So they gave me and the Times unprecedented access to the department, hoping we’d give readers a story about LAPD’s new "kinder, gentler cop."
I was embedded with officers from several divisions and branches, including some of the more notorious ones: the anti-gang unit “CRASH”, the Rampart Division, and the homicide unit. For several weeks, I rode day and night in the back of police cars, taking photos.
Most of those photographs have never seen the light of day, until now. Given the potential revolution around policing in the US taking place right now, the time has come to share them with a wide audience. The photos are a reminder that the same problems we are reckoning with today—systemic racism, violence against community members, corruption—have been around for decades.
"The hope, even among the white middle class, was that you could deal with the L.A.P.D. by not having to deal with them. They themselves were pretty much oblivious to public sentiment. They followed their chief, the larger-than-life Daryl Gates, and lived and died by arrests; it was a numbers game -- bust this guy, harass that one. They'd kick anybody's butt, especially if you were black or Hispanic, and if you weren't, they might just kick yours anyway."- Richard Rayner, Wanted: a kinder, gentler cop The New York Times
These photographs tell a story about the power imbalance between police and the community, the constant tension between the stated goal of “protecting and serving” and the reality of police violence. From behind my camera, I saw how decades of profiling, racism, and brutality had led to deep distrust in many communities—distrust that the LAPD’s mild attempts at reform couldn’t even touch. The photos capture a particularly turbulent time for the LAPD, just after several very public corruption scandals in addition to the charges of police brutality brought to light by the video of Rodney King’s beating.
I was no stranger to this type of assignment. At that time I had already published two books, Spanish Harlem and East Side Stories, which depicted life in impoverished neighborhoods. Covering LAPD gave me a chance to show how police operated in marginalized communities, and how those communities were affected by individual cops and the department as a whole.
Joseph Rodríguez is a Documentary photographer born and raised in Brooklyn, New York. He studied photography in the School of Visual Arts and in the Photojournalism and Documentary Photography Program at the International Center of Photography in New York City.
As a documentary photographer for over 25 years, my point of view has been to work slowly when it is possible. The domestic landscape of America has been my interest for the past two decades. Today I continue to work within the social documentary practice, covering the struggles of everyday life. As Fred Ritchin, author and president of www.pixelpress.org wrote, “Photography too often confirms preconceptions and distances the reader from more nuanced realities. The people in the frame are often depicted as too foreign, too exotic, or simply too different to be easily understood.” I continue to tell stories that have had an effect on my life so that we can diminish this distance and develop a better understanding.
Recent exhibitions of his work have appeared at The Armory Show NYC, Galerie Bene Taschen, Cologne, Galleri Kontrast, Stockholm, Sweden; The African American Museum, Philadelphia, PA; The Fototeca, Havana, Cuba; Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, Birmingham, Alabama, Open Society Institute’s Moving Walls, New York; Frieda and Roy Furman Gallery at the Walter Reade Theater at the Lincoln Center; and the Kari Kenneti Gallery Helsinki, Finland.
In 2001 the Juvenile Justice website http://www.pixelpress.org/, featuring Joseph Rodriguez's photographs, launched in partnership with the Human Rights Watch International Film Festival High School Pilot Program.
Joseph teaches at New York University, the International Center of Photography, New York and has also taught at universities in Mexico and Europe, including Scandinavia.
Rodriguez won an Alicia Patterson Journalism Fellowship in 1993 photographing gang families in East Los Angeles.
Wanted: A Kinder, Gentler Cop
Wanted: A Kinder, Gentler Cop