Freelance journalist Sullivan (The Price of Experience, 1996) scathingly indicts racial/cultural politics and law enforcement in post–Drug War America.
The author shrewdly focuses on the experiences of veteran LAPD detective Russell Poole. Beginning with a seemingly random 1997 traffic shootout between a black plainclothes policeman and a white one, Poole was plunged into a maelstrom of felony investigations involving rap music figures and rogue cops. While the murders of Tupac Shakur in 1996 and Biggie Smalls in 1997 (the latter perceived as retaliatory for the former) exploded against the backdrop of celebrity gangsta-rap culture, Poole’s initial investigation of the black officer killed in the shootout collided with departmental secrecy, revealing a cop kept on the job despite numerous unsavory incidents. As Poole’s investigation overlapped Smalls’s murder, the Death Row Records empire of the notoriously violent Suge Knight was linked to an LA gang, then to a network of cops who performed favors for Knight’s criminal associates and who may have been involved in Smalls’s murder. Yet Poole found his investigation stymied at every turn by LAPD Internal Affairs and the inner circle of then-Chief Bernard Parks, determined not to impeach the integrity of minority officers in the wake of the Rodney King scandal. Sullivan contrasts Poole’s stellar career-fitness reports with the hostility he faced from fellow officers and superiors, especially after connections developed between Death Row, an ex-officer’s brazen bank robbery, various murder investigations, and the emerging scandal involving the Rampart CRASH unit. (Poole eventually resigned from the LAPD and filed a civil suit against the department.) Evidently, the drug money that first militarized the LA gangs also provided seed money for cultural behemoths like Death Row and corrupted officers in tactical units like Ramparts CRASH, unleashing further havoc on beleaguered communities. Sullivan uses unadorned prose to convey a complex tale rife with ambiguities.
A deftly told, immensely relevant, true-life potboiler from the streets of urban America.