The Truth in Training Day

By Michael Slate

Revolutionary Worker #1127, November 18, 2001, posted at

A rookie cop was riding in his police car with his veteran partner when a report came in that there was a Black man in the vicinity with a gun. As their car screeched around the corner, a young Black man suddenly appeared sprinting up an alley--into a dead end. "Shoot him!," the older cop screamed, "Go on, shoot him--it's free!"

"It's free!" Think about that for a second. "It's free!" In other words, here's a chance that gets a pig to sweating and salivating with anticipation--a chance to "kill a nigger" with the already provided cover that a Black man--a Black man, any Black man--was reported in the area with a gun....

Well, in this case, the rookie was not ready for that--perhaps he was one of those rare ones who joins a police force actually believing the "serve and protect" bullshit--and that particular Black man did not die that day. But one of the most telling things about this whole incident is the fallout from it: The rookie cop had to resign. If he wasn't ready and willing--if he didn't have the proper attitude to do what his veteran partner was calling for, what came naturally to the seasoned "peace officer," what any pig in his place and in a pig's right mind would do--then there was no place for him on the force.... Perhaps this whole story helps give an inkling of the answer to the question: Why do we call the police "pigs?"

Bob Avakian, "Hill Street Bullshit, Richard Pryor Routines,
and the Real Deal," Reflections, Sketches & Provocations

You have to decide if you're a sheep or a wolf, if you want to go to the grave or if you want to go home.

Det. Sgt. Alonzo Harris to
rookie Jake Hoyt, Training Day

If you live in the hood--South Central Los Angeles; Hill District, Pittsburg; Brooklyn, New York; Oakland; California, Cincinnati, Ohio, whatever--you know LAPD narcotics detective Alonzo Harris, brought to the screen by Denzel Washington, in Antoine Fuqua's latest film Training Day.

When Alonzo Harris walks across the street on a rainy Los Angeles morning--with his black leather and bling-bling jewelry--the whole way he carries himself tells a story of an enforcer who owns the street and everybody on it.

When Alonzo cruises down the street in his "G-ride," the youth in the hood know this car. It's the vehicle of a player--and it tells a story about the whole modus operandi of the corrupt enforcer that Denzel plays out.

Training Day is an intense two-hour ride with the LAPD undercovers. And at the end of the ride you've gotten up close and personal with some truth.

The drama unfolds over a very intense 24-hour period. It starts with the shocking buzz of an alarm clock waking up Jake Hoyt, played by Ethan Hawke. Hoyt is a rookie cop from the Valley Division who is eager to become a Narc because this will give him a fast-track career and all the perks that come with it. But to do this Hoyt has one chance, one day on the streets of Echo Park, Watts, Crenshaw and East L.A.--his training day--to convince Harris that he has what it takes to be brought onto Harris' narcotics squad.

Hoyt--and his wife--want this promotion bad, and early in the film Hoyt tells Harris that he is willing to do whatever it takes to get it. Jake has no idea what this means, but he begins to get a little uneasy when Harris holds a gun to his head and forces him to toke up on some weed laced with PCP--just another part of the job. And as the day goes on, the job requirements grow more and more heinous--including robbery and murder--demanding more and more compromise until Hoyt has to make a move one way or the other, turn into Harris or take a stand against him.

Alonzo Harris is the driving force in a tale of police corruption that does not pull its punches.

Thanks to screenwriter, David Ayer, who grew up in South Central Los Angeles, and director Antoine Fuqua, who grew up in a rough neighborhood in Pittsburgh, Training Day is a "higher than life" experience that is based in hard realities. "In communities across the country, the police are fighting the people and vice versa. It's an explosive situation and it's something that urgently needs to be talked about," Fuqua says about his motivation for the film.

But, unlike other films about police corruption, Training Day goes deeper. This is not a "bad apple" cop movie. There are no police commissions looking into criminal cops. There is no hero rising up to save the day and the police force by eliminating the bad cop and all his evil work. And by the end of the day, the only cop with a conscience is a nonstarter.

In the morning, all Jake Hoyt wants to do is solve crimes, get bad people off the streets, advance in his career and make enough money to live comfortably. By the time he finds out what it takes to do that, it is too late.

