IN LOS ANGELES last week, a black female motorist was pulled to the side of the road by an angry, red-faced police officer after she made an illegal left turn. The officer asked for her license and registration and promised that he would write a ticket.
"Thanks," replied the frightened driver with obvious relief. "I thought you were going to beat me."
If the story sounds apocryphal, in the face of the national outrage aimed at 21 white officers of the L.A. Police Department for the brutal beating of a black driver, captured by an amateur video photographer, it is grounded in reality.
The videotape revealed a defenseless Rodney King, who had been shot by an officer with a stun gun. Three other policemen viciously clubbed, stomped and kicked King more than 50 times as he lay sprawled upon the ground.
Jack Levin of Northeastern University in Boston, says King's beating "is just the tip of the iceberg." For every complaint that's filed, at least five or more aren't.
The attack meets Levin's definition of hate crimes: It involved four or more perpetrators and excessive brutality, the victim was typically hospitalized, and the crime was against a total stranger.
"It's always easier to dehumanize members of other races or groups," said Levin, who is writing a book, "Hate Crimes: Prejudice and Violence in America." Asked whether the book will have a chapter on police behavior, he said he hadn't planned such a chapter originally, although he included information on police response to hate crimes.
"But since this incendiary L.A. incident, I'm going to have to include a chapter on police as perpetrators" of hate crimes, Levin said. "Because of recent revelations and the public clamor over the King case, no book on the subject would be complete without such a chapter."
Claude Lewis is a columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer.