The enormous human cost – not to mention the real cost – of all of this has only just begun to be overcome when Floyd’s 2020 murder raises big questions about racism and criminal justice that are of unprecedented concern to the public. But the awakening is not yet a year old. The past 30 years have been very stressful and it will be some time before we can get under this weight.
The good news is that more people are want to get out of it. This has not always been the case, and it certainly was not 29 years ago, on the afternoon of April when the verdict was announced to the police in the King case. But I didn’t notice that at the time. While the post-trial riots in Los Angeles – five days of protest, curfews, fires, looting and the deaths of 50 people – were tragic in one way, they were stimulating in another: a rare, exhilarating civic moment that happened unequivocally demonstrated how frustrated blacks were and how important it was to acknowledge and address that frustration. I thought the riots might actually unite because didn’t we all watch the same video? Can’t we all agree that what happened in this video was wrong and why? Rodney King had forced us all together, asked us all the same questions, which I found hopeful.
My hope was also fueled by the fact that the Los Angeles times, Which After the riots, a quick soul search was conducted, coverage of the urban core of LA expanded, and I was hired to write for one of the new sections introduced this year. My excitement was tempered by history – I had grown up with detailed stories about the massive rioting in LA in 1965 and how it had also been fueled by a black encounter with law enforcement in the south. I knew that in the 27 years between that event and 1992, too little progress had been made, that blacks were stratified more economically than ever, thwarted more than ever, and therefore still under police attack. Still, after Rodney King, I had the feeling that this time would be different. It had to be like that.
It was nowhere near enough otherwise. The L. A. Times The performance should have enlightened me. The section I wrote for was circulated downtown, with stories only occasionally appearing in the main newspaper. It was the model of marginalization, albeit a benevolent one, that had the brilliance of progress. Meanwhile, California went into punishment mode, sparked by the crack epidemic and the specter of gangs that occasionally moved to more pristine LA neighborhoods, re-engaging in fears of crime and mayhem. The real takeaway from 1992 became clear: the border needed to be drawn tighter than ever, and the police moved it on. This despite the fact that the city always seemed to be looking for a “reformer” chief of police, and while certain reforms were carried out – for example, community police – they felt like experiments that were never carried out. The Los Angeles Police Department was rocked by rogue police scandals and exposés that led to a federal takeover in 2000. In Inglewood, a mostly black and brown town where I live on the South Central LA border, there were four fatal police shootings in two months in 2008. The blue wall of silence around everything was deafening – but expected. That was how things were.
We now know what the things that need to be reformed are like, and they go well beyond any single program or policy. It goes to Americans who see themselves as equally empathetic and worthy of protection towards the police. And yet in the course of our history, whenever we seem to approach this realization, there is a backlash. During Donald Trump’s presidency, too much of the country followed him sharply in the direction of racism and xenophobia, upgrading the police (and the military) as guardians of true American values - that is, as custodians of the old social and racial order on which This Land was based was founded. Republicans are by and large subscribed to such sentiments, an assent that became violent in the January 6th White Capitol riot / insurrection that involved law enforcement involvement and desecration.
That is the national picture. At the local level, where most of the police operations take place, things are much more encouraging. The city of LA is compromising the People’s Budget, a coalition led by Black Lives Matter to increase spending on social services, and has already cut police funding by $ 150 million – unthinkable a year ago. We’re not there yet, but at least it feels like a real fight, a more equal fight. As Black Lives Matter philosophy has become mainstream, critics of police abuse need at least not be defensive on their cause. That is also a step forward.
But the game is also local. Blue Lives Matter, a message I read every day on lawn signs in the tourist-friendly beach towns of Southern California, turns the police against black humanity without the two of them meeting. This is not a new paradigm, just an affirmation of an old one, but it’s daunting nonetheless. A White Lives Matter rally was recently held in Huntington Beach, an Orange County’s surf town. It hissed, but the worrying thing is, it happened in the first place. Recent efforts by extremist Republicans in Congress to form an America First Caucus, described in a memo as supporting “Anglo-Saxon” traditions, have also failed. But it’s worrying for the same reason.
The worsening crisis of police abuse corresponds to another worsening crisis: climate change. In either case, we’ve spent too many years doing too little or doing the wrong thing, provided we have more and more time to band together before things really fall apart. The whole problem of police abuse is indeed a climate crisis – the country’s racist atmosphere is dangerously poisoned, perhaps irreversible. In the shadow of the chauvinist ruling, black police deaths continue across the country. During the trial, 20-year-old Daunte Wright, who was black, and 13-year-old Adam Toledo, who was Latino, were killed by police gunfire. none was armed. And almost as soon as the verdict was read, we learned of the fatal police shooting at 16-year-old Ma’Khia Bryant, also Black, in Ohio. The victory is real, but it didn’t solve anything. It was only officially recognized how bad the atmosphere is and how much more we need to do to clear it up.
As daunting as this all seems, I am optimistic that there will be major changes. My late father was a local racial justice activist who got me the idea that for blacks, optimism is the only choice because the only other choice is cynicism, which is a dead end. Because of this, I believe that even at this late stage, there is still a way to change, even if it is as tight as the window of opportunity feels. Not an ideal scenario, but when it comes to police reform, we’ve never had one. Which means we’re getting closer. This time it will happen. We really have no other choice.