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Analysis

Still Searching for Justice

Twenty-five years later, the tension and anger between African-American communities and the police that precipitated the L.A. riots persists.

  • Nicole Austin-Hillery
May 1, 2017

For the full post go to U.S. News & World Report

Twenty-five years ago, Los Angeles erup­ted in viol­ence after four white Los Angeles Police Depart­ment officers were acquit­ted by an all-white, Simi Valley jury in the infam­ous video­taped beat­ing of motor­ist Rodney King. As pundits reflect on what led to the riot, how it impacted the city and how it shaped issues of race and poli­cing in Amer­ica, there is a crucial ques­tion that should not be over­looked: What can the 1992 riot teach us about the import­ance of fair and equit­able treat­ment of African-Amer­ic­ans and other communit­ies of color by the police?

The acquit­tal of the white LAPD officers who beat Rodney King was no more the “cause” of the 1992 L.A. riot than the arrest of a black motor­ist almost 30 years earlier by the LAPD was the “cause” of the 1965 Watts riot. Rather, both were tipping points – cata­lysts – that unleashed the simmer­ing rage of African-Amer­ic­ans who were wrongly, and often unlaw­fully, subjug­ated and brutal­ized by police who were never brought to justice for their actions. The Governor’s Commis­sion on the Los Angeles Riots, set up after the Watts riot, and the Inde­pend­ent Commis­sion on the Los Angeles Police Depart­ment, formed after the 1992 riot, both cited concerns over the depart­ment’s actions and atti­tudes toward communit­ies of color. African-Amer­ic­ans were fed up with the racism of the LAPD, and each of those incid­ents was simply the prover­bial straw that broke the camel’s back.

In the 21st century, despite the seem­ingly endless incid­ents where police have killed unarmed black men, women and chil­dren, we have not seen anything like what Los Angeles exper­i­enced in 1965 and 1992. But we should all recog­nize that the rage that is the primary ingredi­ent in the recipe for explos­ive civil unrest is being stoked anew on an almost daily basis, as is evid­enced by the protests that those killings have sparked in cities across the coun­try.

Riots are not caused by one incid­ent but rather by frequent wrongs that amount to a systemic fail­ure of justice. No community of people, regard­less of race or color, should be expec­ted to endure the harass­ment, brutal­iz­a­tion and killing of members of their community at the hands of the very law enforce­ment agents whose job it is to protect them, and then sit idly by while the justice system continu­ously fails to hold the bad actors account­able.

(Image: Flickr/ Dark Sevier)