Twenty years after the flames: the Rodney King beating verdict and the LA riots

Earl Ofari Hutchinson | 4/25/2012, 8:07 a.m.

The National Urban League, in its annual State of Black America reports, grimly notes that blacks have lost ground in income, education, healthcare and their treatment in the criminal justice system compared to whites. They are more likely than any other group in America to be victimized by crime and violence. African American flight has also drastically diminished black political strength in Los Angeles and statewide.

In the past two decades, the number of African Americans in the California legislature has shrunk, and there is the real possibility that blacks could lose one, possibly two, of their three Los Angeles city council seats in the next few years.

In 2005, on the 40th anniversary of the other L.A. riot that ripped the nation — namely the Watts riots in 1965 — the L.A. chapter of the National Urban League and the United Way issued an unprecedented report on the State of Black L.A.. The report called the conditions in South L.A. dismal, stating that blacks still had higher school drop-out rates, greater homelessness, died younger and in greater numbers, were more likely to be jailed and serve longer sentences, and were far and away more likely to be victims of racial hate crimes than any other group in L.A. County.  

On the other hand, there’s the hint of a “no” that it can’t happen again. There is the election of President Obama, the unprecedented expansion and prosperity of black middle class, the major reforms imposed on the LAPD through consent decrees, commissions and command changes, implanted by the LAPD to improve police-community outreach and diversity — and reduce the use of force.

The LAPD is no longer seen by many as an occupying army in the ghetto. There’s the sharp reduction in crime and gang violence, and the alleviation of black-Korean tensions in South L.A.. These are cautious, but hopeful signs for the present and the future.

The L.A. riots are no longer the national and world symbol of American urban racial destruction, neglect and despair. But it’s is still a cautionary tale; a warning that despite the political hope and positive changes in South L.A.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst.