May Day in MacArthur Park

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This is Kevin Roderick with LA Observed for KCRW.

May Day in MacArthur Park is not blazed into the collective memory of Los Angeles like the television footage we saw so many times of the LAPD roughing up Rodney King in the dark on Foothill Boulevard.

Or of the disturbing scenes a couple of years later from Florence and Normandie -- at the flash point of the Rodney King riots.

And it shouldn't be. Those epic outbursts of violence should not be confused with what happened a few months ago when the police went wild at MacArthur Park.

They were different tears in the social fabric, in somewhat different times.

But ultimately, they were not different enough.

The force let us down on May 1. From the suits at the top to the officers in riot gear who had to stand in the street while bottles sailed their way -- then make the personal decision many minutes later to swing their batons at women carrying mikes and TV cameras.

All but the blindest of thin blue line defenders knew fairly quickly that the LAPD goofed that day.

And now this week the department itself admitted that most of the fault for the May Day melee lies with the police.

There was a small splinter group of agitators -- outside the park -- that threatened officers. But that's not why the families and other peaceful visitors in the park got sprayed with rubber bullets.

The journalists who were clubbed to the ground didn't do anything wrong, except get in the way of an unnecessary and out of control police line.

This week's report by the LAPD takes much of the blame on itself. Poor planning, bad execution by commanders at the scene, and inadequate training are prominently cited.

The self-critical nature of the examination is notable and should be applauded. Surely it would not have been written in the same style before William Bratton became chief.

The two-hundred-fifty legal claims and law suits filed against the city will be expensive to settle. But that should not be the only way we measure the cost of this civic outrage.

There's also the damage to LA's community psychology to consider. This was not the first time the LAPD embarrassed the city.

For some it's another reminder that, as much as they want to trust and respect our police, the department makes it hard.

Five years into Bratton's run as chief, the outside oversight imposed after the riots and the Rampart corruption scandal should not be needed. Bratton has tried, passionately, to make the case that being overseen is insulting.

He's right, it is an insult. For awhile, I thought he had a point. Maybe the LAPD had evolved into a police department we can not only have confidence in, but feel pride in.

Then his officers go and abuse law abiding people in MacArthur Park and indiscriminately knock around journalists. And not just any officers, but the group that used to invariably be called by the press the ELITE metro division.

Even if their training was inadequate, if an elite squad doesn't know that it's not cool to swing a baton at a journalist who's not a threat then we're all in trouble.

That's one reason why it's been hard for some people not to suspect that at least some of the police misbehavior on May First had other, less savory implications. Most of the ralliers were immigrants, Spanish-speaking and probably poor.

Journalists, as you may know, have not been the LAPD's biggest friends, as many in the department see it.

I hope that none of that fed the frenzy in MacArthur Park. I mean, I really hope that. And if those kinds of inner demons were present in the minds of our paid guardians, I hope that Bratton will lay down the law and excuse those officers from being considered an elite anything.

The city would be better off without them.

For KCRW, I'm Kevin Roderick and this has been LA Observed.

Photo: David McNew/Getty Images