FROM POWER CONCEDES NOTHING
from Power Concedes Nothing, by Connie Rice.
Adaptation by Connie Rice
Barring the Nobel Committee or a drunk telemarketer in
Japan, nothing good ever comes from a 3:00 a.m. phone call
In twenty years as a civil rights attorney in Los Angeles,
I’ve had my share of nocturnal alarms from cops, gang
intervention workers, clients and social workers,
commandeering me to shooting scenes and emergency rooms.
But few summons shook my world like the one I got from Fred
Williams on a moonless October night in 1994. It not only
woke me from sleep but also to the reality that gangsters
brandishing guns were not the only predators roving the
streets of L.A.’s kill zones. A few wore badges.
On the second ring my eyes dragged open and squinted at the
neon red numbers on the clock. A bleary 3:00 a.m. bled
through the darkness. I sat up to jog my brain into gear.
Had to be another shooting. Who was it this time?
“Hello?” I moaned.
“Connie, Connie…It’s Fred.”
Fred Williams was my sherpa to the streets, a
recovering Grape Street Crip who now ran Cross Colours
Common Ground Foundation, a homegrown outfit dedicated to
keeping kids out of gangs. He sounded anxious but not
injured. At least this time, it wasn’t Fred.
“I really need you to do something. I mean, I hate to
pull you into this, but really you have to do this….”
He seemed to realize this stumblingly ominous opening
was not the way to begin a request at 3:00 o’clock in the
morning. He took a breath and hit restart. He asked if I
remembered a shooting last year in which Jamal (not his real
name), a young Crip, had killed a fifteen year old pregnant
bystander and then fled from the police. I did. Fred
explained that Jamal, the shooter, wanted to turn himself in
“Good for him.” I said, “What do you need me for?”
I wasn’t exactly awake, but Fred wasn’t making sense.
Jamal was a surrendering homicide fugitive. Given their
sky-high pile of 6,000 unsolved murders, LAPD should have
been throwing a ticker tape parade for him. Was Fred back on
“Nah, Nah, Connie, you don’t understand…,” he
countered. Stammering slightly, he explained that if I
didn’t escort Jamal into the station, the cops on LAPD
Southeast Division’s graveyard shift would shoot Jamal dead
in the street before he could turn himself in. Now I was
awake. Fred was not high, but I still wasn’t buying it.
“What in the hell are you talking about?”
“No, no, li-listen, Connie,” he pleaded. “Jamal has a
$50,000 warrant out on him. He killed two people in
a wild shoot out. He’s got no support in the community
‘cause he killed that girl. He escaped from LAPD, and like
the fool he is, shot at the police while fleeing. I’m
telling you, LAPD---Graveyard--- don’t let shooters like
that make it to the station.”
My dearth of synaptic activity at three in the morning
did not explain my difficulty in processing what Fred was
saying. Even though I knew some cops, especially on the late
night crews, targeted other officers viewed as traitors, I
still resisted an ex-gangster’s charge that LAPD had death
squads. This was not Guatemala. Nor were we in backwoods
“Fred, where are you?”
“At the phone booth across from Jordan,” he replied,
referring to Jordan Downs, the Watts public housing project
dominated by the Grape Street Crips.
“Give me the number. I’ll call you back. I need to
check something out. If I don’t call within fifteen
minutes, call me back.”
I made sure he had enough change for another call and
fumbled for a pen and piece of paper. Fred hung up. I
threw on a robe and slippers and headed for the kitchen to
fetch another number from my briefcase. It belonged to Ben
Hannity (not his real name), the captain at Southeast
Division. Hannity, a strapping Irish Catholic, had come up
in LAPD as a blue grip, good ole’ boy, whose midlife
master’s degree in urban sociology had ruined his tough cop
identity. Shortly after the '92 riots, he had breached the
barricade between our warring organizations and called me.
Identifying himself as a white LAPD command officer, he
apologized for the King beating, lamented the riot, and
offered clandestine help. This was not the first time that
I’d called the numbers he left. It was 3:20.
“Yea?” a groggy baritone growled.
“Who is this?” He was not happy.
“Captain, it’s Connie….. Rice. I’m sorry to wake you,
“Where are you?” He had snapped awake.
“Oh.” He sounded relieved. He must have imagined me
calling from somewhere in Southeast.
“Fred just called. He’s trying to bring in a homicide
fugitive. But he’s insisting that I bring him in…. to keep
cops working graveyard from hunting him down. I told Fred
that was absurd—I mean, he can’t be right, but he sounded so
convinced----I just wanted to---”
“How much is on the warrant?” he interrupted my
Why had he asked that?
“Uh-- $50,000.” I replied.
“How many did he kill?”
“Two, including a pregnant teenager.”
“Can he claim support from politicos or respected local
Had Hannity been on the same line with Fred and me?
“When he fled, did he shoot at LAPD?”
I felt my stomach dropping.
“Yes,” I mumbled.
Silence. For what felt like
minutes Hannity said absolutely nothing.
“You had better bring him in.”
My spine went cold. There was no mistaking what he had
just said. A captain of the LAPD had just confirmed his
awareness of execution squads. I stared into the darkness.
The phone rang. I jumped. When had I
hung it up? Fred! I had forgotten he was waiting.
“Hello?” I answered.
It was Hannity. He did not elaborate on our earlier
colloquy. He just said,
“On second thought, I had better bring both of you in.”
Before I could respond, Hannity barked instructions.
“I’ll meet you at your office in one hour. Tell Fred
to get Jamal out of South Bureau and up to your office. Tell
him to move fast--but not too fast.” He hung up.
My descent into shock would have to wait. I reached
Fred at his pay phone and instructed him to get Jamal
downtown to my office quickly but carefully. Forty-five
minutes later in the office kitchen, I fed Jamal some cereal
and made sure that he understood the consequences of turning
himself in. Scared, penniless and tired of running, he
looked less like an armed menace than a cornered waif. He
was seventeen and his life was over. I told him not to say
anything until he had talked to the criminal defense lawyer
I would find for him that morning. He stood, offered his
hands for cuffing, and we left.
At five thirty in the morning, the four of us rolled
out of LDF’s parking lot onto Olive Street and headed down
to Watts in a caravan. Fifteen minutes later, Jamal entered
Southeast police station. Alive.
To read the complete text
of POWER CONCEDES NOTHING, purchase a copy form one of these