Memorials can symbolize the values and beliefs that unite a community. They can also masked conflicts that divide a society. The Los Angeles Police Memorial, installed during an era when the police were active participants in our national strife over race and the Vietnam War, was commissioned for both purposes.
By 1968, protests that began in the South during the late 1950s against racial injustice merged with growing opposition to American imperialism in southeast Asia. In that year our nation's social fabric unraveled while its emotional, intellectual and moral core was shattered by the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Senator Robert Kennedy, and by the suppression of anti-war protestors at the Democratic convention in Chicago. A casualty of this rending of our social contract was respect for the police, who increasingly were viewed not as protectors of life and property, but as defenders of an establishment committed to preserving racial privilege, social injustice and a brutal war in Vietnam.
Fearful and threatened by criticism of the police, many of our citizens rallied to the support of the officers by proudly displaying "Support Your Local Police" bumper stickers and by electing Richard Nixon President because of his appeal for a return to "Law and Order".
Shortly after Nixon was inaugurated in 1969, John J. McMahon, Vice-President and General Manager of KABC-TV, began fund raising for a memorial to honor members of the Los Angeles police force who died while serving their community. The architectural firm of Charles Luckman and Associates, which had close ties to Mayor Sam Yorty, volunteered its service, and Horace Farmer, a designer at the firm, was assigned the project.
Farmer related the memorial to the massing and geometry of the surrounding International styled buildings by adapting an earlier design of his for a block of skyscrapers unified by a common slopping roof. Four square columns representing the authority and strength of the members of the Los Angeles Police Department who were killed in the line of duty rise from the center of a reflecting pool. The 45 degree slope at the top of each column symbolizes the lives cut short while the different heights refer to differences in the years of service of the slain police officers. Each column measures 2'9" on each side; the height ranges from 15'3" for the shortest, to 18' for two columns and to 20' for the tallest. The black color of both the columns and the polished granite bordering the pool create an appropriate somber tone. An inscription "In memory of the me of the Los Angeles Police Department who have given their lives in the line of duty" is now covered by a plaque that honors all the officers--both men and women--who died while serving our city. The names of fallen officers are inscribed in the marble border of the pool. Due to cost restrictions, the columns were constructed not of solid granite as originally planned, but with sheets of flamed finished Bergen Senite granite from Italy over a steel frame.
On October 1, 1971, the $75,000 memorial was dedicated on the northwest corner of Parker Center during ceremonies led by actor Jack Webb, the star of Dragnet, the popular television series about the Los Angeles Police Department. The major address that day, however, was given by the Attorney General of the United States and Nixon's closest advisor, John N. Mitchell. Rather than honoring the memory and sacrifice of the city's slain officers, and using the occasion as a time for healing and reconciliation, Mitchell, who later was sentenced to prison for conspiring with the President of the United States to obstruct justice in connection with the Watergate break-in, gave a political speech attacking dissenters. Our country, he warned, was threatened by the "tyranny of the mob" as well as by the emergence of "a whole new type of criminal--the fanatic revolutionary who kills with bombs and ambushes police, who inflames mobs to violence."
As passions defining that divisive and contentious era have faded, the Police Memorial has become accepted as a commemorative setting for an annual renewal of our respect for those who serve the common good. This somber memorial says to those who daily pass, here is a place to honor those who died while protecting our community and now is the moment to hear and remember the cries of the families shattered by the sacrifice of loved ones. The materials and forms speak of permanence but the memorial is not frozen in time. It does not anchor the present with a fixed event in the past. Indeed, the memorial remains uncompleted because it records in perpetuity our imperfections with a list of officers that continues to grow.
The text has been provided courtesy of Michael Several, Los Angeles, August 1997.
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