A video showing police officers beating up a suspect may be nothing new in Los Angeles, but the pummelling William Cardenas received on a Hollywood street corner last August has gone public in the ultimate 21st century way – it showed up on the popular video internet site YouTube.
Cardenas, a 23-year-old suspected gang member, was charged with resisting arrest and is now in jail awaiting trial. However, the short video shows Cardenas lying motionless as one officer squeezes his neck with his leg and punches him repeatedly in the face.
Cardenas is seen flailing his arms and gasping: "I can't breathe! I can't breathe!" According to his lawyer, he was later treated in hospital for two black eyes, a split lip and facial bruises.
The emergence of the video, shot by a bystander, has prompted a new court hearing, an investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and a volley of exchanges between the Los Angeles police chief and civil rights organisations concerned that police brutality is still alive and well in the City of Angels.
Fifteen years ago, video footage of black suspect Rodney King being beaten by four patrol cops thrust a spotlight on southern California's incendiary race relations and the perceived victimisation of African Americans by the police. When, in April 1992, an all-white jury acquitted the four cops of wrong-doing, it triggered the worst street riots in LA history.
The Cardenas case is unlikely to be so inflammatory – race relations have improved immeasurably, and the police is under close federal scrutiny for the slightest misstep. But the publication of the video on YouTube has attracted thousands of users and provided the city with plentiful cause for embarrassment.
"It is very graphic video," a cautious William Bratton, the LA police chief, told reporters. "But as to whether the actions of the officers were appropriate in light of what they were experiencing and the totality of the circumstances is what the investigation will determine."
In the preliminary hearing held in the Cardenas case in September, the patrol officers seen in the video testified that Cardenas had lashed out at their hands and belt and apparently tried to reach for one of their guns. They recognised him as a member of the Gordon Street Locos gang and knew he was wanted for failing to appear on a warrant of receiving stolen property.
Cardenas's lawyer said the idea the he was either a gang member or had resisted arrest was "ridiculous".
The local chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union said it was disturbing the incident only came to light because of the Internet. "Californians are entitled to more transparency than a chance video," said the executive director of the Southern California ACLU, Ramona Ripston. "YouTube is not an acceptable substitute for accountability."Reuse content