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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.