Hoyt and the film audience are taken on a transforming experience into the real world where the "good cop" is a myth. And by the end of Training Day, Hoyt is left mumbling, "I should have been a fireman." As he drags his beaten body home at dawn, you and he know that his career is over. And he will be extraordinarily lucky to survive at all.


From the moment Alonzo Harris first appears in the movie he bristles with a dynamic and calculating intelligence. Denzel Washington creates a complicated character with a chilling smile who sucks the young rookie into Alonzo's world.

Alonzo wasn't born bad. From his hardened, retired friend, played by Scott Glen, we learn that there was a time when Harris, too, was a rookie cop who just wanted to put the "bad guys" away. But Harris soon learned that what it takes to be a successful cop is to strip all that from your mind.

Pursing his career in the LAPD, Harris becomes a ruthless gangster. At the same time he cynically boasts that in his 13 years as an LAPD Narc he has been personally responsible for convictions that racked up more than 15,000 man years of prison time.

Alonzo tells Jake straight up that if he plays the game, if he joins Harris' gang, he will rise in the force: "You give me a year and I'll give you a career." If not, Hoyt can go back to the Valley and write parking tickets or help stranded motorists change flat tires.

Hoyt quickly learns that all the rules he thought applied to police work are completely irrelevant in Harris' book. Harris is annoyed when Hoyt jumps out of the car to stop an attempted rape in an alley and gives him a lecture about leaving this stuff to patrol cops. As Harris beats and tortures the two crack-head rapists, before letting them go--we get a glimpse of the routine way that cops in his position carry out street "justice." But Alonzo Harris is after bigger game.


In many ways, Alonzo Harris personifies a condition addressed by the great African American writer James Baldwin in his description of the inner-city police officer: "He is facing, daily and nightly, people who would gladly see him dead, and he knows it. He moves... like an occupying soldier in a bitterly hostile country, which is exactly what he is."

While the conflict between Alonzo and the rookie Jake forms the dramatic center of the film, the drama is played out in a complex web of relations in the gangsta scene in the Black and Latino neighborhoods of Los Angeles. This is the staging ground for Alonzo's own criminal operations--which make the gang activities pale in comparison.

The cast and crew of Training Day, paid great attention to portraying the lives of the people caught up in the gangsta life in these neighborhoods. "I didn't want anything to be fake," Fuqua said.

"All the interiors done on stage were taken from the locations and researched in the neighborhoods with the help of the residents," production designer Naomi Shohan said. "We sort of became urban anthropologists. Everything you see is as it really is. The colors and textures change throughout the journey of the movie, but everything we used was taken directly from the neighborhoods that you find yourself in throughout the movie."

Reportedly, the whole production established a real rapport with the people in Imperial Courts and other neighborhoods in Los Angeles where they did a lot of filming. Many parts are played by neighborhood people, and Shiheed "Bone" Sloan--who came to national attention when he was interviewed on ABC Nightline in the days after the 1992 Los Angeles Rebellion--served as the technical advisor on the film.

Fuqua said that if he was looking for his lead actors on the set, he would often find them talking to the people in the neighborhood--talking with folks up on the porches or sitting down to a meal--and this also comes through in the work, in the way the characters of Alonzo and Jake interact in all the neighborhood scenes.

As the story unfolds, Alonzo takes Hoyt into his world--a kind of double life--where his relationships in the hood, including a girlfriend and a son, are crucial to the police profiteering from the drug trade. Alonza has established a complicated network of alliances with members of the Black and Latino gangs--a kind of "you scratch my back" situation where Harris clearly has the upper hand.

Harris lets the gangs carry out some of their illegal economic activity and even tosses them a favor--and a new household appliance for the family--every now and then. In exchange they help him pursue his business, give him information from time to time and carry out some criminal work he hires them to do. The gangs view their relationship with Harris in terms of survival, a relationship summed up by the question Harris poses to them when he is sweating them: "You want to go home or you want to go to jail? It's up to you."

