“It is an easy matter for many to be shut up in the hands of a few.” – 1 Maccabees, 3:18
A racist, real estate tycoon and a beautiful young woman far his junior enjoyed prime, courtside seats at a Clippers game recently. Their relationship was purely transactional – and the publicity that it garnered left many of us scandalized by the appalling nature of such a brazenly open arrangement. Yet it was truly a timeless, LA Story – the kind the modern city is, in fact, actually built on.
Not interested in reading more about Don Sterling? Well, you’re in luck. I’m not talking about “kooky,” (recently vocal but wrongly individualized) racist shitlord Sterling – I’m talking about a brazen PR stunt elaborately orchestrated by strip mall magnate, “civilian” Los Angeles Police Commission President and full-time, settler-colonial & LAPD booster-in-chief Steve fucking Soboroff. I’m also talking about how both of these incidents reflect the larger story of our modern, dystopic Los Angeles.
Soboroff – whose twitter feed reads like that of a Comicon fanboy, if Comicon fanboys fawned over murderous-and-unaccountable, real life villains who murder with impunity and then caterwaul about their own bravery (it isn’t a dangerous job, it’s just the most memorialized) – recently conscripted Rihanna into his tireless campaign, not to oversee the LAPD and set better policy, but to exalt, promote and privately bankroll them. At first, hardly anyone was talking about everyone’s favorite “good girl gone bad” taking a selfie to promote pigs alongside a modern day, racist land baron. Well, except his son, Jacob, who works in media. How Convenient! (Not that this is new to LA, either. From the Garcettis to the Hahns to the Englanders to the Soboroffs – in LA, having a rich/powerful relative is the surest way to be rich/powerful, too.)
However, when Rihanna later donated $25,000 to the LAPD and Soboroff put his (very theatrically) broken iPhone on eBay, the story made the far-from-arduous jump across Spring Street to the ever-faithful-to-power LA Times. Now, it’s time we all start talking about it.
Ever since trailblazing, Los Angeles booster and USC cofounder Joseph P. Widney declared that “the Captains of Industry are the truest captains of the race war” and gushed that Los Angeles was destined to become the world capital of white supremacy, an endless stream of speculative hucksters and shit-peddling charlatans have converged upon Los Angeles to help the city realize that destiny. They lined their pockets with the money of all those who bought into this pervasive-if-now-more-obfuscated ideal. Today, Steve Soboroff has proven himself to be little more than a neoliberal resurrection of Widney. His position atop the LA Police Commission but a realization of this long-prophesied power convergence.
Having moved on from pumping and dumping controversial development projects like Playa Vista, Soboroff has taken his time-tested template as creative destruction’s most ardent booster to the top of the LA Police Commission. Sadly, what the LAPD destroys – instead of mere investment portfolios, ancient buriel grounds, wetlands or mayonnaise-fed, “planned-community” fantasies – is human life and dignity. When Schumpeter’s Gale billows behind the iron fist of the state, the result is today’s oft-euphemised fascism.
Of course, “this is about Los Angeles,” Mayor Eric Garcetti admitted, in a recent press conference about real estate titan and Clippers owner, Donald Sterling. But what he said next was pure parroting of the many civic cheerleaders who have served as LA’s Mayor before: “[Los Angeles is] a name that stands for tolerance and openness. Diversity. It stands for civil rights. It stands for breakthroughs, and most of all it stands for basketball excellence“[emphasis added.]
It doesn’t. It never has stood for any of that. The only truth in that laundry list of lies, of course, is that Los Angeles has stood for “basketball excellence.” But only when the playoffs roll around and fair-weather Laker flags finally bloom.
Thanks, Lakers – for not making a liar out of the mayor.
“If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”
– The Law of the Instrument, Abraham Maslow
Depending on who you ask, “Maccabee” is either derived from the Aramaic word for “hammer,” makkaba, or some convoluted contortion most likely made by later historians to obscure that fact. But here we find yet another discomfiting convergence: in Los Angeles, where former LAPD Chief Daryl Gates’ infamous Operation Hammer used the CIA-backed, crack cocaine epidemic as a pretext to brutalize South Central, our new Police Commission Presidential (and mayoral appointee) also sits atop a sinisterly-named “Committee of Eighteen” who promote a Zionist athletic festival named… The Maccabiah Games; or, if you speak Aramaic, the ‘hammer games.’ As a “Brigadier General” in the Friends of the Israeli Defense Forces ranks, Steve Soboroff’s philosophy becomes even more ominously militant.
