LiJuan Ye (Jennifer) Dr. Karen Carlisi



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LiJuan Ye (Jennifer)

Dr. Karen Carlisi

ESL 33B

4 May 2015


Racism, Riots, and Progress in Los Angeles

America is a country of immigrants. There are many kinds of people in this country, so racism is a popular topic. In the past, racism was a serious problem in America because it was institutionalized to the point that even after slavery ended, segregation of the races was still allowed. Changes in education finally ended segregation. During 1960's the civil rights movement helped America move past long-lived inequalities, but progress moved slowly (Joiner 4). The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act overruled remaining Jim Crow laws. However, despite these changes, “neither had been fully implemented by the end of the 1960s.” The 1960s civil rights movement brought many changes, but “The progress of King.’s “I Have a Dream” was clearly regressing” (Frankenberg 8). Despite of African-Americans received equal rights in all aspects of life, some social inequalities remained, and it showed in the lack of job opportunities. Even though black and whites were educated at the same school, they did not have the same pay (Adu 289). Furthermore, they have unequal punishments in the criminal justice system (289). They were only allowed to live in a certain area due to restrictive covenants in California, which led to further poverty. As a result, racism is still present in Los Angeles, but it is hidden, so only at certain times can it be seen.

The Watts Riots exposed the racism present in California during the Civil Rights era, and it happened in LA in 1965 due to racial inequalities felt by the African-American community living in the Watts area. It happened because of the economic. Therefore, the Watts Riots was caused by African Americans who were dissatisfied with the way they were treated because “during this time in Los Angeles, there was discrimination in getting home loans in certain areas,” and they could not find a job (Joiner). Despite the fact that many people took part in the riots, “nearly all of the wounded and deceased were black” and it caused death and damaged many properties (Murch). In addition, the Watts Riots were also caused by economic reasons, unemployment was the biggest problem in this area. Even black people who had the the same education as white people, after they graduated, they could not find a job or earn similar salary (Sears 10). As the same time, businesses in the community treated African-Americans unfairly because businessmen came to this community to create a store or something else, and they just earned the money then went back to their place. They did not put the money back into the community where many African-Americans lived, so it caused black people to think they were treated unfairly.

The 1992 Los Angeles Riots showed one more time the hidden racism waiting to explode within the city. Like the Watts Riots, the LA riots occurred because of a police stop of a black construction worker named Rodney King (Salak 27). On March 3, 1991, Rodney King was beaten and arrested by four Los Angeles police officers. The entire arrest was captured on videotape by a local resident named George William Holliday (Cannon 21). The tape showed a violent beating of a defenseless Rodney King. Holliday attempted to give the tape to the LAPD, but no one would answer him, so instead he gave it to a local channel which made history showing the video (Cannon 22-23). King had been on a high pursuit chase through the 210 freeway, and it was when the LAPD finally reached him on a side street that they ordered him to get out of the car and they pinned him down and started beating him senselessly (Cannon 26). King survived, but suffered a fracture skull and a fractured eye socket among many other injuries (Salak 27). Unlike Watts, the riots occurred not during the police arrest but after the not guilty verdicts were read for the four arresting police officers (Salak 5).  The main thing to consider is that even though decades separated Watts riots from the LA riots it seemed like things had not improved. Instead, they seem to have gotten worse. The beating became a catalyst for change, and “many Americans denounced it as an injustice that appeared to be beyond question” (Salak 27).  King was a symbol, showing the suffering of African-Americans everywhere. A year later, the Los Angeles Riots changed the city forever because it showed the underlying racism in the city, and the rage stored in many African-Americans. April 29, 1992 a jury in Ventura County, California found the four white LAPD officers responsible for King’s beating not guilty (Salak 2). The verdict was “the last straw for an economically impoverished, politically frustrated and socially abandoned population so psychologically beaten down, they felt that no one respected or cared anything about them” (Monroe 135). The anger was felt all over the city, non-African American’s driving the South LA area were beaten, or their stores were burned and ransacked (Cannon 303). Sears argues that despite the racial divide being similar to Watts it was not actually the same, as it was a more interracial minority being beaten or doing the beating (10). L.A. riots was the final example of the city falling into hate, rage, and a large division between the different racial communities.