While they have a working relationship with Harris, the gang members not only distrust him, they dislike him intensely. When Harris and Hoyt raid an apartment in the Imperial Courts projects in Watts under the guise of searching for drugs, they terrorize a drug dealer's wife--played by Macy Gray. While Harris searches for and finds a stash of money--which he then steals--Hoyt tries to make friendly small talk with Gray and her child. "You smell," Gray purrs with contempt, holding her long fingernails over her face. When she finds out that their search warrant is a menu from a Chinese restaurant and that Harris has robbed her, she calls on the neighborhood bangers to defend her. Harris and Hoyt are run out of the projects under a hail of bullets.

One interesting feature of Training Day is that the film does not romanticize the gangsta life, but it also does not offer preachy, reformist solutions to the problems and ideology of the thug life. And the story line draws a distinction between people from the basic masses who are caught up in the thug life and the official enforcers. While Harris and his band of police thugs will stop at nothing to attain their goals, the gang members have a different "code of honor." They deal with Harris but they draw a line in terms of what they will and won't do for him.

When the Latino gang assigned by Alonzo to kill Jake discovers that Jake saved their cousin from the rapist, they feel honor bound to let him go. When Harris calls on the local gang in the Jungle neighborhood of the Crenshaw district to step up to his defense--and even tries to buy their services with a reward--he is shocked when they tell him that his view of them is all twisted and that in their neighborhood Harris has to "put in his own work."

Harris' outraged response immediately brings everything right back down to the real: "You people don't know who you're fucking with. I am the police. I run things up in here. You people just live here." And the hubris of this cop--his sense of empowerment as an enforcer and his utter disbelief that this would ever be challenged--bring to the screen some hard truth about the role of the police in this society.


Harris is a major player in the LAPD but he is definitely not a rogue cop. As the story progresses, we learn that Harris is just one cog in a systematic and ongoing criminal enterprise. The cop-to-cop relationships in the film make it clear that this arrangement is something that is built up over years and across the ranks.

Harris has a mentor in the ex-cop/ major drug dealer waiting to take his pension and his millions in drug money and retire to the Philippines. And Harris himself serves as a mentor to a whole posse of gangster cops looking to rake in the money and climb the ladder of a police career. These cops--including one played by Dr Dre--are more gangsterish than any of the gangbangers portrayed in the film. And their career is following the formula--put in work for a period of time on the Narc squad and transfer out to bigger and better prospects, elite squads, command positions and so on.

One of the most revealing scenes in the film is a Sopranos style meeting between Harris and the top ranking officials from the police and the DA's office--the "three wise men"--who call all the shots in the LAPD branch of organized crime. These police "Dons" demand that Harris explain a cowboy move he made on a trip to Las Vegas that could put their whole operation under some unwanted scrutiny. Among the wise men are the head of the DA's team that investigates questionable shootings by cops and the cop who is the liaison between the federal government and the LAPD.

After first telling Harris that he "is a dead man" and that his best bet would be to get on a plane and disappear, the "wise men" let him plead his case. They laugh and joke with him about carrying out executions and street justice on their own. And when they decide to allow Harris a way out of the jam he's in, they quietly and quickly collect their tax on the money he has to raise to solve his own problems with the Russian mob.

For his part, Alonzo Harris is the cop's cop, totally committed to the blue code of silence. Corruption, drug dealing and murder are just a few of the characteristics and perks of a working cop.

Denzel summed things up pretty neatly when he told one interviewer that Alonzo Harris is, "acting just like he should act, and he gets just what he deserves."

It's hard to miss the connection between Training Day and the real life Rampart scandal in the LAPD. Alonzo Harris is everything you can imagine Rafael Perez, the cop at the center of the Rampart scandal, to be. The L.A. District Attorney recently announced that there are not going to be any more prosecutions of the L.A. cops involved in the Rampart scandal. According to the DA, the book is closed on this case. And ever since September 11 we have been flooded with all this garbage about the police being heroes. We are supposed to forget what we know to be true about the police. Antoine Fuqua should be warmly thanked for both a fine film and a much needed antidote to the current "cops are heroes" propaganda.

And as I came out of the theater, I thought about a future time when folks would show Training Day to their kids and say, "Yeah, we knew Alonzo Harris, but he don't run things any more."

This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
Write: Box 3486, Merchandise Mart, Chicago, IL 60654
Phone: 773-227-4066 Fax: 773-227-4497
(The RW Online does not currently communicate via email.)