The Los Angeles Uprising also referred to as the LA Riots, marked a critical moment in American life but provided a stark reminder of the legal system’s failure to achieve justice for Black lives. Despite countless incidents in the intervening 30 years, police accountability continues to be sidelined in favor of unchecked funding increases.
During the uprising, then-freshman lawmaker Rep. Maxine Waters refused to denounce the community for the property destruction. Instead, she used it as an opportunity to highlight the ongoing disparities in the community.
“We had to go beyond people thinking that the video (of King being beaten by police) created all of this frustration. (The problem) has been simmering because of a lack of attention to these inner cities for so long. The hopelessness, the unemployment, the frustration has been festering. The jury verdict was just the straw that broke the camel’s back,” Waters said.
The 1992 LA uprising came 27 years after the Watts Rebellion. Beginning on Aug. 11, 1965, the Watts Rebellion lasted five days, arising from a police traffic stop of a Black man by a white officer. Several communities saw similar incidents often erupt because of overwhelming injustice.
As the country saw from the uprisings after former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin murdered George Floyd in 2020, many communities still struggle with poverty and systemic disinvestment. Elected officials at the local, state and federal governments are often reluctant to despite the evidence of the last several decades pointing to the need for meaningful policy interventions that do not involve increased policing.
And the current administration is no closer to addressing police misconduct and accountability than its predecessors, continuing the same misguided formula of increasing police funding without meaningful accountability or community investments. Like voting rights, the promised George Floyd Justice in Policing Act could depend on whether Democrats can pick up more Senate seats in the upcoming election.
As reported by Time, the Los Angeles Police Department may have undergone reforms in its oversight and helped non-Black people become more aware of police brutality, but actual change remains unfulfilled. (Read more here).
And while media coverage tries to counterbalance demands for accountability with narratives about crime and police feeling unappreciated, the fact remains that little change has occurred in the last 30 years. We have more videos in our feeds and more examples of police brutality to add to the ever-growing collection of why policing in this country needs to change and put communities, not police feelings, first. Simultaneously, comprehensive policy prescriptions such as the BREATHE ACT —introduced by the Movement for Black Lives during the 2020 uprisings —are often drowned out and disregarded as real alternatives.
Even the possible “saving grace” of a Department of Justice investigation or charges against a police officer or officers rarely leads to a meaningful result for impacted families and communities. Under the Biden administration, the DOJ resumed pattern and practice investigations which former President Trump ended during his tenure. The DOJ’s authorization to pursue such investigations was first established in 1994.
But some argue that the DOJ’s failure to do more about policing killings is due to its narrow interpretation of the relevant law, not the reality of the circumstances. Samaria Rice, the mother of Tamir Rice, recently co-wrote an article with Scalawag Magazine’s Editor-at-large Da’Shaun Harrison and contributor Joy James responding to the Civil Rights Division’s rationalization for why it closed the case into Tamir’s killing. The article was in response to a January 2022 decision by the DOJ not to re-open the case despite three different appeals from Samaria Rice and a letter from 50 legal scholars and attorneys.
Federal charges are still very rare despite increased awareness of these cases. According to the legal scholars cited by Scalawag, the DOJ’s interpretation of the relevant law was narrowly construed to favor exonerating the officer of wrongdoing under the federal statute.
Where local, state and federal authorities failed to intervene, Samaria Rice and others worked to ensure the officer who killed her son Tamir would not be employed in another department. She also was a part of a coalition of Cleveland based organizers who helped pass Issue 24, which would provide a new pathway for transparency and oversight for police.
With the advent of cell phone videos and the widespread use of social media, high-profile cases of police brutality and killings come across our newsfeeds with alarming regularity. And for all the cases we do hear about, there are many more which go unresolved for the families and communities involved.
The Texas Civil Rights Project spoke with NewsOne about Ashtian Barnes, a young Black man killed by a Houston Constable during a traffic stop in 2016. Staff from the Texas Civil Rights Project noted that while nothing will restore Ashtian to his family, the organization represents the family in a lawsuit in hopes of obtaining some monetary compensation for their loss.
Ashtian was stopped for unpaid toll fees for $6.45 on a rental car he was driving that reportedly was not his doing. The organization has also launched a campaign to decriminalize traffic stops such as the one that resulted in Ashtian’s death.
“We have a campaign in Ashtian’s name that we hope to encourage some substantial policy change around the areas of traffic enforcement and armed police being able to enforce minor traffic violations,” said Peter Steffensen, Staff Attorney at the Texas Civil Rights Project. Chris Rivera, the outreach coordinator for the Texas Civil Rights Project’s Criminal Justice Program, said the campaign is about increasing public safety. “Ultimately, we want the disarmament of traffic police and we also are advocating for eliminating minor traffic fines and fees and warrants such as broken taillights, expired driver’s license and dark tint and also eliminate the odor of marijuana and marijuana possession as a lawful basis for police intervention,” Rivera explained.
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