Rodney King Beating and Uprisings in Los Angeles, California: Analytical Essay
As a young girl, I was raised in a predominantly black, latino, pacific islander neighborhood in the Bay Area. Growing up in what most people from the community and outside called the “hood,’ always left a unsettling taste in my mouth because I understood at a young age that being from the hood was a lifelong fight for survival. Living in the hood, meant survival and one of the threats was the “ops” or the police. Police sirens, and the red/blue lights filled my room at night at least three times a week. “Be still and quiet. Don’t move and listen to them” was the advice my mother would give to my brother and I. Now that I am a young woman in college, I now understand the oppression and racism my community endured throughout my childhood. Recently, the police have killed ‘1,147 people in 2017. Black people were 25% of those killed despite being only 13% of the population”(Mapping Police Violence). Killing unarmed black bodies has always been the narrative in America since its birth of the nation. That black bodies are still being killed by the police allows me to seek understanding.
I have conducted research on how the police system as an institution of power works to target, surveille, and commit violent acts toward African Americans. The research I conducted focuses on the Rodney King beating and uprisings in Los Angeles, California (1992). The research provides connections between the policing methods dated back to the slave patrol and L.A.P.D. (during the King beating/ uprisings) used on people of color. I furthered my research to ask whether the slave patrols and L.A.P.D. as institutions of power have evolve in both being grounded and rooted in racism. If so, how has it evolved? In what ways? If not, then why? And how has these policing methods impacted inner city, urban neighborhoods in the United States of America. From the uprisings during 1992, civil disorder and police forces were at bat. Another unarmed black body was brutalized and thousands were arrested due to uprisings. Moreover, I research and focus on the relation between power institutions (the police), and the people (African Americans/Korean Americans) based on the policing methods used to criminalize, brutalize, kill people of color, and create race issues between communities of color(in this case, the African Americans and Korean Americans).
Research methods employed in this research was through literature on the police and the L.A. uprisings/riots, critical discourse analysis, data and historical context. Also, I used critical discourse analysis defined as, “analyzing structural relationships of dominance, power, discrimination, and control as manifested in language” in order to stress the relationship between the police as a power structure that shapes the people in society through tactics of fear and violence(Wodak, Meyer, 6).
In Slave Patrols: Law and Violence in Virginia and the Carolinas by Sally E. Hadden we get a intensive historical background on the creation of the slave patrol. Since its’ first presence in the U.S. to the twenty-first century, the police have been practicing methodologies that are deeply rooted in racism and upheld to preserve white supremacy. Policing methods being the beatings, shootings, killings, and surveillance of black bodies are modern police practices. However, we can examine Slave Patrols to understand how the slave patrols used policing methods in order to understand how it shaped modern policing methods: being how slave patrols stormed and searched enslaved peoples’ homes, existence and authorization of “slave passes,’ safeguarding areas and towns. Moreover, what many folx fail to realize is the racist and white supremacist ideologies embedded in the police’s origin and methods which have shaped policing today. I think this book by Hadden is both compelling and awful as we get an in depth historical look at the earliest form of the police as a system to regulate and surveille black bodies.
Our Enemies in Blue by Kristian Williams follows how police misconduct co exists and fuels the function of the policing system. The author visits how “preventative police refers to the presence of the police to inhibit the commission of crime. It’s lead to the expansion of police and also helped shape specialized focus of crime. It revisits history and how Klan members were rarely charged and convictions were even more rare. Police and klan counterbalanced each other. Some areas of policing would give up their area to protect to Klan members. “Black Codes” were established to gain control once again of slaves. Evidently to restore white supremacy.
Robert Goodings visits the racial representations as pervasive in many ways in Reading Rodney King, Reading the Uprisings. All representations of individuals or groups are interpretations of racial identities. This is because representations of social life make reference to racial identities. This concept of ideology critique includes three main parts: genealogy: the genealogical exposure to racial representations reveals the origins of those representations. It aims to identify interpretations which make up racial representations. For example, Morrison’s genealogical exposures of Africanist racial representations in American literature. Morrison’s study of American Africanism and how she aims at examining the ways in which works of American literature accommodate themselves and characterize individuals who are racially identified as black. Sociopolitical: The reading of genealogically exposed racial can be read as socio political allegories. After the representations of black characters are genealogically exposed, the character is to then comment on the social and political status of blacks in the U. S. For example, the characters in films such as Casablanca and Ghosts. Demythification: The demystification of the allegorical content of genealogically exposed racial representations. Films such as Ghost exemplify the use of racial representations to interpret racial identities. Racial ideology and representation in the Rodney King’s trial? In the trial, the defense attorney included testimonies from the policemen which portrayed King as a danger to society, “The courtroom’s and media’s representations of black people come from a long history of American Africanism” (163). This case like several others portray the black body similar to that of a “wild animal” who is a danger to society. Following the verdict of King’s trial, there was a lot of protests and civil unrest within inner city Los Angeles.
For decades, Los Angeles along with the rest of America has been a segregated community/city. Segregation often times when mentioned is not celebrated when talking of living conditions. In L.A. the predominantly black/latino/asian communities are those that are urban or inner city due to its’ unlikeliness of white folks.
Before we discuss the police as a institution, we must identify what and how race and ethnicity differ and relate in order to understand racism and race relations present in police methods and between different groups of people. Race is a system of differentiating people based on phenotype or in simpler terms, someone’s skin tone. Race was sustained and created by scientific racism to exercise power over another racial group. Today we understand and discuss race as a social construct of power that has absolutely no biological relevance. Whereas, ethnicity refers to shared cultural factors. Some include nationality, ancestry and beliefs however it’s primarily linked to common language or linguistics. When race and ethnicity is discoursed, whiteness is almost always brought up to prove race functions with the inclusion of white as a racial power over other colored folks. Whiteness or the notion of white privilege is different from white people. White is a system ideology or the default to race.
For example, christianity is the default religion in the U.S. and it socializes every action. Also, white is a racial designation which facilities access to power that other races may not obtain due to their non-white race. Further, white privilege is highly beneficial because it almost always guarantees profit, access, resources, and upward mobility. Therefore, as a nation built on racism and nationalism we can view how this country has a racial problem. The U.S. has a race issue and it produces injustices through mediums of institutions of power(like the police) that target people of color versus white people.
Race, whether we as a nation like to recognize it, has historically been used as a distinction between good and bad in simple terms. Dating back to 1704 in Southern Carolina(one of the thirteen colonies), the Slave Patrol was first established and was rooted in white supremacist ideologies. Therefore, racism at its’ core was the purpose and how the slave patrols functioned: off the belief that white people as a race were superior and dominant over black people because they were lighter skin tones.
This race relation between white Americans and black folks was overtly systematic through the slave patrols. White people exerted racial dominance over black people because they feared a “slave revolt” that would overthrow a white supremacist nation.
In Sally Hadden’s book, Slave Patrols: Law and Violence in Virginia and the Carolinas, she studies the patrols in Virginia and North and South Carolina because they were one of the first colonies established thus having a stable view of patrols via war and slave revolts. The book provides a deeper look into the creation of slave patrols as a tool for white Americans to further dehumanize black bodies. Hadden states the book is, “scrutinizing patrollers will flesh out our understanding of how slave laws were actually enforced, day to day, while providing information about how the formation of Southern police forces was affected by regional influences like the presence of slavery and white conceptions of honor”(Hadden, 2). How were they chosen? Patrols were private and public authority figures like overseers and constables. In order to be selected you must be white and have property ownership, county courts selected men form either militia muster rolls or local tax rolls to serve on local slave patrols; between the ages of 16 & 60; freed black property owners were excluded from selection process. In 1739 South Carolina: “the General Assembly mandated all owners of plantations, men and women, should be enrolled by militia officers and selected to patrol duty in their districts”(7). With the patrol established commonly,“white town residents constantly complained that slaves congregated in unruly groups, bought liquor, and hired their own labor to employers, all of which violated laws regulating slave behavior that watchmen should have enforce”(14). What came with the patrols was power over black bodies. The patrols would stop, search, and oftentimes beat unarmed black people. Sound familiar? Moreover, this was because white people were afraid that urban areas and their communities would revolt and rebel against the social order. Exploring the appointment, authority, and status of slave patrol members helps us understand the ways in which patrols constituted an important presence in the lives of black and white southerners.
Since the 16th century, the U.S. has been through change that helped shape the world power it is today. Even Though, racism still exists the U.S. still champions over all other countries in the world due to its’ number one military force, beautiful cities, and American Dream facade. The slave patrol does not exist anymore, but some argue its’ white supremacist ideologies are present in our modern day police force.
Moreover, during the Rodney King uprisings/riots time period, Los Angeles was highly segregated. The author states the, “Cross-pollination of races found in other big city public transportation systems does not happen in L.A” to provide insight on the segregated city(Hazen, 12). Neighborhoods located in urban areas or inner city are considered dirty or undesirable to white people who live in the suburbs. On March 3, 1991, Rodney King was brutally beat by L.A.P.D. officers. The beating was described as, “But as three baseball teams’ worth of cops, 21 of them LAPD, swarmed in and systematically fractured Rodney King’s cranium ankles and arms, as they targeted his kidneys for dozens of blows from their two-foot-long solid aluminum Monadnock PR-24 batons, as they stomped and kicked him face down on the ground, while all the time the supervising officer took care not to break the two Taser wires that had each carried a 50,000-volt charge into King;s body and were now dug into him like harpoons…” (13).
Through this description, we can understand the unnecessary force and violence used on unarmed Rodney King was a result of racist ideologies. The notion that all black people are dangerous and savages that need to be surveilled and controlled happened. King threatened to the officers once they saw the color of his skin, and the need to capture him and beat him are those methods reflective of the patrols.
With the riots/uprisings over, the police still enforced racist laws to incriminate colored people. For example, the DARE anti-drug program was launched in communities of color. They set up monitoring areas in neighborhoods and checkpoints to monitor drug and alcohol use. The L.A.P.D. also targeted latino/black teenagers by enforcing stricter jaywalking laws that arrested 1,500 teenagers(16). Moreover, how we create Community Resources against Street Hoodlums (CRASH) was due to the killing of a Japanese American woman by a black person. There was an uproar in Westwood by white liberal councilmen. In result, the police arrested thousands of teens, 90% released off being arrested due to sheer intimidation(18). Further, the Chief of Police, Daryl Gates, enforced the Public Disorder and Intelligence Division (P.D.I.D.) that targeted black officers who “dared to publicly criticize” Gates were convinced that they were followed, and their cars vandalized. Beating Rodney King then acquittal of the cops charged with his beating created an uproar in L.A. The community of African Americans in 1992 broke out in frustration toward the verdict. Tensions rose between Korean American and African Americans because of the riots/uprisings that looted and destroyed Korean owned markets/stores.
Henceforth, the uprising/riots were done and on August 17, 1965, Governor Brown announced that he would appoint ‘a commission of distinguished Californians to make an objective and dispassionate study of the Los Angeles riots. …'(Scoble, 167). Further, “In his charge to this Commission, the Governor emphasized three specific functions to be performed: (1) ‘the commission should prepare an accurate chronology and description of the riots in an attempt to draw any lessons which may be learned from a retrospective study of these events’; (2) ‘the commission should probe deeply the immediate and underlying causes of the riots’; and (3) ‘the commission should develop recommendations for action designed to prevent a recurrence of these tragic disorders.’
In addition, the Commission was negatively charged in that it was admonished ‘not … to fix blame or find scapegoats'(170).
Henceforth, the uprising/riots were done and on August 17, 1965, Governor Brown announced that he would appoint ‘a commission of distinguished Californians to make an objective and dispassionate study of the Los Angeles riots. …'(Scoble, 167). Further, “in his charge to this Commission, the Governor emphasized three specific functions to be performed: (1) ‘the commission should prepare an accurate chronology and description of the riots in an attempt to draw any lessons which may be learned from a retrospective study of these events’; (2) ‘the commis- sion should probe deeply the immediate and underlying causes of the riots’; and (3) ‘the commission should develop recommendations for action designed to prevent a recurrence of these tragic disorders.’
Even, the Commission was negatively charged in that it was admon- ished ‘not … to fix blame or find scapegoats'(Scoble, 170).
Scoble writes to understand the holes and missing frameworks in the McCone Commission Report. The report claims that the commission forgot to mention crucial factors that produced segregation and racism in Los Angeles. For example, the section on housing leaves out that, “… planners and subdividers of Watts, fearing that known inferior drainage would dis-attract whites, consciously decided first to attract Mexicans and then Negroes, permitting the commissioners to infer that residential segregation was the product of voluntarism, admittedly compounded by restrictive covenants”(174). Further, the report failed to include all facotrs when understanding the why of the riots and how? Instead, the report, “put the lid on social protest (2) to place the blame largely on the Negroes themselves… “(180). The report also raised how police often do not stay or live in the city they patrol due to ‘their’ preference of living in nicer conditions further away from crime.
