FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Rodney King, Official Negligence and the LA Riots

by BINOY KAMPMARK

Even after twenty years, the Los Angeles riots that were precipitated as a reaction to the Rodney King trial verdict of acquittal for the cops  divide rather than affirm positions.  So much in the pursuit of life’s answers lies in exposing errors rather than unearthing truths.  The King trial with its miscellany of violent reactions suggested how futile such searches are. The hunt for blame is irresistible, be it the disposition of King when he was chased by the police or the brutality of the police officers in question; be it the subsequent cascading of racial violence throughout the city and the anarchic convulsions the city was plunged into.

From the moment of the King car chase that led to the application of 50 directed blows, to the round up of looters and the deaths of 53 people and $1 billion worth of damage, law had been suspended.  In full retreat, juridical processes were regarded with suspicion, mocked and abandoned.  The verdict of the jury in the predominantly white suburb of Simi Valley on the King beating by the offices was given a racial lacing. The law itself became the problem, the justification for its own violence.

The enthusiastic looters, in a sense, were liberated by the excuse of law’s absence.  If King’s rights could be violated, than damn well everybody else’s could be.  And they were.  Whether it was the near fatal attack on the white truck driver Reginald Denny, or the gun-bearing Koreans who, with determination protected their property against pillage, the legal authorities had been subverted.  To this day, 22 homicides remain unsolved, a permanent legal purgatory.

There are still those who prefer to see the trial as a case where the four police officers were hard done by, maligned for doing their duty in a way that was only slightly ‘off’.  Then President George W H Bush himself took the view that, ‘viewed from outside the trial, it was hard to understand how the verdict could possibly square with the video. Those civil rights leaders with whom I met were stunned.  And so was I and so was Barbara and so were my kids.’

What is easy to forget is that the LAPD has had various incarnations and identities.  Created on a reformist platform, the city was the product of white middleclass progressivism with an allergy towards party politics, a nirvana devised without such machinery.  The police forces were no exception.  The generation of August Vollmer, William Worton and William H. Parker had much to recommend it, but the blight set in around 1923, when the Chief of police Louis Oak, himself a member of the Ku Klux Klan, oversaw a department that descended into bootlegging enthusiasm and corrupt delights.  To this day, the mayor remains weak, while the chief remains independent.

The veteran reporter Lou Cannon came up with a term to describe the bloody consequences of the King case: official negligence.  Mayor Bradley and Chief Gates took it upon themselves to abandon policing models with a focus on the community.  Could it be, speculated Cannon, that such designs would have vested too much power with the police?

One of the responses to the riots was to bring in that curious beast of community policing, an imperfect and unsatisfactory system that has, nonetheless, seen a reduction of fatalities in certain parts of LA.  The 77th Street Division that covers Watts and Inglewood is taken as an example of how an improvement has been made, if one thinks that a drop from 143 homicides in 1992 to 32 homicides in 2011 is an improvement.  The LAPD doesn’t quite have the same taint to it, though dissatisfaction remains.  At the junction of Florence and Normandie avenues, a protest, albeit small, featured an assortment of irate commentary against the fuzz – ‘fuck the police’, exclaimed an unnamed female rapper.

Official negligence can creep in at any point in time, a type of institutional indifference that borders on recklessness.  The various groups who have trumpeted the line of unity, be it the Korean American Coalition, the Anti-Defamation League or the LA Urban League show at least some awareness of it.  Even King himself had to concede that there was ‘always going to be some type of racism.’  Getting along remains a mystique and idyllic promise.

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge.  He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne.  Email: bkampmark@gmail.com


Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

March 30, 2017
William R. Polk
What Must be Done in the Time of Trump
Howard Lisnoff
Enough of Russia! There’s an Epidemic of Despair in the US
Ralph Nader
Crash of Trumpcare Opens Door to Full Medicare for All
Carol Polsgrove
Gorsuch and the Power of the Executive: Behind the Congressional Stage, a Legal Drama Unfolds
Michael J. Sainato
Fox News Should Finally Dump Bill O’Reilly
Kenneth Surin
Former NC Governor Pat McCory’s Job Search Not Going Well
Binoy Kampmark
The Price of Liberation: Slaughtering Civilians in Mosul
Bruce Lesnick
Good Morning America!
William Binney and Ray McGovern
The Surveillance State Behind Russia-gate: Will Trump Take on the Spooks?
Jill Richardson
Gutting Climate Protections Won’t Bring Back Coal Jobs
Robert Pillsbury
Maybe It’s Time for Russia to Send Us a Wake-Up Call
Prudence Crowther
Swamp Rats Sue Trump
March 29, 2017
Jeffrey Sommers
Donald Trump and Steve Bannon: Real Threats More Serious Than Fake News Trafficked by Media
David Kowalski
Does Washington Want to Start a New War in the Balkans?
Patrick Cockburn
Bloodbath in West Mosul: Civilians Being Shot by Both ISIS and Iraqi Troops
Ron Forthofer
War and Propaganda
Matthew Stevenson
Letter From Phnom Penh
James Bovard
Peanuts Prove Congress is Incorrigible
Thomas Knapp
Presidential Golf Breaks: Good For America
Binoy Kampmark
Disaster as Joy: Cyclone Debbie Strikes
Peter Tatchell
Human Rights are Animal Rights!
George Wuerthner
Livestock Grazing vs. the Sage Grouse
Jesse Jackson
Trump Should Form a Bipartisan Coalition to Get Real Reforms
Thomas Mountain
Rwanda Indicts French Generals for 1994 Genocide
Clancy Sigal
President of Pain
Andrew Stewart
President Gina Raimondo?
Lawrence Wittner
Can Our Social Institutions Catch Up with Advances in Science and Technology?
March 28, 2017
Mike Whitney
Ending Syria’s Nightmare will Take Pressure From Below 
Mark Kernan
Memory Against Forgetting: the Resonance of Bloody Sunday
John McMurtry
Fake News: the Unravelling of US Empire From Within
Ron Jacobs
Mad Dog, Meet Eris, Queen of Strife
Michael J. Sainato
State Dept. Condemns Attacks on Russian Peaceful Protests, Ignores Those in America
Ted Rall
Five Things the Democrats Could Do to Save Their Party (But Probably Won’t)
Linn Washington Jr.
Judge Neil Gorsuch’s Hiring Practices: Privilege or Prejudice?
Philippe Marlière
Benoît Hamon, the Socialist Presidential Hopeful, is Good News for the French Left
Norman Pollack
Political Cannibalism: Eating America’s Vitals
Bruce Mastron
Obamacare? Trumpcare? Why Not Cubacare?
David Macaray
Hollywood Screen and TV Writers Call for Strike Vote
Christian Sorensen
We’ve Let Capitalism Kill the Planet
Rodolfo Acuna
What We Don’t Want to Know
Binoy Kampmark
The Futility of the Electronics Ban
Andrew Moss
Why ICE Raids Imperil Us All
March 27, 2017
Robert Hunziker
A Record-Setting Climate Going Bonkers
Frank Stricker
Why $15 an Hour Should be the Absolute Minimum Minimum Wage
Melvin Goodman
The Disappearance of Bipartisanship on the Intelligence Committees
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail