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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)