L.A. Riots were also a sign of an economic collapse in the city, and they were partly caused by the collapse. In Official Negligence by Lou Cannon he believes that the cause of the riot was not just Rodney King related, but a downturn in the economy. The downturn began during the 1990’s were the aerospace and car industry began closing plants. It is during this time Cannon argues, “the effect of the aerospace collapsed rippled through South Central, mingling with other currents to create the economic context of the 1992 riots” (Cannon 9). In addition, he argues that, “the exodus of the automobile industry from Southern California was complete in 1992, when GM shut down a Van Nuys plant that had produced more than six million vehicles over 45 years” (Cannon 9). South Central was losing thousands of jobs, about “70,000 jobs in the 1978-1982 plant closures” (10).  On the eve of the riots, unemployment among black, Hispanic, and Asian men between the ages of 18 to 35 was running at almost 50% percent (Salak 24). The economic disparity between black and whites was great and easier to see in such an economic downturn. The question is whether this downturn affecting minorities such as blacks was actually worse because of the long history of racial divide. Los Angeles was suffering economically which further the racial divide, and it was a time of unrest in all areas, but it still showed the real difference and racial separation.

Rodney King beating in 1992 which led to the LA Riots was defining events in showing the hidden racism within Los Angeles. Riots confirmed for many that African American’s mistreated by the police because of their race alone. Rodney King tape “confirmed what black people had been saying for years about the use of excessive force and brutality by the Los Angeles Police Department” (Monroe 2012). In addition, the police officers that were charged with Rodney King’s beating were acquitted by the L.A. jury. “The verdicts were the last straw for an economically impoverished, politically frustrated and socially abandoned population so psychologically beaten down, they felt that no one respected or cared anything about them” (Monroe 2012). Rodney King was repeatedly beaten, “and his incident outraged many people. However, it was only one of several…leading to the Los Angeles riots a year later (Cole 14). Riot itself showed police and community brutality against black people. Racism was for the first time on full display with the King video which pushed people who already felt displaced to the edge of outrage. The brutality showed by the police force many to see the deep divide even after the civil rights movement.

The riots despite all the anger presented further equality in Los Angeles because it forced the people, government, and police to come together and change. The facts represent that race relations in present day Los Angeles have progressed, but at the same time change is slow. The city after the LA riots has changed, but “just how much race relations have progressed in L.A., but the city continues to play a leading role in the American saga of multiculturalism and diversity” (Monroe 2012). People living in Los Angeles today believe that riots are a certain possibility, but most do not think it will be due to racism. In fact, most people believe riots in the future will be caused by economic and social issues (Marks 2004). When Korean created store in black’s neighborhoods treated the people who lived in this area unfair because the people who live in this area thought the businessmen who created store in their community just earned their money and went back to their own neighborhood. Black people complained that the businessmen who did not contribute anything to black community. Therefore, it caused them thought it was very unfair (Wood 2012). People from different countries need to learned each other culture then it helps both of them reduce many problems. Nowadays, diversity is welcomed in Los Angle. The nation people become to realize that “not as bad as we think it is” when people like to open mind to accept different culture, it turns the world more peaceful. Also, “some community activists see positive signs” they become more understand different culture and more benevolent to each other (Wood 2012). There is a positive side to such a dark period in Los Angeles’ time because it led to diversity and changing.

L.A. Riots were also a product of the social fabric at the time, and its political structure. John Salak in his book The Los Angeles Riots argues that another factor of the LA riots was the social structure of the community.  He believes that the social and political structure was in decline and was partly responsible for the violence at the time. Salak cites that 53% of Hblack children living in South Central came from a single-parent home (Salak 25). However, he argues like Sears that the riots in 1992 are different than 1965 due to the fact that Hispanics made up 40% of the total population, adding further competition between minorities and leading to more unemployment in the black community (25). The scholars will argue different reasons for explosion that April in 1992, yet race and being a minority is related to all of their arguments. Race is the connecting factor for all the reasons behind the L.A. riots, which indicates a need for further equality.

Race relations in America as I stated earlier have changed since the 1960’s Civil Rights movement: there is no longer any institutionalized, legalized racism. Nevertheless, racism is still current after the aftermath of the LA riots because racism still affects African American’s economically.  In Race Course against White Supremacy Bill Ayers strongly argues that racism is not scientific fact, but a “social/historical practice with terrible consequences and measurable impacts” (Ayers 106). It is a fact Ayers states that, “the average income of an African American today is 74 percent of the average white income” (105). In addition, “almost a third of black families have a zero or negative net worth” (105).  This poverty does not allow them to get out from the living conditions they are in, and in fact it seems like a modern slavery.

