Watts: Under the Shadow of the Enforcer

The Night Police Murdered Chub Dotson

By Michael Slate

Revolutionary Worker #1044, February 27, 2000

When I was a kid my grandfather taught me to love the night. As we walked the late night streets, he used to tell me it was a magic world of make-believe and shadows. The night was a soft, dark curtain wrapped around the world. It was a place of possibility--anything could happen and nothing was what it seemed to be in the harsh glare of daylight.

Noise carries more weight in the night. Some sounds can scare the hell out of you--the rumble of a freight train on a track at two in the morning, a howling dog, a drunken neighbor trying to put his key in the doorknob, the scuttle of rat claws across the roof. And when you're a kid you imagine that any one of these sounds could be some horrible creature ready to pounce out of the closet or from underneath the bed. So you learn to identify the noises, and, by speaking their name, you chase away the fear. But some noises turn out to be real monsters lurking in the night.

"Freeze! Stop! Stop!" Pop-Pop POP! These were the noises DC heard coming out of the darkness in the early morning hours of December 7, 1999.

DC didn't know it at the time, but two Los Angeles cops had just murdered his friend Gregory "Chubby" Dotson. They shot Chub twice-- once in the back and once in the back of his head--in a dark corner of the Nickerson Gardens projects in Watts. I'm writing this article on what would have been Chub's 38th birthday.

The news media painted Chub as a ruthless criminal who attacked the police after they stopped him for robbing a parked van that belonged to another resident of the projects. They said Chub had a weapon--that he was fighting with the police and took one of their guns--so they had to kill him. They figured that the night would hide their crime. But noises travel quick, clear and far in the night. And some noises tell the tale.

DC knew Chub for more than 30 years. He showed me the spot where Chub was killed.

This was the spot where the police left him laying dead for 12 hours, with his hands cuffed behind his back, while they stood around like vultures, poking and prodding his body, laughing, joking, and drinking coffee.

And on this spot, as if to defy the terrible ugliness of the police, Chub's friends and neighbors built a small shrine in his memory. Someone showed me a picture of the shrine--candles, flowers, a copy of the Stolen Lives book,* and posters and notes from people in the projects. One note, signed in the shaky handwriting of a young child, read, "To my daddy, I will always love you, your daughter Sheena Dotson."

The Sound of Police Murder

DC was visiting a friend's house and heard it all. "It was Monday night going into Tuesday morning, had to be about 3:45 in the morning. I was here watching a movie and I heard the police yell `Freeze! Stop! Stop!' And then the three shots, I heard Pop, Pop! POP! They shot three times."

Information travels fast in the projects. By mid-morning everyone knew about the cops murdering Chub, and everyone knew that that the stories tossed out by the police to justify the murder were lies.

According to the grapevine, the night offered cover to someone who watched the whole thing go down. And according to this eyewitness, Chub had already left the van and was walking away when the police stopped him. Two cops went out after him, one from the front and one from behind. The cop coming up from behind drew his gun on Chub, told him to stop and put his hands behind his head. When the cop tried to cuff him, Chub made a break for it. People in the neighborhood say that Chub was facing three strikes with this arrest and that meant he would never get out of jail again. It is said that Chub and the cop wrestled, and Chub pushed the cop to the ground. The cop who had come up around in front of Chub to cut him off raised her gun, took aim, and blew Chub away. Chub Dotson was executed on the street for the crime of breaking into a car and stealing a damn radio.

Cops and Dogs

A few years back I was stopped waiting for a long freight train to pass through an intersection in the middle of Watts. The smell of death was in the air. On the right shoulder of the road, just a few feet from the train tracks, there was a dead dog. A pack of dogs were pulling at his insides, devouring his body. A cop drove up to the dogs and scattered them. He covered the dead dog and called an animal control officer. When I left the scene, the cop was helping the animal control officer get things in order.

I thought about this as DC continued with his story. In Watts dead dogs get more respect and better treatment than people.

"I seen it on the news too. I seen the sheet and all that and I just kept saying to myself that I hope I don't know who is under that sheet. About 10:30 that morning someone came and told me it was Chub. So I went out and stood on the grass where all the other people was, looking at his body. Then they pulled the sheet off him--he had turned green. They had that sheet off him for hours, so everybody could see him. Kids on their way to school was looking at him."

