Kenny Vann, A Funny Man

By SLD Smith


I recall going into the briefing room and meeting my new trainee.  His name was, Kenny Vann, he was a young black man who had a very good uniform appearance and was obviously in good physical shape.  He spoke well in very clearly defined English with no noticeable accent.  He appeared to have been well educated and gained good social and cultural habits probably from his parents.  After briefing we left the station headed toward Carson where we were assigned.  Just as we were approaching Carson Street driving southbound on Avalon Blvd. Kenny turned to me and said, “Say, Mr. Charlie, ya gonna have to show me how y’all tells all these white folks apart cause they all looks the same to me”. 


After I stopped laughing we continued on routine patrol when Kenny told me about his growing up in New Orleans.  He had a twin brother who was now working for LAPD.  He told me how he and his brother grew up in the city streets of New Orleans.  He talked about all of the cops they knew from being out on the street.  He especially spoke of a particular tall slim cop whose street moniker was, “Officer Bird”.  Kenny said that when you were around the Poolice in New Orleans you’d better use the proper verbiage or you’d have to pay the price.  The correct way for a young black man to address a Poolice officer was, Yassir mister Pooliceman officer sir,  or just by simply by saying, Yassir Mister Charlie. 


Kenny then told of how the cops in New Orleans all carried a pair of chrome pliers inside their Sam Browne belt.  He knew from being around the streets that whenever an officer shot some alleged perpetrator, street cops always protected the body until the homicide detectives get there.  Frequently the dead person shot by the cops would have anywhere from one to six or eight pairs of chrome pliers lying under his body when they turned him over to take him to the morgue.  These pliers were usually alleged to have appeared as a gun or other weapon when held by the suspect in a combative stance.   This was the usual justification for shooting the suspect . 


Kenny then told me about his working for one of the big pharmacies located in the central city.  He was a delivery boy and took purchases out to the homes of the rich and famous.  He said that he used to always get even with those rich white folks while he was at work.  He then told me about how one of the most frequent things he had to deliver were half gallons of ice cream.  They were usually in their cardboard cartons then wrapped inside a brown paper bag.  Kenny said the greatest part of delivering the ice cream was when he got into an alley and there was nobody around.  He would always open the bag and take the lid off the ice cream then take several big licks across the ice cream with his large pink tongue.  He said it was always the most delicious ice cream he had ever had and he really enjoyed it a lot with the personal knowledge that them white folks would never even know it happened.   


One night we were driving northbound on Main Street from Rosecrans.  It was fairly late around eleven and as we drove along the street we approached an early 1960’s Ford Falcon four door sedan.  From the rear this vehicle appeared to have recently been involved in a roll over accident.  The top was crushed and distended at a slight angle decidedly to the right and it appeared that all of the glass was missing from its frames.  From the way the driver was attempting to control the vehicle it appeared that he may have been under the influence of an alcoholic beverage.  We attempted for some time to get the driver’s attention with the red lights then finally the siren and PA.  He continued driving and ignored our presence.  Finally we had to drive up alongside the left side of the Falcon and literally force it to the curb.


We got out of the car and pulled the suspect from behind the wheel.  He was Hispanic and very recalcitrant, argumentative and combative when he came out of the car.  We both had to participate in restraining him due to his fighting.  No matter how we tried to get him to cooperate he was not going for it.  We attempted to get him to participate in a field sobriety exam but he continuously refused.  Finally we decided he had to go to jail.  Kenny was trying to get him to slide into the rear seat of the patrol car.  He was resisting with everything he could.  Finally this guy said to Kenny, “Hey man how can a blood like you fight against a Chicano brother like me in favor of Whitey, (indicating my presence)?  Think about Martin Luther King and all he fought for and went through to help us get our civil rights”.  Kenny turned to him and said, “Who was that M F?, (indicating the entire first word spoken by most black children in the immediate neighborhood after they had mastered half their first word.) 


The guy went ballistic and had to be forced to the ground having his ankles hog tied then thrown into the back seat where he lay until he was booked into the friendly old fashioned booking cage at our beloved Firestone Station. I know in my heart that Kenny put forth a substantial effort to assist this Hispanic gentleman understand the consequences of his errant ways.  This was clearly before there was a concentrated effort in the department to actively practice Police Community Relations.     


One evening I had to drop by my home in Long Beach to pick up something as it was only seven miles from our area.  Kenny walked in the front door and right up to my wife, Barbara, who was standing in the family room off the living room.  He approached her, then bent over leaning forward almost as if he was bowing.  He reached out his right hand as though he wanted to shake hands.  She reached out and took his hand as he put his other hand over hers.  Kenny then said, “Its so nice to meet you Mizz Charlie, Mister Charlie been telling me all about you and yo little Charlie’s too, you two girls ain’t you?”  Barbara was dumbfounded and couldn’t even speak.  She just smiled not having a clue as to how to respond to such condescension. 


Kenny progressed in his training very rapidly due to his mental abilities and a lot of hard work.  I finally decided that it was time for him to start driving.  I tutored him in pursuit driving one evening working PM’s.  After work we bid each other farewell and he left the station parking lot in his flesh colored Pontiac Trans Am.  He lived nearby over in the city and apparently stopped on the way home at a liquor store to get some beer.  His home was on Budlong, which was one long block west of the liquor store that was on Vermont.  After purchasing the beer he quickly trotted out of the store and jumped into his car.  He immediately took off practicing his pursuit driving skills enroute home.  He was quickly stopped by LAPD in  a felony pull over at shotgun point.  This happened almost in front of his home and he was not only embarrassed but also flat scared to death.  He said, “No man likes to be stopped with a cocked twelve gauge shotgun stuffed down his throat”.  It makes you think of just how vulnerable each of us is.  He finally explained that he was not in fact an armed robber but rather just an off duty Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputy practicing his pursuit driving skills.   He was counseled and released by the LAPD cops.


Kenny was always screwing around verbally especially with blacks and Hispanics.  In general he usually always publicly referred to me as Mr. Charlie or Mr. Pooliceman Officer Sir.  He usually did this while we were in either all black or all Hispanic neighborhoods.  He was very playful and enjoyed his work very much.  He was a bright young man and caught on to the work very quickly.  He lived life to its fullest and enjoyed every step of the journey.  I’ve often wondered whatever became of him?