Sat. Dec 2nd, 2023

Once again, we watched major American cities go up in flames over the horrific killing of an unarmed, defenseless black man in broad daylight.

As Minneapolis began to burn, I flashed back to my memories of April 29, 1992 — the night I found myself in South Central Los Angeles watching my city burn following the acquittal of four officers in the beating trial of Rodney King.

Decades have passed since Rodney King asked us if we couldn’t all just get along. Sure, we brought about “reforms” in policing, banned the deadly use of chokeholds, fired an anti-reform L.A. police chief and brought in L.A.’s first African-American police chief. Told to change the system, we went out and voted — changing our city charter to reflect community policing goals, bringing in more black and brown elected officials. Eventually we elected an African-American president of the United States.

But it has never been enough. Seemingly without pause, an ever growing number of black men’s faces have flashed across our screens, having succumbed to police misconduct and the use of deadly force like Freddie Gray and Eric Garner. We just saw a horrific video of Ahmaud Arbery being gunned down in Georgia for jogging while being black; a peaceful bird-watching New York man being threatened by a white woman as she reported him to the police as assailing her. And there are many more.

Much has changed since 1992 when it was an uphill battle to even believe that misconduct under the color of authority occurs. As the first California legislator to write legislation post-Rodney King to penalize police falsification of evidence, I recall being assailed as a “cop hater” for striving to ensure police accountability while simultaneously ensuring that communities often most needing police protection — poor, minority communities — were assured of fair policing practices and deployment. In my time, I wrote several bills seeking justice in policing, most of which were uphill battles.

What ties King and Floyd together was the presence of a video. Had King’s beating not been filmed, most likely no one would know his name today; the city would have never burned. He would have simply been another black man sent to a prison system for “resisting arrest” — a system I later also oversaw and sought reforms to change the mass incarceration of minority men.

Would the public have believed George Floyd’s defenders had that video never surfaced? Hell, no. And in the case of King, not even a video depicting the beating was enough, leading to acquittal of the officers.

Yet, times have changed, prompting the condemnation of the murder by police chiefs and elected officials alike. But there is a pent-up anger in America and it exploded in living color for all the world to see.

Fueled in part by the vast divide between two political parties in this nation and the massive disruption of our lives due to the lockdowns, a powder keg was building and our “leaders” were too blind to see or feel it as they calculated their upcoming November gamesmanship.

There was rightful anger over the length of time it took for Officer Derek Chauvin to even be arrested for murder. The three cops who stood by and watched the life being squeezed out of a defenseless black man as he called out for his mama were only arrested this past week. It’s no wonder people finally let out in a perfect storm of political leadership dysfunction that Minneapolis burned, followed by New York, Los Angeles, Atlanta and I’ve lost count of the many others. Undoubtedly, agitators helped light the kindling, but let’s not pretend that the riots and burning of American cities can be blamed on “outsiders,” as so many city “leaders” have been quick to say. They need to look at their own impotence in enacting structural reforms.

Certainly we’ve made advances in police reforms, including widespread use of dashboard and body cameras, mandatory implicit-bias training and community policing strategies. Our police forces and chiefs, increasingly, are black and brown. Deadly chokeholds have been banned and excessive use of force training has been more widely implemented.

Even still, the Minneapolis area, like other communities across the country, has had a history of tension between the African American community and law enforcement. Derek Chauvin had 18 complaints on his official record, two of which ended in discipline from the department including official letters of reprimand. Officer Tao Thao has six incidents on his record, including one stemming from a 2017 excessive use-of-force lawsuit settled by the city.

Why didn’t Minneapolis’s “woke” mayor speak out on policies that allowed such cops to remain on the job in the first place?

In the aftermath of the protests and riots, politicians have said “go vote” (presumably for them) in response to the uproar, but that’s an inherent part of the problem.

The same status quo asking you to reelect them is the same status quo that was already failing black, brown and poor communities.

Making meaning out of this tragic death means taking a hard look at the policies and those who profit off of the poverty which keeps black and brown communities locked into generational despair in cities across the country. It means challenging police unions to embrace less lethal use of force and becoming an active force in rooting out bad cops.

Simultaneously, it means taking a look at our failed schools, and challenging teacher unions to stop the hypocrisy of calling for police reforms while standing in the way of nullifying key aspects of their own lucrative contracts which have paved the school-to-prison pipeline with bad teachers in too many low-income schools.

Since Rodney King’s beating and the uprising that followed, California resembles Minnesota: represented by a whole lot of “woke” liberal politicians who hold a tight grip on the votes of minority voters. Yet the status of poor and minority folks hasn’t improved much, and bad cops remain on the job.

Undoubtedly, deep structural racism pervades our institutions. Our collective anger is justifiable, but that does not give cause to vandalize, loot, riot and burn down neighborhoods. Justice is blind, but it isn’t stupid. We can simultaneously support law and order while seeking real structural changes to all institutions that have suppressed and snuffed the lives of far too many. The next King or Garner or Floyd is right around the corner, be there a video or not. Let’s prevent as many of those as possible by reforming our police institutions, but also taking a hard look at our status quo.

Gloria Romero previously served as Democratic majority leader in the California Senate.


By Richard Moran

Richard Moran loves to write about sports with the Golden State Online. Before that, he worked as a senior writer at ESPN. Richard grew up in San Diego and graduated from the University of San Diego in 2004, after which he worked as an editor for five years.

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