“No justice, no peace. No justice, no peace.”
It’s the chant that could be heard in the streets of Los Angeles for five straight days after the four officers accused of brutally beating Rodney King were acquitted on criminal charges of excessive force.
The acquittal of the four officers — three of whom were white — sparked widespread rioting and looting throughout the streets of Los Angeles. When it was all said and done, more than 60 people had died and the city sustained more than $1 billion in damages.
A year earlier, Rodney King, a black man who was on parole for robbery, led police on a high-speed chase through the city. When he did stop, police beat him with batons for about 15 minutes while over a dozen officers stood by and watched.
It’s not an uncommon story in today’s highly polarized world of social media and cases of police brutality. But in 1991, someone caught the beating on tape, which was not a common occurrence 25 years ago.
King had broken bones, broken teeth, a skull fracture — and even brain damage.
What has changed since the Rodney King case?
In Los Angeles, Rodney King’s case brought the city’s broken police department to light.
Twenty five years later, it’s a “department transformed”:
- The federal government and LAPD entered into a consent decree, or an agreement with the federal government that outlines specific reforms for troubled law enforcement agencies. It took 10 years for the consent decree to take shape. There are currently 14 U.S. cities under consent decrees with the U.S. Justice Department.
- The Los Angeles Police Department still has a “disturbingly high kill rate,” according to Earl Ofari Hutchinson of the Los Angeles Urban Roundtable. That kill rate includes the 2014 shooting of a mentally ill man named Ezell Ford.
- In 1992, more than 60 percent of the LAPD was white. As of April 2017, it was a little more than 30 percent white.
- The LAPD publishes all reports of use of force and officer-involved shootings online, though the American Civil Liberties Union has accused the department of failing to comply with California’s public records laws.
- There’s a civilian inspector general who oversees excessive force and other complaints about LAPD. The IG’s job arose from the Rodney King riots and a 228-page report detailing how the riots happened and what can be done to prevent them in the future.
- The LAPD has rolled out new de-escalation techniques in an effort to avoid situations that give rise to excessive force and officer-involved shootings.
Although Los Angeles still has a ways to go, the riots served as a grim wakeup call for a troubled departments. Officer-involved shootings and killings in other cities in recent years have also sparked debate about how the police can better interact with the citizens they’re paid to protect.
If you or someone you love has been the victim of police brutality or excessive force, contact Jacqui Ford’s office today.