Thirty years after white police officers were caught on video beating a black motorist named Rodney King, residents of Los Angeles continue to see racism in local law enforcement as a bigger problem than in some other cities across the United States. I see.
An exclusive USA Today/Suffolk University poll from Los Angeles finds that rogue cops can be held more accountable now than they were then. But most Angelinos say the LAPD uses force even when it’s not necessary, and a third of those surveyed call the department grossly racist.
Surveys in Detroit and Milwaukee this summer, part of a series called City Views, found mixed views of law enforcement in those cities. But the Los Angeles Police Department received the harshest ratings for its treatment of local citizens. The polls, sponsored by USA Today and the Suffolk University Political Research Center, explore attitudes toward police and the community in American cities.
In recent years, cell-phone and body-camera videos showing police violence against unarmed blacks have fueled the Black Lives Matter movement and helped create Eric Garner, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and other household names .
rodney king In some ways it was the first. On March 3, 1991, before cell phones and their cameras were ubiquitous, a Los Angeles plumber who received a Sony camcorder a month earlier heard noises outside his San Fernando Valley home. From his balcony, he filmed the brutal scene of four white police officers kicking, kicking and teasing King more than 50 times.
George Holiday, who shot the grainy video, died two weeks ago at the age of 61 due to complications from COVID-19. King, who won $3.8 million in damages from the city, would battle drug and alcohol abuse for years. He drowned in his backyard swimming pool in 2012.
“It was probably one of the first real exposures to real police brutality, and then it was disturbing to see it replayed over and over again on that video,” said film finance producer and lifelong LA resident Danielle Fitzgibbons. . Then a pre-teen, he remembers watching TV coverage of businesses burning in riots. “It was definitely something that was open for me to understand that, sometimes, the police can be wrong.”
The survey of 500 Los Angeles residents taken by landline and cell phone from September 28 to October 1 has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.4 percentage points.
86% percent of those surveyed say that the king’s beating had a major impact on their city. Only 9% said it didn’t happen.
‘Have you been in jail recently?’
Three decades later, Angelino remembered Rodney King.
Of those surveyed, 6 out of 10 recalled the 1991 event personally, and 3 out of 10 learned about it later. Just 8% say they had not heard of the king and the confrontation that would devastate the city. When a Simi Valley jury failed to indict any police officers involved, Los Angeles sparked DATE in six days of riots that claimed 64 lives and caused an estimated $1 billion in property damage .
King’s beating and its aftermath had a major impact on Los Angeles and its residents, a whopping 86% of the city’s residents now say. But just 29% believe the relationship between the community and its police has improved since then. The majority say that relationships are now either worse (32%) or almost (26%).
Half of black residents say relations have worsened; Just 1 in 5 say they got better.
“To a certain degree, it has changed and gotten a little better, but it hasn’t gotten where it needs to be, let’s put it that way,” said Terry Hall, 63, a service attendant who is Black. . Follow-up interview after voting. Recently, “I’ve been pulled over and… I was asked a question, ‘Have you been in jail lately?'”
Thirty-two percent of those surveyed agree with the statement, “LA Police is racist in the way they treat people, even if some of them try to do a good job.” Instead sixty percent agree with the statement, “LA police generally do a good job and treat people of different races fairly, even when there are a few bad apples on the force.”
This is a more negative judgment from local law enforcement in City View elections than residents of Milwaukee and Detroit. While they received some criticism from police officers, 77%–16% of Detroit residents said the city’s police treated most people fairly. In Milwaukee, the view was 63%-29%.
Angelinos are also more likely to say that the local police use force when it was not necessary. This is the view of a 52% majority in Los Angeles, compared to 34% in Detroit and 45% in Milwaukee.
“As a Latino gay man, I’m constantly afraid that I’m going to be stopped by the police for something like a traffic assessment and it’s moving,” said Rene Vega, 38, a manager in the healthcare sector. “Anything race-related, I don’t think they’ve improved” since the beating of King and the riots that followed.
He said, “I remember as a child I was scared, terrified at night on hearing the sound of helicopters and army on the road.” “I remember my father losing his job because his store was in Vermont and Washington, and robbers robbed the store and then they burned it.”
Conviction today seen as more likely
One thing that has changed: Los Angeles residents say rogue officials are more likely to be held accountable by the courts today. In 1992, all four officers were acquitted of assault, and three of the four were acquitted of using unnecessary force. The jury deadlocked on charges of force against the fourth officer.
A year later, two of the four pleaded guilty to federal charges of violating King’s civil rights.
Nearly two-thirds of those polled, 63%, say officers are more likely to be convicted today; Just 8% say it’s less likely.
Melanie Mohr, 45, who works in the entertainment industry, said, “The police have to be more vigilant now because they are under investigation.” But he worries it could endanger officials. “Any mistake in judgment is going to be potentially career-ending or prosecutable, and I think that’s a sad and scary situation for them.”
Those concerns could make police enforcement less effective, warned Tony Matera, 43, whose grandfather is a retired LAPD officer.
“The amount of push back they’re getting, they’re doing the best they can,” Matera said. “It’s not even pushing back from the community; it’s pushing back from their own city council and higher-ups and their own department. These people are not allowed to do the policing they used to do and solve the problem.”
For all his criticism of the local police, Angelino also admits to relying on them. A 54% majority have called the police for help at some point. Nine out of 10 crimes will likely be reported to the police. 3–1, over 64%–19%, they would feel more secure in their neighborhood rather than less police officers at work.
But about a third, 32%, support the idea, which is not defined in the survey question, as “police defiance”. This is higher than the percentages in Detroit (23%) and Milwaukee (29%) who support the progressive slogan. In Los Angeles, more than 6 in 10, 61%, support cutting some funding from the police and using money for social services to help the homeless and mentally ill.
Overall, Los Angeles residents were twice as likely to give the police department the lowest rating of “poor” (20%) compared to the highest rating of “excellent” (10%). Twenty-nine percent called the LAPD “good” and 38% “fair.”
Those assessments split along racial lines. While 53% of whites and 54% of Hispanics rated the police department as fair or poor, this was the view of 80% of blacks and 69% of Asian-Americans.
Juanita Sumbi, 44, a lifelong Angelino, says racially charged abuse by police hasn’t changed over the years, but awareness of it has. “It’s always been like this,” she said. “The fact that people have cell phones, I think, brought it to light.”
She can still remember the day three decades ago when she first saw the shocking video of Rodney King being beaten up.
Black Sumby said, “I just remember them playing tape on the bicycle on the news, they were being beaten up by these police officers.” “I have a brother, and my uncle and my grandfather, all black men, I think it was painful for them to see that too — very painful — because I think they all experienced similar behavior from LAPD. It just hit home.”