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.
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.
Gary Bailey, associate professor at the Simmons School of Social Work; chairman of the National Social Work Public Education Campaign
1992: I was a social work supervisor at the Family Service Association of Greater Boston, and I remember watching Rodney King's beating on the Today show and being absolutely appalled by the vicious nature of Mr. King being tasered and beaten by L.A. police. I remember thinking that if this had been an animal -- rather than a man and a human being -- the perpetrators would have been arrested for the inhumane treatment of said animal. Part of me ... understood that the riots were not just about Rodney King but [were also about] years of pent-up frustration, and that had been a proverbial match to kindling that had been sitting for a long time, just waiting for a spark.
2012: When I reflect upon [the] black community's relationship with the police 20 years later, six words come to mind: "Trayvon Martin," "George Zimmerman" and "Sanford, Fla." L.A. may have gotten rid of a corrupt police chief, [but] driving while black has now sadly and tragically been replaced by walking while black, or wearing a hoodie while black. I will be holding my breath yet again when that verdict is read!
Jacqueline Wade, Ph.D., associate professor of social work at Middle Tennessee State University; black- and Africana-studies specialist
1992: I immediately drew the conclusion, "Well, here we go again; another unarmed, relatively harmless black man, considered out of his place, literally being accosted by the police mainly just because they could do so!" The so-called riots (I prefer to call them "righteous rebellions against injustice") were completely justified and representative of a relatively helpless community's only course of action to register a legitimate complaint against the age-old injustices it has endured by the coercive powers that be.
2012: The national black community's relationship with white-centered police power has always been fraught with injustice and brutality. This is reflective of the days of white overseers of enslaved Africans, whose main job was to keep the enslaved in their "rightful" places as enslaved Africans, with little or no mercy afforded them. The police actions in the national black community are but a modern-day version of those dire times of human tragedy.
Photo credit: Rep. Lee (Kris Connor/Getty Images); Rep. Cleaver (Stephen J. Boitano/NBC NewsWire); Earl Ofari Hutchinson (Todd Williamson/FilmMagic); Charles Ogletree (Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images)
Jenée Desmond-Harris is The Root's staff writer.