How the L.A. Riots Changed Nothing

Celebrating 20 years of "doing it to the people"

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Only Villaraigosa made reference to the proximate cause of the riots, taking credit for the "changed structure of the LAPD." Characteristically, he chalked this up to racial bean-counting, referencing the smaller percentage of officers who "trace their roots to Europe."

It would be more accurate to say the trouble of 1992 came from a mixture of extremely volatile identity politics and a police force more focused on terrorizing the citizens than on solving crimes. The former problem has mellowed somewhat and the latter has been largely solved, thanks in large measure to William Bratton’s work as chief of police. (I suspect that when historians write up the urban renaissance of the last decades, Bratton will loom larger than Rudy Giuliani, Richard Riordan, Willy Brown, and the many other big-city mayors who got so much attention at the time.) 

Bratton’s predecessor Bernard Parks, whose tenure as chief was destroyed by the Rampart scandal, makes his own case for having been the LAPD’s crucial disciplinarian. It’s possible that Parks didn’t get the credit he deserved—though he was named one of People’s 50 Most Beautiful People of 1998. In any event, the reform of the police department is the variable that, more than any other factor, separates 2012 from 1992. 

This is not to claim that the orgy of looting, arson, and murder 20 years ago contained anything that could be called a rational critique. There has always been something insulting about trying to find justifiable motives in a violent mob. If the riots have a lesson, it’s that people respond poorly to civil disorder and well to the rule of law. This is a simple lesson that got buried under 20 years of socialist hoodoo and activist baloney. But it’s never too late for a fresh start. 

Tim Cavanaugh is managing editor of Reason.com.

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  • Heroic Mulatto||

    Better yet, the conditions that contributed to the riots have in large part disappeared from South L.A.

    So, Today Was a Good Day?

  • Heroic Mulatto||

    If the riots have a lesson, it's that people respond poorly to civil disorder and well to the rule of law.

    I think you have that the wrong way. The "rule of law" as administered by an arbitrary and prejudiced LAPD is what people responded poorly too. During "civil disorder" people tend to cooperate until someone, predictably, uses "force" to establish order or allocate resources.

  • Brutus||

    I think it's the "arbitrary and prejudiced" part that is at odds with the Rule of Law.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    So civilian crime is down and po-po crime is down? I wonder if L.A. criminal stats were ever accurately reported.

  • ||

    In a nutshell, when you have a rampant crime problem, it is because you have a police problem.

  • sloopyinca||

    Perhaps. I would say when you have a rampant crime problem, it is because you have a bad criminalization problem. Or: when you criminalize everyday behavior or lifestyle choices that have no direct effect on another's rights, you will always, always, have a rampant crime problem.

    And I think this is by design.

  • ||

    I should have defined what I meant by 'crime'.
    I mean specifically theft, property destruction, and violence.

    Your assertions are correct.

  • Stephdumas||

    Interesting article, in addition, I saw 2 articles on City-Journal about the LA Riots about what we should have learned and what hasn't changed.
    http://www.city-journal.org/2012/cjc0427hm.html
    http://www.city-journal.org/2012/cjc0427jh.html

  • Registration At Last!||

    Heheh. There are still people laboring under the delusion that the police are actually in the business of confronting serious and credible threats of violence.

  • A Serious Man||

    I am already predicting that if George Zimmerman gets acquitted and blacks don't riot, the mainstream media will trumpet it as a sign of growth, change, and harmony like it's some kind of miracle.

  • sloopyinca||

    the mainstream media will trumpet it as a sign of growth, change, and harmony like it's some kind of miracle.

    And they'll be right.*

    *And that's not a knock on the blacks, but rather an observation based on years of witnessing black leaders foment racial discord and lead people to riot based on perceived racial injustice.

  • Heroic Mulatto||

    Hey, don't knock it.

    With out the large scale riots that happened after the police brutality that led to the death of Crispus Attucks, there would be no U.S.A.

  • sloopyinca||

    White on Mestizo crime. A statistic that is largely forgotten.

  • A Serious Man||

    Well as Ken said below there were two types of rioters: the people that are geuninely angry at a real injustice, and the majority who want free shit.

  • sloopyinca||

    Yeah, but both groups are a bunch of cunts that use violence against others, usually the innocent, as a response to injustices.

