Black Los Angeles: American Dreams and Racial Realities

By Darnell Hunt; Ana-Christina Ramón | Go to book overview

Chapter 12
Killing “Killer King”
The Los Angeles Times and a
“Troubled” Hospital in the ‘Hood

Darnell Hunt and Ana-Christina Ramon

Awarded to the Los Angeles Times for its courageous, exhaustively re-
searched series exposing deadly medical problems and racial injustice at
a major public hospital.1

The above quote, which comes from an overview of the 2005 Pulitzer Prize winners for Public Service, is as familiar as it is ambiguous. The “courageous, exhaustively researched series”2 referred to in the quote is based on the investigative work of a team of white Los Angeles Times reporters.3 Celebrated by American journalisms highest award, this work documented startling cases of incompetence and fraud at Martin Luther King Jr./Charles Drew Medical Center4—a county-run hospital that served one of Los Angeles’s poorest minority communities. “[I]t became clear to us that King/Drew rated poorly on practically all statistical measures,” wrote lead reporter Charles Ornstein, in an interview with his alma maters newspaper.5 “As we investigated further, we concluded that the hospital was far more dangerous than the public knew.”

Poor medical care for the poor, unfortunately, was all too familiar in early-20oos America. What’s ambiguous about the quote is its conception of “racial injustice,” which can be read a number of different ways. One of these readings reverses the traditional American pattern: the implied villains here are minorities, as opposed to members of the majority. Throughout its thirty-four-year history, King/Drew was known as a hospital staffed mostly by black administrators, doctors, and nurses. The Los Angeles Times series charged that too many of these staff members

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