"The police was standing out there all the time--laughing, drinking coffee and making jokes all around his body.

"It was just a game to the police. They come over here and they always describe us as `you people'. They play with our minds like that. It was like they was looking at all of us and saying `You a piece of shit cuz you living in Watts.' And everybody was getting angry about all this too.

"It was very sad for the whole community. Everybody came out. And everybody kept asking the police why they wouldn't just cover him up. And they asked why was he still handcuffed. The police just ignored everybody. They gave us snotty, fucked-up looks. All the cops were the same and it didn't matter what color the cops was--Black, white, Latino. And that hurted a lot too cuz people thought the Black cops might be different, but they was looking at us too and the look was saying, `What you gonna do about it?' This was a slap. The coroner came and got him sometime around noon."

A Generous Man of Few Words

Police brutality is nothing new or strange to the people who live in Nickersons. It's just part of being there. It's something to hate--and to fight against. And people have a lot of experience in doing that. They know the cops by sight and by what they do against the people.

DC knows the woman who killed Chub. "I seen the cop that killed Chub out here before. This is the same cop who ran over a friend of mine when he was riding his bike out here. They don't care about our lives over here. They come over here, and if they see you in here, then you are automatically a criminal to them. It don't make no sense. In other words, it's a crime to be poor. It's a crime to need assistance. If that's the case then damn near the whole world should go to jail."

Chub grew up in the Nickersons. He had a large family--four sisters and three brothers. Chubby was a childhood nickname. When he grew into a strong and big man he used to joke that Chubby was a kid's name so people should just call him Chub. He had four children of his own and was already a grandfather at 37.

Everybody knew Chub to be a friendly man. He was a man of few words, so when he spoke he made every word count. When he grew up he always tried to work--at Church's Chicken and other jobs like that. But he was plagued by drug addiction. He worked in a large warehouse for two years after he finished a prison sentence for a drug conviction. He also worked at a temporary construction job that subcontracted jobs from the Housing Authority in the Nickersons.

Chub had a lot of health problems too. He was born with one lung and he had leukemia. He got real depressed as he struggled to pay child support on the pitiful wages he earned. He turned to crack for some relief. His sister says that sometimes he took to "making money the wrong way--slangin" (selling crack) here and there. But everybody knew Chub as a kind-hearted man. When he got some little bit of money he always donated to different organizations. And in the projects a whole lot of people got some help from Chub to make their rent, pay their phone bill, and put clothes on their kids, when they hit hard times. Chub knew the drugs were doing him in--the night before the police killed him he had phoned his sister to make arrangements to get to a drug rehab program in the morning.

A Changing Police Story

The police are tripping all over themselves trying to cover up their crime. They've changed their story so many times that it seems even their supporters are having to do cartwheels to keep up with them. First they say that he had a weapon, and then they say no he didn't. Then they say he got hold of the one cop's gun and that falls apart fast. Then they say Chub attacked the policeman and broke his jaw. Then they say the cop's jaw wasn't broken, but he was injured. As DC put it, "I don't know how many times they kept changing the story. That tell anybody that something is not right, cuz if it's the truth, it ain't supposed to be confused at all. But they keep changing what happened."

Chub's sister Tracy lives a few miles away from the projects these days. She got the news about Chub being murdered when an old neighbor from the projects came by to tell her. By the time she got to the Nickersons, the coroner had finally taken Chub to the morgue.

Tracy is trying to find out why her brother was murdered. She can't get a straight answer from any cop. In fact, she's having a hard time getting them to tell her anything, even their lies. Two months after Chub was killed Tracy still has not been allowed to see a police report. When she asks them about it, they tell her that they're having some trouble putting it together. They say that they aren't required to put one out until 90 days after the murder.

But the conversations Tracy has had with the police are very revealing. Her first contact with them happened by accident--when she walked into a secret meeting they were holding in the projects the day she went to tell people the date and place for her brother's funeral.

