Reason Writers Around Town: Matt Welch in Zócalo Public Square on Southern California's Changed Culture 20 Years After the Riots

Writing in Zócalo Public Square, Reason Editor in Chief Matt Welch argues that much of the anniversary coverage of the L.A. riots missed the plot. Which is: "African-American communities in Southern California are no longer policed by what they rationally suspected to be a racist and casually brutal occupying army of mostly white men from faraway suburbs." Excerpt:

I will never forget the rude shock to my naive, Roots-loving ears when one of the oldest kids on the block bragged to us about his new job as a cop. One of the awesome things about police work, he told us, was that when you hauled a nigger into the station, you and the boys could just take him out back and beat holy hell out of him. Because who were people gonna believe—the cops, or the nigger! [...]

I was 12 years old when a local football star named Ron Settles, a 21-year-old senior tailback at Long Beach State, died of hanging in his Signal Hill jail cell less than five miles from our house. He was black, had been pulled over for speeding, and savagely beaten. The cops claimed it was suicide, but a coroner’s inquest ruled that Settles' death came "at the hands of another"; an independent autopsy a year later found that the injuries were much more consistent with police chokeholds, and the Signal Hill Police Department ended up paying the Settles family more than $1 million. No cops were ever charged. The case was locally famous, but seemingly every Southern California community with a significant black population could tell similar stories in the 1970s and ’80s.

The past indeed is a different planet, thank God. I haven't heard any white person, let alone a police officer, seriously use the word nigger since the early 1990s. The LAPD is now 36 percent white (as of last August), and former antagonists like the Urban League’s John Mack say things like "It's been an amazing transformation.... The L.A.P.D. of today is very, very different than 10, 12 years ago, when I was one of the people who was constantly battling them." An L.A. Times poll in 2009 found that 77 percent of residents "approved" of the LAPD's job, including an amazing (given the history) 68 percent of blacks.

Whole thing here.

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  • Registration At Last!||

    And yet the prison-industrial complex of California is as voracious as ever.

  • WTF||

    Sure, things have changed over the past 20 years, nowadays it's become:

    One of the awesome things about police work, he told us, was that when you hauled a nigger 'civilian' into the station, you and the boys could just take him out back and beat holy hell out of him. Because who were people gonna believe—the cops, or the nigger 'civilian'!

  • Pro Libertate||

    Cops are civilians, too. Do they not understand that?

  • ||

    Nope.

  • WTF||

    They do not - you ever listen to them talk? They think they are an occupying army.

  • sarcasmic||

    They think they are an occupying army.

    That's because they are.

  • sarcasmic||

    you ever listen to them talk?

    I'll never forget the drunk cop complaining to his buddies that he'd not yet had the opportunity to kill someone, and their consoling him that he'd get his chance.

  • AlmightyJB||

    Wow really? I have to say that most (not all) cops that I've been around have been fairly cool. No jarhead attitude at all. I hang out at a couple bars were some local cops will come after work in civilian clothes and drink and hang out. They're pretty laid back really. Bad apples in every bunch though.

  • sarcasmic||

    They were all drunk and trading cheerful stories about choke holds and beating people bloody. That's when the one got all sad that he hadn't had a chance to shoot someone.
    They didn't know that I was eaves dropping. I imagine those were "for cop ears only" kind of remarks.

  • AlmightyJB||

    Wow, that's messed up. Yeah, one night my wife and I were stitting at the adjacent corner from a couple of local cops. They were younger and in street clothes. One of them went out to the patio to smoke. The patio has a thin tarp covering it. While he was out there some kids drove by and shoot pellets into the patio. Shot the cop in the ass:) Actually broke the skin but obviously not too serious. He called it in. He and his buddy were laughing about it. they didn't get all Dirty Harry about it. When he had pulled his shirt up a little in the back to look back at it, I noticed that he was armed. I will say that the bar filled up with cops from both the juristiction of the bar and the cops buddies pretty quick. They caught the kid's without incident. No one got beat up. Nothing else happend.

  • AlmightyJB||

    You know, I used to get in a little trouble when I was a teen and young adult. Nothing too serious I've met cops that were total assholes and I've met cops that were pretty cool, even one's that were arresting me. I'm sure that even the ones who were cool might not be as nice if you're being a dick to them or fighting them. We talk about echo chambers all the the time. Seems like we have that here when it comes to cops because we only see the ones who are POS here. There are some who do not walk around with rage boners all the time.