Another sign racism still exist in America is the justice/prison system and the great number of African Americans compare to any other race that are incarcerated. Ayers in his book cites that “a black youth with no prior jail time has a forty-eight in 100,000 chance of going to jail on a drug offense; a white youth has a one in 100,000 chance” (106). In Blackballed: The Black Vote and US Democracy by Darryl Pinckney argues that, “blackness was refashioned through crime statistics, and it became a more stable racial category in opposition to whiteness through racial criminalization” (77). In addition, Pinckney cites another author named Michelle Alexander stating that laws that imprisoned blacks after the Civil War such as “Vagrancy laws” were used to control society. Furthermore, she argues that the laws of today are used in similar way to control minorities as “management of black men” (77). The numbers so far show an unbalance amount of black youth being imprisoned which shows a need for further outreach and community work. Incarceration and the justice system need to change to bring further racial equality.

History is made up of radical changes. Even though it made up of slow, it steady changing. 21st Century Los Angeles has come a long way towards race equality, but the racial divide still needs to improve in economic and education. America, I believe has come a long way from the days of slavery, but still needs to go further by bringing unity to a divided world. The race riots in Los Angeles showed a greater sickness within the country, but at the same time the riots showed many other people coming to the rescue and trying to help make the city a better place, and this is positive. The riots in Los Angeles has seen as negative chapters in history of the city, but I view them as a torch for forcing the city to change.

Works Cited

Adu-Lughod, Janet L.: Race, Space, and Riots in Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles. Oxford University Press, Inc. New York 2007.

Ayers, Bill and Bernardine Dohrn. Race Course: Against White Supremacy.  Chicago: Third World Press, 2009. Print.

Cannon, Lou. Official Negligence: How Rodney King and the Riots Changed Los Angeles and the LAPD. Boulder: Westview Press, 1999. Print.

Chappell, David L. Waking from the Dream. New York: Random House, 2014. Print.

Civil Rights Digital Library (CRDL). “Watts Riots.” Web. 10 Apr. 2015.

Frankenbery, Erica, and Chungmei, Lee, and et, al. “a Multiracial Society with Segregated Schools: are we Losing the Dream?” January 2003. The Civil Rights Project Harvard University. Web.19 Apr. 2015.

History.Com. “This Day in History: August 11, 1965 the Watts Riots Begins.” Web. 10 Apr. 2015.

Joiner, Lottie L. "Looking Back: 40 Years after the 1965 Watts Riots." Crisis (15591573) 112.4 (2005): 9. MAS Ultra - School Edition. Web. 8 Apr. 2015.

Marks, Mara A., Matt A. Barreto, and Nathan D. Woods. "Race and Racial Attitudes A Decade after the 1992 Los Angeles Riots." Urban Affairs Review 40.1 (2004): 3. Masterfile Premier. Web. 8 Apr. 2015.

Monroe, Sylvester. "South Central: 20 Years Since." Ebony 67.7 (2012): 132. MAS Ultra - School Edition. Web. 8 Apr. 2015.

Murch, Donna. “The Many Meanings of Watts: Black Power, Wattstax, and the Carceral State.” OAH Magazine of History 26 (2012): 37-40. Web. 8 Apr. 2015.

Michael D. Cole. The L.A. Riots Rage in the City of Angels. USA, Springfield, NJ1999. Print.

Pinckney, Darryl. Blackballed: The Black Vote and US Democracy. New York: New York Review of Books, 2014. Print.

Salak, John. The Los Angeles Riots. Brookfield: The Millbrook Press, 1997. Print.

Sears, David O. “Urban Rioting in Los Angeles.” The Los Angeles Riots: Lessons for the Urban Future. Ed. Mark Baldassare. Boulder: Westview Press, 1994. Print.

Stewart, Alicia W. and Tricia Escobedo. CNN.com: “What you might not know about the 1964 Civil Rights Act.” 10 Apr. 2015. Web 10 Apr. 2015.



United States Library of Congress (US LOC). Teacher’s Guide Primary Source Set: Jim Crow and Segregation. Web. 10 Apr. 2015.

Valelly, Richard M., ed. The Voting Rights Act: Securing the Ballot. Washington, D.C.: CQ      Press, 2006. Print.


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