call me back.” 
     I made sure he had enough change for another call and fumbled for a pen and piece of paper.  Fred hung up.  I threw on a robe and slippers and headed for the kitchen to fetch another number from my briefcase. It belonged to Ben Hannity (not his real name), the captain at Southeast Division. Hannity, a strapping Irish Catholic, had come up in LAPD as a blue grip, good ole’ boy, whose midlife master’s degree in urban sociology had ruined his tough cop identity. Shortly after the '92 riots, he had breached the barricade between our warring organizations and called me. Identifying himself as a white LAPD command officer, he apologized for the King beating, lamented the riot, and offered clandestine help. This was not the first time that I’d called the numbers he left.  It was 3:20.
     “Yea?” a groggy baritone growled.
     “Ben?”
     “Who is this?”  He was not happy.
     “Captain, it’s Connie….. Rice.  I’m sorry to wake you, but--.”
     “Where are you?”  He had snapped awake.
     “Home.”
     “Oh.”  He sounded relieved. He must have imagined me calling from somewhere in Southeast.
     “Fred just called.  He’s trying to bring in a homicide fugitive. But he’s insisting that I bring him in…. to keep cops working graveyard from hunting him down. I told Fred that was absurd—I mean, he can’t be right, but he sounded so convinced----I just wanted to---”
     “How much is on the warrant?” he interrupted my incoherence.
     Why had he asked that?
     “Uh-- $50,000.” I replied.
     “How many did he kill?”
     “Two, including a pregnant teenager.”
     “Can he claim support from politicos or respected local leaders?”
     Had Hannity been on the same line with Fred and me?
     “No….but-” 
     “When he fled, did he shoot at LAPD?”
     I felt my stomach dropping.
     “Yes,” I mumbled.
      Silence. For what felt like minutes Hannity said absolutely nothing. 
     “Ben?”
     “You had better bring him in.”
     My spine went cold. There was no mistaking what he had just said.  A captain of the LAPD had just confirmed his awareness of execution squads.  I stared into the darkness.
     The phone rang. I jumped. When had I hung it up?  Fred!  I had forgotten he was waiting. 
     “Hello?” I answered.
     It was Hannity. He did not elaborate on our earlier colloquy.  He just said,
     “On second thought, I had better bring both of you in.”
     Before I could respond, Hannity barked instructions.
     “I’ll meet you at your office in one hour.  Tell Fred to get Jamal out of South Bureau and up to your office. Tell him to move fast--but not too fast.”  He hung up.
     My descent into shock would have to wait.  I reached Fred at his pay phone and instructed him to get Jamal downtown to my office quickly but carefully.  Forty-five minutes later in the office kitchen, I fed Jamal some cereal and made sure that he understood the consequences of turning himself in. Scared, penniless and tired of running, he looked less like an armed menace than a cornered waif.  He was seventeen and his life was over. I told him not to say anything until he had talked to the criminal defense lawyer I would find for him that morning.  He stood, offered his hands for cuffing, and we left.
     At five thirty in the morning, the four of us rolled out of LDF’s parking lot onto Olive Street and headed down to Watts in a caravan. Fifteen minutes later, Jamal entered Southeast police station.  Alive.
 


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