LA Riots Revisited: Now Can We Get Along?

Twenty years after the acquittals in the Rodney King beating, black leaders reflect on then and now.

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1992: I was 22 years old. At the time, like many young black men my age, my experiences with the police were as much negative as they were positive. I had been stopped unjustifiably by the police on numerous occasions. Though I had never been the victim of any police brutality, like so many other African Americans, especially men, I identified with Rodney King as the victim.

2012: There is no doubt in my mind that the relationship [between] the police and the black community is better today than it was 20 years ago. But folks of color and black people in particular continue to be incarcerated at a rate that is unconscionable. Increasingly, black scholars are understanding the criminal[-justice] and penal systems as unjustifiable and unsustainable. This is one of the more important human rights issues of this century, and one of the lessons of the Rodney King experience 20 years on is that much more work needs to be done.

Rep. André Carson (D-Ind.)

1992: I was 16 years old. The event itself didn't shock me. I'd seen police brutality. I'd been profiled and targeted by law enforcement simply because of the color of my skin. I knew these injustices existed, but to have it captured on film for the world to see, that seemed like an opportunity for justice. I was hopeful for that justice and truly disappointed when it didn't happen.

2012: As a nation, there is still considerable suspicion of law-enforcement officers on the part of African Americans. There has always been and still remains a high level of paranoia when it comes to interacting with some in law enforcement, even though studies show that [people's] mistrust of police inhibits reducing crime in the very neighborhoods where they live.

Overall, incidents of police brutality are down, but in high-profile situations like in Sanford, Fla., and in a number of other places, it further says to people that they need to be careful when dealing with law enforcement -- creating a feeling that they are against African Americans.

Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.)

1992: I was in my first full year as mayor of [Kansas City], and we averted what could have been a catastrophe here. We had a large group of African Americans who had gathered at the Spirit of Freedom Fountain at Brush Creek and decided to launch a protest march to the Plaza. I got a call from a council member who was very worried and asked me to get over there quickly.

I had been walking around parts of the city that were feared to be hot spots for possible violence all evening. My fear was that this march could somehow turn violent on the part of marchers, bystanders, people who might jump in or drive by, etc. So I went down and talked personally to the group -- telling them that they were right to be concerned and even angry -- but the plan they had come up with did not address their important issues; there wasn't any benefit to the plan or any real symbolism. They agreed and dispersed -- and there were no further problems.

2012: I just thank God that we had a very good and racially sensitive and open police chief at that time -- and since. For many years we have had a long series of very good leaders in the police department. I can remember a time before that when we would have alleged incidents of police brutality nearly every week [in Kansas City], but I think most people here realize it has been a very long time since we have had anything like that in this city.

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