22 years ago today, the LA riots kicked off after three LAPD police officers were acquitted in the beating of Rodney King. Naturally, the minority communities of Los Angeles were pissed off. After 53 deaths, 2,000+ injuries, over 11,000 arrests and millions of dollars in damge later, the riots emerged as one of the most notable episodes of civil unrest in America since the Civil War era. This blog is not necessarily designed to defend the actions of the rioters, but rather to examine the root cause of the riot in the first place.
As Bradley Nowell of Sublime alludes to in the song, the riots were not just a response to the wrongful acquittal of the LAPD officers. That was however the straw that broke the camel’s back. If you were to write a book about the history of police interaction with minorities in America, you’d title the LAPD chapter as “What NOT to Do.” The LAPD have a notorious history (like many police departments) of racial profiling and corruption. In the early 1990s there were even problems with rogue officers enforcing their own racially-driven laws. It was madness. All of that negative treatment and injustice was like gasoline within the black and Latino communities of LA. It was gasoline that just needed a spark, and it was the lack of justice for Rodney King that did it. Apparently it was OK for LAPD officers to beat an unarmed black man repeatedly while he was on the ground and covering his head. This led the people to retaliate with their own violence.
Are things any better now? Short answer: no. Long answer: The families of Amadou Diallo (d. 1999) and Oscar Grant (d. 2008) would tell you things aren’t any better. Literally SCORES of Youtube videos depicting cops beating up minorities shows you things aren’t any better. Shit, any black/Latino in America could tell you things aren’t any better. Racial profiling by police continues to this day in every police agency in America to one degree or another. Sure, some departments don’t have too much trouble with race issues, and some are worse than others, but they all do it. When you profile someone based on their race what you are doing is dehumanizing them. You are assigning them a personality and character traits they may not have. When you do that, it becomes very easy to think of people as being somehow less than human. That’s why racial profiling leads to police brutality. The cop has already subconsciously (or even consciously) decided that the person he is stopping is prone to criminal activity because of his race, and as a result the cop is now determined to find some sort of wrongdoing when there may not be any.
How do we fix this? Better racial sensitivity training for police, and encouraging police to hire more minority police officers. That’s a start. There’s also certain places in America (like Oakland and Detroit) that do not have enough police officers, and the ones they do have are stretched far too thin for the amount of crime in the city. It’s my hope that the next generation of cops is as racially diverse as possible, and I also hope that community-oriented policing catches on more across America. Oh! Another idea. GET RID OF STOP-AND-FRISK! Mayor DeBlasio of New York City has already ended the policy in his city, and it is up to the mayors of other cities to follow his example. It’s an ineffective policy that only breeds distrust of the police, and if the citizenry doesn’t trust the police then you will not have an effective police force.
That’s my biggest problem with all of this. Cops are hindering their own investigations by racially profiling people and using excessive force. By stopping/arresting minorities when there is no reasonable suspicion to do so, they are potentially missing real criminal activity! As if that wasn’t bad enough, harassing and beating up every black or Latino person gives no incentive for blacks/Latinos to help police if say for example the cops need witnesses or informants. They’re hurting themselves on two different levels. Why should a minority person even bother to help the cops in an investigation if all the cops do is harass people that look like him? There’s little incentive to help the police if the police are viewed as incompetent, corrupt, racist, or any combination of those three things. If cops went around harassing white people like they do minorities I would certainly be disinclined to help them if they were looking for a white guy in my neighborhood.
This shit has to stop. Racial profiling and police brutality benefit no one. We need better training for our police so as they do their jobs more effectively. If they carry on like they have been doing it’s only a matter of time before another big riot occurs, and history will repeat itself. More people will be killed/injured/arrested, and it will get us precisely nowhere.