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.

Credit: See end of article.

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Look at the stop-and-frisk laws and policies of the NYPD. In New York City, where I live now, it’s still entirely possible to predict someone’s likelihood of going to prison based on the ZIP code they’re born into. What Rodney King did was give us a high-profile example of something that is an ongoing problem. 

Guy-Uriel Charles, professor of law at Duke University; founding director of the Duke Law Center on Law, Race and Politics

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.