"Bernard Parks sent his man down here to meet with the community leaders they know. They had a secret meeting at the little pre-school on the street we used to live at. I went over and was waiting out there when one of the officers came over, and somebody told him I was the sister of the guy they killed. I asked them questions about why it happened and what they were gonna do to the lady cop. First he tried to give me the runaround then he told me that `He shouldn't have died.' This cop named Brooks said my brother would've never died in his custody because he didn't have no weapons. He would have took him in custody and questioned him.

"Even one of the detectives told me that it seemed real bad for an unarmed man to be killed this way. She said it sounded real bad, and she was talking like it never should've happened. But then she turns around and says, `Well, you know, he beat up a lady and a man cop.' I asked her how one man--a man who looked like he only weighed 90 pounds since he got on crack--could beat up two cops. When I asked them why they would handcuff somebody that got shot like that they told me that he could've jumped up and got violent or something. I said no--nobody who got shot in the head and the back is gonna jump up and do anything. I asked them how could a dead man be a threat to them. They told me that by law they have every right to put handcuffs on a dead man. That's their policy."

"This same cop told me they was going to use my brother's past on him. They was gonna use the fact that he had gone to jail. And they knew that he did drugs, so they was waiting for the lab tests to come back so they could compare their notes with that. Then she told me they was gonna say that my brother went to jail many times, so they could justify what they done. I asked her why the lady cop didn't use the baton on my brother. She told me that she had a fear of hitting her partner. I said she didn't have too much of a fear cuz she shot at my brother. If I was afraid of hitting the wrong person I would use my baton instead of a gun.... She told me the best choice was to use the gun and that they used the gun intentionally. They meant to shoot my brother, to take him out."

To add insult to injury, the police tried to get Tracy to cool out the anger in the community--to talk "sense" to the people in the Nickersons. "They trying to use me to go over and talk to people and calm them down," Tracy told the RW. "One of the cops called me, and I asked him what was gonna happen to the lady cop that killed my brother. When he see that I wouldn't do what they want, he just told me that they gonna send her back over there. I got so angry I just hung up the phone."

The police tore down all the posters that had been put up in the Nickersons to tell people the details of Chub's funeral.


When I first came out to the projects eight years ago to do a story on what had happened in the Nickersons during the L.A. Rebellion, one brother spent some time with me, walking me through the projects, introducing me to people, and telling me stories about growing up hard in Watts.

One afternoon we walked across the field in back of the gym, and he told me that the first time he saw a dead body was in this field when he was five years old. This experience terrorized him as a child, but the message stuck with him all his life. He said that he learned that in this society the lives of the people in the projects are cheap.

So when the cops murdered Chub and left him laying out on the grass for 12 hours last December they were sending a message. In the days since Chub was murdered the police have threatened others in the projects with the same fate. The morning after they killed Chub, they raided some houses in the neighborhood and they told one man, "Don't you know what's going on? If you don't do what we want you to do you know what's gonna happen to you? The same thing that happened to that motherfucker last night."

But Tracy and others in Watts have a different message. "I think the police just like to belittle people in the projects. They don't care about anybody over there. Police have done this to us for years. In South Central and Watts, politicians and police have put out that the people who live here are animals and criminals and that everybody there is stupid and illiterate and we shouldn't care about these people. Cops come down here from different neighborhoods and hear that it's an exciting life cuz you can get away with a lot of things-- doing things to people--cuz they ain't got no money. I want people to know that everybody in Nickerson Gardens, Watts and South Central is not stupid and illiterate. There are some good, hardworking people here. They even paint Nickerson Gardens in jail colors--black and white. They doing that cuz they want to get total control of Nickersons and they don't have it yet.... I want justice. I want these cops to go to jail before they kill somebody else."

* The Stolen Lives Project is a national listing of more than 2000 people who have been killed by police and U.S./Mexico border patrol since 1990. Stolen Lives is a project of the Anthony Baez Foundation, the National Lawyers Guild and the October 22 Coalition to Stop Police Brutality, Repression and the Criminalization of a Generation. For more information about the project contact: Stolen Lives Project, c/o October 22 Coalition, 212-477-8062, P.O. Box 2627, NY, NY; website www.unstoppable.com/22; email Oct22@unstoppable.com.

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