Moreover, in Reading Rodney King, reading the Uprisings by Robert Goodings he critiques and discusses the uprisings in the community of Watts, L.A. Goodings argue that racial representations are pervasive in many ways. And that all representations of everyone or groups are interpretations of racial identities. This event is because representations of social life make reference to racial identities. Racial ideology and representation in the Rodney King’s trial was present. In the trial, the defense anattorney included testimonies from the policemen which portrayed King as a danger to society. This stereotype has been developed and the same since the patrol era. In today’s society, “the courtroom’s and media’s representations of black people come from a long history of American Africanism”(Goodings, 163). This case like, several others portray the black body similar to that of a “wild animal” who is a danger to society. Following the verdict of King’s trial, there was a lot of protests. We can understand through Goodings findings that race as an ideology examines how genealogy is a key to understanding the genealogical exposure to racial representations and how it reveals the origins of racial representations and misconceptions.
When discussing the riots/uprisings ofto the race, we can understand how the real threat to society and communities of color is the officers dressed in blue. Kristian Williams focuses on the police force as a racial institution that targets people of color. The Rodney King beating was controversial. However, what is more astounding is the fact that social scientists predicted the verdict because the area was heavily white populated and vouched for police protection(Williams, 5). In 1968, the National Commission on Civil Disorders examined 24 riots. They found typically at the riots there was a pattern of deeply-held grievances from mainly black communities. Those grievances, “related to prejudice, discrimination, severely disadvantaged living conditions and a general sense of frustration about their inability to change those conditions”(Williams, 6). One may ask why do black communities uprise? They uprise due to, “the conditions of life in the Black community, the role of the police in relation to that community, and the history and pattern of similar abuses”(9). While black community’s uprise, clearly violence is an inherent part of policing. They use violence so as to enforce, maintain, regulate the law.
With the increase of uprisings and protests of police brutality and violence to people of color, comes the harsh reality of the police force organizing and evolving into a more clear picture of the patrols. Williams believe that the militarization of the police force created more tension between people of color and the police. Williams provide several examples of how the police force militarized so as to control, surveille, and harm people of color. In the 1960, so as to prevent and control, disorder, there was an increasing of funding for the police department(199). Also, the SWAT was created in the 1960s and its first mission was to raid the headquarters of the Black Panther Party. Once again policing through violence and surveillance on black bodies due to the fear of uprisings or riots. Also, with the creation of forfeiture laws, it provided the local police with an incentive to control and aim at busting drug. Since it offered not only financial benefits but also political and bureaucratic benefits. There was a huge impact from drug police to actual policing. This focus on the control of drugs lead to “racial profiling,legitimized prison, creation of longer/more sentencing laws, military involvement in local law……” (203).
In my research of the slave patrols and L.A.P.D., I concluded that racism is at the core of both of these institutions. Most people blame that one or few officers who beat unarmed, black Rodney King, but I found that racism is not an individual act. Not only, the L.A.P.D. but police force entire function together as an institution that should be reformed. What makes up race? Not simply the color of one’s skin but the prejudice and power that reinforce racist ideologies. Thus, racism is in police violence toward colored people. Policing methods are a sexist, violent anti-black institution with impunity(and systemic power). The modern policing system was founded and originated from the slave patrols. Their more mandate was and still is to protect property.
Sadly but importantly, I cannot stress this enough that the police do not keep us safe. Well, more people of color. There have been a surge in white supremacist shooters that have killed black bodies in the U.S. And how does the police force respond? Sometimes, by not killing the shooter but arresting them and prosecute them with fewer sentences versus their black counterparts. Police frequently kill black, brown, queer people. Sexual assault is the second common form of police brutality.
Trans people are 3.7 times more likely to experience police violence than cis gendered people. Where is the accountability? It is an unacceptable that,“99 percent of cases in 2015 have not resulted in any offer(s) being involved convicted of a crime”(Mapping Police Violence). I then ask the police force as a institution, what does it mean to be good at your job when your job is to enforce racist, exist, unjust laws?
In conclusion the police started in South Carolina during the sixteenth century when slavery was legal and the organized violence toward black people seem too similar to those committed toward black bodies in today’s time. All I ask is how, why, and what now? The patrol was created off racist ideologies so as to preserve white power. However, as we can see from the King beating and uprisings, not much has changed. Communities of color have suffered through the violence and brutality committed toward black bodies. Koreans and Africans both were affected during the riots/uprisings. This event created racial tensions that these communities are still working toward building coalitions. However, the racism rooted in the police force only accelerate the killings of unarmed black bodies and promote racial politics. It is time to ask when suffices and acknowledge the racist past America has and still has today.
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