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! […]

Ron Settles

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.