The Courage of Mitchell Crooks

Jailed and Threatened for Videotaping Police Beating

Revolutionary Worker #1226, January 25, 2004, posted at

Mitchell Crooks was on vacation that July 4 weekend in 2002. "I heard a woman screaming, `Don't resist!' and I knew right away that it was the police."

Crooks grabbed his camera and ran outside his motel in time to catch on tape the now infamous beating of Donovan Jackson by a gang of cops in Inglewood, right next door to L.A. His videotape shows how the cops took the 16-year-old Donovan and beat him outrageously, then slammed the half-conscious young man onto the hood of a car and beat him some more.

On the tape, you can hear Crooks say, "They're gonna come up and come after me now." Worried about turning the video over to the cops, Crooks took the precaution of separating the tape from his camera and giving it to some other guests.

Within minutes, 17 sheriffs were combing through the motel. Crooks later said, "Ninety percent of the people there knew I'd taped it, but no one said a word. We all knew that if they got it, it would be the end, it would disappear."

The cops didn't find the tape. And instead of disappearing, Crooks made sure that the media got copies of it. His footage was aired on all the major L.A. news broadcasts, and it was picked up nationally and even internationally.

People across the country and around the world were outraged when they saw the footage and responded immediately with demonstration after angry demonstration. Haunted by the memory of the Rodney King incident and the 1992 Los Angeles Rebellion, officials rushed to put out a fire before it could start by indicting two of the cops who'd been caught on tape. One of these cops, Jeremy Morse, had been on the force only three years but already had six previous brutality complaints against him.

Local law enforcement now knew who had shot the video, and they wanted to get their hands on him. Mitchell called the District Attorney to try and work something out. The DA ordered him to appear before a county grand jury, which Mitchell agreed to do. But when they demanded that Crooks turn over his original tape, he began to get nervous.

The next day, Crooks was being interviewed live on the radio when the Chief Deputy District Attorney broke into the broadcast. On the air, his tone was threatening: "Mitchell, there's a grand jury subpoena for you, and I suggest you honor it! Show up at the Criminal Courts Building."

Crooks told his interviewer, "They're coming after me because I shot the video. I fear for my life."

In a recent interview on radio station KPFK, Crooks explained: "It's scary to challenge the system, and I knew that's what I was doing."

When Crooks arrived at CNN the next day for an interview, undercover cops jumped out of unmarked cars and arrested him when he tried to enter the station. As they spirited him away in an unmarked SUV, Crooks' screams could be heard clearly.

Later that night he was treated for unspecified injuries at a hospital, and the next day he was extradited to northern California to face warrants for an old traffic violation and a bogus charge of petty theft. He was in custody for six months, locked down 23 hours a day, and allowed no mail and no contact with the outside.

In contrast, the cops who beat Donovan Jackson have not spent one day in jail!


The authorities used the trial not to punish these two brutal cops but, in Mitchell's words, "to deflate the balloon of people's anger."

First, they moved the trial out of the predominantly African-American community of Inglewood into the nearby South Bay, a suburban L.A. area with a reputation for being unfriendly to anybody who isn't white. The defense was so blatantly kicking all Blacks off the jury that the judge had to outright override them and reinstate one African-American juror who'd been excused because, they said, "he looked too much like Donovan Jackson."

During the trial, the prosecution showed they were not at all eager to really prosecute these cops. They didn't call Crooks or any of the 20 other eyewitnesses to the beating. And their "use-of-force expert" was an L.A. County Sheriff's Department commander who expressed empathy for the cop Morse and testified that he thought the cops should never have been charged in the first place. In other words, prosecutors used an expert who directly undermined their case.

So it was no surprise when one cop was acquitted and the jury hung on Morse. Within days, D.A. Steve Cooley announced that Morse would be retried.

(Morse, who was fired from the Inglewood police department after his indictment, has filed a "reverse discrimination" suit against the city, alleging that he was fired because he is white!)


Last week, a new jury was picked for the retrial of the cop Jeremy Morse, and Crooks' video is expected to play prominently in this second trial.

Mitchell says that over the past month there's been a noticeable rise in the number and explicitness of the death threats against him. "I've been getting lots of emails. Some are carefully worded, and some are very crude, overt ones. I get hassled on the street by cops. I got a dog for protection just so I can go out in public."


On October 22, 2003, Mitchell Crooks spoke in Los Angeles at the National Day of Protest to Stop Police Brutality and the Criminalization of a Generation.

"I wasn't sure I wanted to do that. Hearing [the families of those murdered by the police] made my situation so small. But then I realized, it's not really up to me. I have a responsibility to speak out." He told the RW , "We have a problem of police brutality, and it's all over the country. In Miami at the FTAA protests. I saw the videotape of the police beating in Cincinnati. It made me sick! That cop kept jabbing the guy with his baton just like he was stabbing someone over and over, then dancing in their blood. And they just keep getting away with it. It's like the October 22 Coalition says, `Police brutality didn't die on 9/11.' Would they have beaten Donovan Jackson in broad daylight like they did if they didn't think they could get away with it? They think they have free rein to do whatever they want now. Do we want to live in a police state? No! People have got to rise to the occasion."

When RW reporter Michael Slate interviewed Mitchell Crooks on KPFK radio show "Beneath the Surface," Mitchell talked about why he had stepped out to expose this brutality against a Black youth: "I'm tired of living divided by color, divided by race, divided by class. That's what they do to maintain control over people. I'm tired of living in a world like that. It's so last century, so last millennium. Me standing up is just one person, but there's lots of white people who feel the same way. People need to stand up to racial oppression."

Mitchell Crooks talked about drawing inspiration from rebel youth of Los Angeles: "It was when the Lakers won their first championship. It was an awakening. Outside that stadium, I saw history about to happen. When they danced around the fires, I knew that the youth were going to use their strength and their knowledge to stand up to this system. I didn't know what my part was going to be, but all that helped me to know who my enemy is in this battle and come forward."

Mitchell later told the RW , "I'm proof-positive that revolution is possible because I'm not the kind of guy who would've had the guts to make that film and turn it over like I did. I wouldn't have done that before. But after the Lakers riots woke me up, I said, `If I don't get involved, my dreams will be crushed.' People should get themselves organized and reach out for more people to join the fight. You have to encourage others, you have to get them committed. That's what I'm trying to do every day of my life."