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Interview

‘He Did This to Himself,’ We Spoke to the Black Driver Behind Viral Retired LAPD Detective’s Racist Tirade

The following story includes a racist slur. L.A. TACO is choosing to publish the full slur in order to hold this racist retired police officer accountable and not allow for him to cover for his actions.

[dropcap size=big]Y[/dropcap]ou probably saw the video a couple of weeks ago. A retired Los Angeles Police Department Detective hurling racial slurs at a young Black man in Santa Clarita, CA. After the video went viral, we were the first media organization in L.A. to confirm that the video’s detective was former LAPD officer John Motto. This week we spoke to the person on the other side of Motto’s racist tirade, 25-year-old Omari. (Omari’s last name has been withheld from this story because he’s worried about being harassed.)

March 13—It was another Saturday afternoon. Omari was on his way home from his job as an essential worker at a medical office in Santa Clarita when a giant raised pickup truck allegedly forced his Scion TC to collide with a Mercedes Benz. “I was so mad,” Omari told L.A. TACO in an exclusive interview. The drivers all pulled over to the side of the road. Omari called his Dad to tell him what happened and when he got off the phone, “That’s when it started.”

Later identified as retired LAPD detective John Motto, the pick-up truck driver allegedly got in his face. Eventually, Motto was caught on camera calling him a “monkey” and “dumb nigger,” while a woman presumed to be Motto’s wife ordered him to go back to his car. 

Omari was appalled by their reactions. “When people get into accidents, I understand, people be mad. But when it started getting to the racist thing, you can even see my reaction in the video. I’m just like, ‘Where did this come from?’” At the moment, Omari was heated, but he managed to keep his composure. “I had to really think about what was going to happen next. I had to think about the times that we’re in because literally if I were to have whooped his ass, they’re arresting me, when he was the one that caused the accident.” Omari said he had to think about his whole life in that instance and take a step back. “He was really provoking me.”

At the time, Omari didn’t know that Motto was a retired detective. “To me, he was just a regular guy on the street,” he tells L.A. TACO. After the incident, it didn’t take long for the shocking video to surface on social media and people on the internet to identify Motto. “You already know how the internet is. Once people fixate on something, there’s no stopping [them].” Based on everything that’s happened recently following George Floyd’s death, Omari says he wasn't surprised to learn that Motto was a retired cop.

“People like him don’t need to be in those high places.”

Following our report, in less than a day, the 30+ year veteran homicide detective's entire career was called into question. That evening, Los Angeles District Attorney George Gascón announced that his office would review more than 350 cases that Motto was involved in during his career. The newly elected district attorney called the viral video “disturbing” in a brief statement on Twitter.

“He was so quick to call me a nigger. So quick to say I should be put back in my monkey cage. Like, I know, I'm not the first [person] he called a nigger. I feel like he deserves everything that's gonna come to him.”

Omari says this all could have been avoided, though. In his words, Motto did this to himself. According to the 25-year-old, the former homicide detective knew he was being video recorded. He can’t help but wonder what would have happened if people weren’t there. “Who knows what could have happened.”

After staying quiet for two weeks, Omari felt like it was time to tell his side of the story. “To be honest, I think this happened for a reason,” Omari says that while the experience was unfortunate, ultimately it led to Motto being exposed. “People like him don’t need to be in those high places.” According to the LAPD, Motto retired from the department as a Central Bureau Homicide Detective in May of last year.

Despite the traumatic experience, Omari says he doesn’t think of white people any differently. “Just because he’s racist doesn’t mean all white people are racist.”

After the traffic accident earlier this month, a Los Angeles County Sheriff reported to the scene and took down a report. Omari said that he told the deputy that Motto was using racist language towards him. Later, the sheriff’s department reportedly followed up with him again and gathered additional details. Omari was told that Motto’s action constituted “hate speech” but not a “hate crime” since he didn’t threaten or assault him. Despite the traumatic experience, Omari says he doesn’t think of white people any differently. “Just because he’s racist doesn’t mean all white people are racist.”

Motto’s insurance might fix the damage to Omari’s car, but it won’t fix the long-lasting impacts of systemic racism in this country, at least not overnight. “It just sucks that people like that exist,” Omari says we need to get to the bottom of why people are still racist. “I just hope it doesn’t happen to someone else.” 

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