  • Ken Shultz||

    It would be more accurate to say the trouble of 1992 came from a mixture of extremely volatile identity politics and a police force more focused on terrorizing the citizens than on solving crimes.

    Bingo!

    I was working in South Central at the time.

    I worked on the edge of Inglewood. I lived a few miles down the street on Normandie.

    The police were overwhelmingly white, and they were predatory.

    Getting rid of Gates and changing the police department helped things along enormously.

    This is not to claim that the orgy of looting, arson, and murder 20 years ago contained anything that could be called a rational critique. There has always been something insulting about trying to find justifiable motives in a violent mob.

    There were two riots.

    The first one happened in reaction to the Rodney King verdict. That reaction should be judged separately from the second riot that happened after Darryl Gates and the LAPD made it clear that they weren't about to try to do anything to stop the riot.

    That's when all the opportunists came out. The second opportunist riot was about helping yourself to free stuff--and the participants were disproportionately NOT black.

    No good reason to conflate the two riots.

  • ||

    The weirdest thing about Gates is that in person he was a really likable guy.

  • sloopyinca||

    You know who else was supposedly a "likable guy" in person?

  • Heroic Mulatto||

    Idi Amin?

  • Anacreon||

    Dwight Eisenhower?

  • R C Dean||

    Obama?

  • Arf?||

    John Belushi?

  • Ken Shultz||

    The weirdest thing about Gates is that in person he was a really likable guy.

    It might be a Stanford Prison Experiment kind of thing, where you don't have to direct your police on the street to be violent and racist and predatory...

    All you have to do is fail to actively seek to prevent that sort of behavior.

    I saw stuff happen every week...

  • Ken Shultz||

    That's what I don't think a lot of people realize about the OJ verdict, too. If you listened to Mark Fuhrman brag about how brutal the police department was; how Torrance was the only middle-class, white neighborhood left in the area; if you watched him take the 5th rather than say he'd never faked a police report; and you were a black person from South Central on that jury?

    You wouldn't believe a damn thing in that police report either--and for damn good reason.

    I maintain that the OJ Simpson trial was an excellent example of jury nullification, even if the jurors had never heard of the word.

    People saw thousands of white and Latin people on TV during the second riot looting malls, etc., and that's what they remember about the riots.

    The black riots against Korean store owners was real.

    This is, by the way, why the reaction to the Zimmerman trial--no matter the verdict--will be nothing like the reaction to the Rodney King Trial. The Rodney King riots weren't a reaction to what had happened to Rodney King--they were a reaction to systematic abuse by the police that everyone in those neighborhoods had been subjected to for years.

  • Harvard||

    The best reaction to systematic abuse was the Korean shop keeper emptying two .45 ACP clips into the street, effectively ending the "riot" in his neighborhood.

  • Ken Shultz||

    The way those business owners in Koreatown banded together to defend themselves, when the LAPD essentially refused to, was one of the best libertarian arguments against gun control I've ever seen.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/L....._community

    Even in a supposedly civil society like ours, law and order does break down sometimes. We saw it happen in the wake of Katrina; I saw it happen on the streets of Los Angeles. And when the cops can't or refuse to protect you, you better have the means to protect yourself.

    At least everyone should have the option.

    From that Wikipedia link:

    "Approximately 3,600 fires were set, destroying 1,100 buildings, with fire calls coming once every minute at some points."

    So what are you supposed to do for protection in that situation?

    Call the police?!

  • Drake||

    I credit Tom Bradley for both riots. His failures as mayor set it all up. He had been Mayor since 1973 - it was his LAPD and his policies alone that made the city a mess.

    His idiotic angry comments after the verdict encouraged the first wave of rioters. He may have been angry, but that is no excuse for a mayor to spark a riot in his own city.

    His orders to Gates after the riots started turned the anger into an orgy of pillage.

  • Ken Shultz||

    The problem with blaming Tom Bradley for the riots is that Gates, as far I could tell, was in no way responsible to Tom Bradley.

    That was part of the frustration was that there was no way to remove Daryl Gates. When Tom Bradly asked Daryl Gates to resign, Daryl gates simply said no.

    The city council couldn't remove him from office either. Far be it from me to stand up for Tom Bradly or the LA City Council, but Daryl Gates wasn't required to answer to any of them!

