† Criminal InJustice is a weekly series devoted to taking action against inequities in the U.S. criminal justice system. Nancy A. Heitzeg, Professor of Sociology and Race/Ethnicity, and author of The School-to- Prison Pipeline: Education, Discipline and Racialized Double Standards, is the Editor of CI. Kay Whitlock, co-author of Queer (In)Justice and Considering Hate, is co-founder of CI. Criminal Injustice is published every Wednesday at 6 pm CST.
LA Uprising, 25 Years On…
Editors’ note by nancy a heitzeg
The piece below was originally published on June 20, 2012 on the occasion of the death of Rodney King – the man who became synonymous with the LA Uprising of 1992. This past week marked the 25th Anniversary of the 5 Days of Rage that followed the acquittal of the officers who dealt him 56 blows, and framed too the current era of on-going action against police misuse of force, deadly and otherwise.
I write this in the shadow of the news that Jeff Sessions’ Department of Justice will not bring Federal charges against the two Baton Rogue officers who killed Alton Sterling, in another of countless videotaped deaths.
Everything and Nothing has changed.
Peace, Finally, for Rodney King/No Justice, Still, for Us
by nancy a heitzeg
“There can be no justice without peace and there can be no peace without justice.” ~ Martin Luther King Jr
The man who became the self-described “poster child for police brutality” was found at the bottom of the pool he built on Sunday. Twenty years after the videotaped beating and ensuing riots that made him reluctantly famous, Rodney King was dead at 47.
Despite bearing the internal/external scars of that brutalization, King still carried forth, in his new book, The Riot Within: My Journey From Rebellion to Redemption, the simple message he delivered in the midst of the riots, “Can’t we all get along??”
In the end, Rodney King believed he found some measure of Justice. And now, at last, Peace.
The rest of us??
“And I must say tonight that a riot is the language of the unheard.” ~Martin Luther King Jr
Yes, it is true that the 56 Blows -captured, pre-youtube, on grainy graphic video – shattered the silence of color-blind White Denial. Exploded onto our TV screens, reported so somberly — finally the evidence!!! of what every black/brown/red man/woman/child knew (and knew forever) to be the Truth of every day police practice. Not just LAPD — infamous since the days of Zoot Suits — but Every Big City PD. All steeped in racial profiling and excessive force. Occupying Armies.
Surely there would be Justice Now. Surely Anyone could see.
But not an all white Simi Valley jury — blinded by racially coded appeals to ” the thin blue line”, blinded by fear of “PCP and Bionic man-powers” and the ever present danger of the “Criminal Black Man”.
And so South Central LA Burned — abandoned finally by LAPD, who, now outnumbered, fled the intersection of Florence and Normandy to fall back and protect the borders of “whiteness”, demarcated by Brentwood and the Beverly Hills Hotel.
South Central LA Burned — set ablaze by those whose neighborhood it never was anyway. Burned , not just for Rodney, but for Latasha Harlins and so many unnamed others. Burned with the sparks of frustration and rage, from the ashes of Watts and so much, for centuries, unchanged.
More than 60 Dead — thousands arrested. Mostly Latino and Black.
Not that media would tell us. In a dress rehearsal for the level playing field false equivalency that has become the paradigm of color-blind coverage, their attention quickly turned to a singular white man, also beaten, this time by Black citizens. Saved by Blacks too, but that didn’t matter.
“See — Everyone is racist“, the argument goes. It is individual , not systemic. Better yet, just pretend that race has nothing to do with it at all.
And the white supremacist capitalist patriarchy gets another pass.
No Justice/No Peace.
“We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that “justice too long delayed is justice denied.” ~ Martin Luther King Jr
In the two decades that followed, yes, we critiqued racial profiling and police brutality. Yes we demanded Justice while the prison industrial complex continued apace — to 1 in 100 now 2.5 million. Yes we demanded Justice while the school to prison pipeline created new, ever more insidious ways of insuring future profits, on the backs per usual of communities of color..
We were always disappointed. Always denied. And always will be.
We cannot expect Justice from an unjust system — one designed, from the outset, solely for disparity. We cannot expect the same system that does structural violence to our communities to mete out the same to our transgressors. “The Master’s Tools will never Dismantle the Master’s House”
In the words of Kay Whitlock, We Need to Dream a Bolder Dream:
How, then, do we begin to move toward ways of framing issues and making strategic choices that are not merely about punishing violence, but dismantling it in the community and within public and private institutions, replacing it over time with more healing, transformative visions of justice? How do we begin to envision justice as various forms of compassionate regard for the wholeness of both individuals and entire communities?
We begin by drawing on the experiences of others for inspiration. Nobody has the all of the “right” answers; we will have to create them, painstakingly, over time. Fortunately, there already are a growing number of groups working with imaginative persistence to reduce and organize resistance to multiple forms of racist, misogynist, and anti-queer violence while also exploring hopeful new ways of conceptualizing justice….
There will always be those who say it is impossible to imagine safety and justice without reliance on increased policing, harsher punishment, and more prisons. But these groups and others serve as beacons, giving us promising glimpses of the possibilities inherent in that bolder dream. Their vision, courage, and innovative determination deserve our long overdue and urgent attention.
Dream with Us then.
Dream of Justice/of Peace.
56 blows (Quis Custodiet Custodies?): for orchestra. Alvin Singleton, 1993.