Tim Cavanaugh: How the L.A. Riots Changed Nothing

Roundup: Talking About History

Tim Cavanaugh is managing editor of Reason.com.

On the 20th anniversary of the Los Angeles riots, there are several pieces of good news. 

First up: Jessica Evers, who while still in the womb was hit by a bullet that penetrated her seven-months-pregnant mother’s belly in 1992, is now a healthy and apparently happy young woman, coming up on her twentieth birthday as the celebrated "youngest victim" of the mayhem that followed the acquittal of four police officers in the beating of Rodney King. 

Better yet, the conditions that contributed to the riots have in large part disappeared from South L.A. (which at the time was referred to as "South Central L.A." but was actually renamed in 2003 by a City Council that is never too busy to do the people’s work). There is less time separating us from 1992 than there was separating 1992 from the Watts Riots, yet the change in the area is dramatic. While a large part of this change is demographic (the area is more Latin and less black than it was in 1992), there has been an actual improvement in civil harmony. Crime rates are down to mid-1960s levels; gang activity is declining; relations between local residents and the Los Angeles Police Department are noticeably better....

It would be more accurate to say the trouble of 1992 came from a mixture of extremely volatile identity politics and a police force more focused on terrorizing the citizens than on solving crimes. The former problem has mellowed somewhat and the latter has been largely solved, thanks in large measure to William Bratton’s work as chief of police. (I suspect that when historians write up the urban renaissance of the last decades, Bratton will loom larger than Rudy Giuliani, Richard Riordan, Willy Brown, and the many other big-city mayors who got so much attention at the time.)...

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