  • sarcasmic||

    I'm sure that even the ones who were cool might not be as nice if you're being a dick to them or fighting them.

    I don't think I was doing anything to antagonized the cops. Until that point I actually believed that cops were good people who just wanted to make a positive difference in society.
    Then again I had never actually had the misfortune of interacting with them.

  • sarcasmic||

    Once I was watching some college kids having an impromptu jam session in their driveway, and along come the cops in a white van. As I gawked as they were beating up the kids, smashing them face first into the side of the van, and destroying their instruments, a cop ran up to me and threatened to give me the same treatment if I didn't turn around and walk away.
    Another time I had a cop whisper into my ear "Give me one reason. Please. I'm begging you. You know I want to. Just one fucking reason."
    Put all of that together and I think it's understandable that I am a bit apprehensive around those sworn to uphold the law.

  • AlmightyJB||

    As well you should be, as made evident by the articles here. I'm just relaying that my personal experiences with police have not been like what we see here. Some have been dicks for sure, but certainly not most, and nothing like what gets reported here. I'm sure it varies by locality. I would not be scared of cops around where I live, I would never trust them for sure, but I wouldn't be scared. If I ever found my way to Oakland County I would certainly look to avoid them.

  • AlmightyJB||

    Definatly this paramilitzation of law enforcement keeps moving us closer and closer to a police state. There needs to be some serious scaling back of police power and tactics. Cops need to be held accountable when they break the law. Unfortunately, no politician wants to look like he's the get tough on cops guy instead of the get tough on crime guy. Unions don;t help that much either.

  • sarcasmic||

    There needs to be some serious scaling back of police power and tactics. Cops need to be held accountable when they break the law.

    Once power is taken it is never given back. Government is a one way ratchet.

    I believe that the American Experiment in Liberty is dead and gone, never to come back.

    The default state of humanity is slavery.

    When your masters can beat you, lock you in a cage, and take your property, all on a whim, what are you other than a slave?

  • AlmightyJB||

    I'm always an optimist but yeah things look more and more like that all the time. Maybe going bankrupt will be the only hope we have. Out of the ashes, the phoenix shall rise. It's frustrating that people are so blind to it all.

  • ||

    This was at the gay bar, right?

  • ant1sthenes||

    They're more akin to knights. Aside from transferring titles explicitly by birth, we more or less live in a feudal society. State and local politicians are the aristocracy, cops are their knights. The priesthood can be religious, but media, educators, and intellectuals fulfill those roles as well. We have a king, and a massive court, and a Parliament (and they are at odds, largely because Parliament is dominated by one sect of Statism and the King belongs to a different sect).

  • R C Dean||

    So, how many cops must have been involved in beating that guy to death, and then covering it up?

    And no one is charged.

    Nope, no double standard there.

    In a decent world, everyone who couldn't confirm they weren't in the building when it happened would have been fired, at least, and charges would have been brought against supervisors and cops whose duties would have taken them into the cellblock.

  • sarcasmic||

    How many times do you think this shit happens and nobody gives a shit since the victim isn't a local celebrity?

    It is my opinion that this is standard operating procedure, not an isolated incident.

  • Pip||

    Yes.

  • Pro Libertate||

    It's such a stark contrast to the Zimmerman/Martin case, isn't it?

  • WTF||

    "I haven't heard any white person, let alone a police officer, seriously use the word nigger since the early 1990s."

    That's very nice that they don't say 'nigger' anymore - when can we get them to stop assaulting and murdering people (and dogs)?

  • sarcasmic||

    Perhaps when civilian vigilantes start executing bad cops?

  • amelia||

    It is nice but Matt clearly doesn't spend much time down South. There are still plenty of people dropping the N-bomb like it's uncontroversial. I wish I could claim otherwise about my native region, but I can't.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Of course, rioting Angelenos didn't exclusively - or even primarily - target corrupt and violently criminal law enforcement personnel. Private property was the victim. And Reginald Denny.

  • o3||

    denny shoulda kept driving despite the speed bumps

  • amelia||

    It was a horrifying series of events, all the way around.

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