One year after George Floyd, Los Angeles faces its future and its past


A year ago, George Floyd was assassinated by a policeman in Minneapolis, and the streets of American cities were filled with protesters calling for an end to police killings, in the largest mass civil rights movement in a generation .

In Los Angeles, the unrest that rocked the city for days evoked memories of 1992, when the city erupted into chaos after four officers were acquitted in the beating of Rodney King.

But there was a crucial difference between 1992 and 2020.

After King, unrest devastated south-central Los Angeles, the heart of the black community, killing dozens and burning shops and buildings. After Floyd’s murder, the protests in Los Angeles mostly took place in the whiter, wealthier Westside.

It was intentional, said Patrisse Cullors, co-founder of Black Lives Matter and longtime Los Angeles resident, last year. She described it as part of an effort to bring the voice of disenfranchisement of blacks to communities she said needed to be heard.

With the streets crowded and activists calling not for reform but to “defund” police budgets and channel money into social services, local leaders and voters seemed to buy into the spirit of the movement.

Mayor Eric M. Garcetti has agreed to cut $ 150 million from the police budget, while voters elected a new prosecutor, George Gascón, who has vowed to prosecute cops and send fewer people to jail. As recently as December, the city, facing a budget crisis as well as the race for racial justice, was considering laying off nearly a thousand police officers, according to The Los Angeles Times.

Now, as the nation observes the anniversary of Floyd’s murder, it’s a much different story.

Los Angeles, like many large cities, is inundated with new weapons and continuing violence. Last year there were 305 homicides, up 36% from the previous year, and the highest level in more than a decade.

“The number of guns that are out there is just astonishing,” LAPD Chief Michel Moore said in an interview.

And instead of cutting the police budget, the city council recently approved an increase, and the department is about to start hiring more officers.

“If you want to abolish the police, you’re talking to the wrong mayor,” Garcetti said recently in his State of the City address, speaking from Griffith Park Observatory, which offers panoramic views of the city in below.

To contain the surge in gun violence, the LAPD is relying on some of its old ways, having recently deployed an elite unit to South Los Angeles to stop vehicles for traffic violations in search of ‘guns and men with arrest warrants. It’s a tactic the department has severely restricted in recent years after a Los Angeles Times investigation revealed strong racial inequalities in practice.

Chief Moore said much of the gun violence was linked to gangs and he also blamed the desperation and dislocation of the pandemic, which has closed schools and parks and limited the work of peacebuilders from the gangs. Delays in pandemic-related trials and the district attorney’s policy of largely eliminating cash bonds have also put more criminals on the streets, he said.

“When these gun arrests are not brought to court for months, there is a feeling that zero bail, trials are postponed, delayed, there is a feeling that there are no consequences. “, did he declare.

Much like the Beaten King, Floyd’s murder galvanized a generation of activists. Some, drawn to community organizing in 1992, still work the streets of Los Angeles today, working alongside the police and trying to reduce gang violence.

But unlike today’s new activists, who talk about abolishing and postponing police budgets, Leon Gullette and other older activists believe in a partnership with the police.

“We can’t function without the police,” said Gullette, who started working for Community Build, which works on gang intervention in South Los Angeles, in 1992.

Lex Steppling, who leads a group called Dignity and power now, who advocates police and prison reform, said: “More police does not mean less gun violence. It just means more police.

The rise in gun violence is far from comparable to the levels of the 1990s, when in some years more than a thousand people were killed in Los Angeles. The LAPD has changed dramatically from when Daryl Gates headed the department and officers routinely profiled black citizens and used rams to bring down suspected drug houses.

As young Los Angeles activists take stock of their victories and setbacks over the past year, they say the biggest change could be the number of people who have been made aware of police-related issues and to race, including the money communities spend on law enforcement.

“One of the big things to remember about the uprisings and the attention given to the Black Lives Movement is that there is more attention on public budgets,” said Ivette Alé, an organizer for Dignity and Power. Now. “People know how much communities spend on police and incarceration. You cannot ignore this.

Compiled by Jonathan Wolfe

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