    When a report came out showing that a disproportionate number of black people fared poorly under LAPD choke holds, Daryl Gates famously remarked that it was because black people's physiology was different.

    The day he left, things started getting better. Thank God there's a limit to what people in this country will take--can you imagine if there weren't?

    If no matter how much crap some well-intentioned cop heaped upon us, no matter how badly we were treated, no one ever stood up for themselves and said, "That's enough!".

    If it hadn't been for the riot, the people of South Central Los Angeles wouldn't have gotten rid of Daryl Gates--there's definitely something to that argument.

  • Drake||

    The day Reardon replaced Bradley, things got better too.

    I just went and read Gates' biography on Wikipedia. Pretty distasteful stuff, some of it done at Bradley's orders (like Operation Hammer). He was obviously Bradley's guy to some extent until the riots had everyone looking for political scapegoats.

    They both come across as political hacks right out of "the Wire".

  • TheZeitgeist||

    I don't know how big of a difference there is between now and then - other than black neighborhoods being more marginalized.

    In past twenty years Mexicans have taken over organized crime. You don't hear about black gangs and the like in L.A. anymore because the Mexicans took the operation over. If you want to hear edgy street-songs about slapping bitches and slinging dope and gunning down snitches you need to tune in a Spanish station anymore.

    Mexicans are now folks in the gas station, at Taco Bell, mowing the lawn, fixing rich white girl's BMW, etc. Only occupation I see black folk really well-represented in around here is government jobs. Not cops or firefighters or CalTrans or stuff like that. I'm talking the clerk at the DMV. Crosswalk guard at a lighted intersection(?). Shit like that.

    And Mexicans and black folks do not get along. In east L.A. where black neighborhood starts and Mexican one ends is literally crossing a street so self-segregated those groups are.

    You just need the appropriate match to the kindling to get another riot going again. Look at the Trayvon Martin case. If that happened in L.A. - Mexican dude killing a black dude - the verdict in the trial 'better be' guilty or Maxine Waters's district will burn itself down again I'm sure.

  • Heroic Mulatto||

    But...but Chicanos and Blacks cooperated during the Zoot Suit Riots.

    Keep hope alive!

  • VG Zaytsev||

    Look at the Trayvon Martin case. If that happened in L.A. - Mexican dude killing a black dude - the verdict in the trial 'better be' guilty or Maxine Waters's district will burn itself down again I'm sure.

    Maybe in some alternative universe.

    http://www.splcenter.org/get-i.....a-blackout

  • Alice Bowie||

    Can't we all Just get a BONG ?

  • commentard||

    I lived up in LA from 2004-2008, and I never once heard a single person refer to South Central as "South LA". Not once.

  • XM||

    If Rodney King was white, then there would have been no riot. None.

    To me, the riots were was almost ALL about identity politics. Simmering feud between blacks and the immigrants predated the Rodney King beating. Blacks complained that Korean store owners were standoffish to them, ignored them, or refused to take back merchandise. Then the Latasha Harlins incident happened not long after the King beating.

    The LA riots were a RACE RIOT. It wasn't a violent uprising over a specific incident of police brutality. Many of the victims were immigrants who came from racially monolithic nation that tend to distrust foreigners. They were likely to stick within their Korean community and not conform to America's regimented sense of "diversity".

    I look at the riots with contempt, not some sense of quiet introspection. It was one of the few days where I felt I could theoretically DIE because I wasn't a member of another group. Some Korean store owners hung "black owned" signs and armed their saves in fear of their lives. EPIC FAIL.

  • XM||

    "armed themselves"

  • AD-RtR/OS!||

    Tim, don't forget the despicable actions in the days and hours leading up to the jury verdict of Mark Ridley Thomas, who is still a disruptive force within the community.

  • joy||

    They were about crime and police behavior, http://www.petwinkel.com/pet-polo-c-38.html two areas in which the City of Angels really has gotten better.

  • DanaLynn||

    Unfortunately, the black race loves opportunities like the King tragedy and the Martin incident. It gives them an excuse to continue to shrug off any responsibility for their own status in this country. The last thing they seem to want is to be held accountable. They are a massive liability to this country and I am sincerely sick to death of them.

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