We were lucky to be able to attend the first L.A. screening of Nick Broomfield’s new film, Tales of the Grim Sleeper yesterday at the Egyptian Theatre thanks to the American Film Institute (see trailer here).1
Broomfield’s film exposes the fact that the City of Los Angeles allowed a serial killer to operate with impunity for 22 years, murdering untold numbers of women. Neither the LAPD nor the City government took the case seriously because the victims were black women, many prostitutes or drug addicts. This point was made repeatedly and convincingly, both on screen and during the Q&A after the film, by stars Pam Brooks and Margaret Prescod, who has been pressing the LAPD about the killings since 1986, thereby earning the wrath of, among other geniuses, Darryl Gates, our city’s second worst mistake. Gates, in his inimitably idiotic way, called Prescod and her compatriots in the Black Coalition Fighting Back Serial Murders “dummies” for even raising the issue.
Broomfield’s stunning work shows that Prescod and her allies have been right all along, though. The film gives an irrefutable performative demonstration of the fact that the LAPD has never taken this case seriously: In 2009 the LAPD knew of one survivor of the killer’s attacks. In 2014, before Broomfield started filming, that one survivor was still the only one known. But in the course of filming Brooks managed to locate and arrange for Broomfield to interview not just one additional woman who survived the Sleeper’s attacks but four. How is it possible that a serious investigation could leave such major witnesses to be discovered, and not even discovered by the police, four years after a suspect’s arrest?
It’s unconscionable. The City of Los Angeles will never live down the shame of having, through racism and indifference, abandoned dozens or hundreds of its most vulnerable citizens to a cruel thrill-killer (or killers; the true extent of the damage may never be known). It couldn’t have happened without the utter dehumanization of these women, each and every one someone’s child. According to Joshua Kleinfeld of Northwestern University, “in Southern California, police slang in the early 1990s for the murder of drug dealers, gangsters, prostitutes, and other lawbreakers was the vivid and extremely disturbing term, ‘NHI (no humans involved) Homicide.'”2 And once the police and white Los Angeles have dehumanized people to the point that they can be killed without consequence, killers will flourish. Why wouldn’t they?
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