In Los Angeles, as with all settler-colonial projects – notably Israel – the square peg of professedly beneficent “redevelopment” has always needed the hammer of white supremacy to push it through the circle heart of our communities. Clearly, only the stylistic flourishes – not the substance – have changed since Rudyard Kipling first articulated “the White Man’s burden”:
“Take up the White Man’s burden And reap his old reward:
The blame of those ye better, The hate of those ye guard”
This is all just wordplay, of course – a troubling-but-coincidental reminder of the Maccabeean/Parker-Gatesian historical “hammer” – and might easily be dismissed as the idle fantasy of a “conspiracist” blogger if there weren’t an actual, on-the-ground symbiosis strengthening between the LAPD and Israel. “What’s a Maccabee gotta do with me,” Angelenos might ask?
Well, as recently-promoted, longtime tormentor of Skid Row (and Occupy LA) LAPD Commander Horace Frank recently made clear: “we’re looking at some of [Israel’s] additional solutions … They have a lot of new technologies that we are very much interested in.” (Hey, single-issue anti-drone folks: that’s code for your far-too-belated attention! Commander Frank means “drones.”)
Further, if you’ve read Mike Davis’ exhaustive history of Los Angeles, City of Quartz, you’d be well acquainted with what he called “an unchanging elite agenda of pharaonic redevelopment projects.” To now conjoin that incredible power with a racial supremacist ethos like Zionism, a philosophy that Max Blumenthal has called “a recipe for ethnic cleansing” in Palestine (as well as the acquisition of the actual, high-tech tools currently being used to implement it there), seems to me like the apotheosis of JP Widney’s wildest, supremacist dreams.
More than the vitriolic words (or black-face selfies by IDF PR managers) of Don Sterling, or even Sterling’s widespread housing discrimination, the idea of having a supremacist-philosophy-espousing land baron like Steve Soboroff in charge of setting policy for the LAPD, of holding Chief Charlie Beck accountable for what happens on his watch, seems preposterous. It certainly hasn’t happened yet.
As we previously posted, the danger of even merely ceremonial police commissions is that they may become “more friendly to cops than victims of police abuse.”A simple scroll down Steve Soboroff’s twitter timeline can plainly reveal that to be the case. Palling around with LAPPL President Tyler Izen and yukking-it-up over a “bread and water” lunch, shilling police-gear for the holidays and now executing an elaborate, fundraising scheme with Rihanna clearly establish Soboroff as “more friendly to cops.” If this isn’t – at least – the “appearance of impropriety” that makes ethicists weep, I don’t know what is.
Of course, as we have seen, “ethics” aren’t even on the list of what Los Angeles is about. But maybe if we put down the Laker flags (hey, the Lakers aren’t even in the playoffs!) and focus on how systemic racism still runs this city (hand-in-hand with a few real estate magnates, a ferocious police force and their ever-present smoke and mirrors publicity stunts) – we can change that together. We must.
Update (Sat. May 17, 2014):
Soboroff’s Rihanna-signed iPhone fetched a $66k, winning bid on eBay. Added to the 25k Rihanna herself donated (as well as some other monies this stunt generated), the total haul for a police department that has participated in the murder of over 300 innocent people since 2007 was well over $100k. Finally, while noting the interaction was “odd,” photographer Noel Vasquez – who took the now-widespread images of the two courtside – thought the bungled smartphone handoff “looked like an accident.”
This incident, regardless of whether it was manufactured or not, still raises serious questions about Soboroff’s fitness to be the “civilian” overseer of the LAPD. Do we really want a militant supremacist developer, and police cheerleader, determining who can best serve our communities? In the coming weeks, Soboroff’s Police Commission and Mayor Garcetti will be evaluating Charlie Beck’s bid for another, 5-year term as Chief of Police. Of course, so will we.