The 1992 "Angelazo,@ Los Angeles, U.S.A.: "A House Divided Against Itself . . ."
By Victor M. Rodriguez
Department of Chicano and Latino Studies
California State University, Long Beach
(Abbreviated article, for references contact the author. Chapter 2 in Latino Politics in the United States: Race, Ethnicity, Gender and Class in the Mexican American and Puerto Rican Experience (2nd edition, 2012), previous versions of this article appeared in the Blueprint for Social Justice, Loyola University and the Newsletter of the Society for the Study Social Problems)
The events that rocked the city of Los Angeles on May of 1992 opened a new chapter in race relations in the United States. These events became a metaphor about what is ailing U. S. society. The United States is not a society neatly divided into black and white Anglo-Saxon worlds; it is a shattered glass whose pieces represent the various racial and ethnic groups that strive to become a part of the "mainstream." The mainstream is the concrete fulfillment of the materialistic "American dream." Its realization, in the concrete lives of the myriad of the majority of the communities of color communities that make up the United States, is becoming increasingly elusive.
Despite expectations to the contrary, the Los Angeles rebellion did not create a significant change in attitudes toward one of the root causes of racial/ethnic antagonism in Los Angeles. A survey carried out by UCLA professor, Lawrence Bobo, (1992) following the events, indicated that social barriers to mobility were still not seen as the main culprits for high poverty levels among minorities. The worldviews of Latinos and blacks were relatively similar in that 76 % of blacks and 68 % of Latinos felt that "social barriers" in some sense "caused" higher poverty amongst these groups. On the other hand, only 50% of Anglos and 57% of Asians feel that social barriers were to blame for poverty levels. In fact, only 61% of Anglos and Asians feel that more spending to assist Latinos and blacks is necessary to resolve poverty levels. These attitudinal levels were not changed significantly by the events in Los Angeles (Mandel, 1993). The Atwo nations@ the Kerner Commission talked about in the 1960s is still present in the southern California social landscape. Two worlds and two perspectives: one an individualistic understanding of social ills held by whites, and one a more systemic, institutional perspective that shapes the understanding of communities of color.
On April 29, 1992, when the Simi Valley, California white jury delivered a not guilty verdict for four Los Angeles policemen that were being tried in the beating of African American Rodney G. King, the city was stunned in disbelief. As the news spread like a wildfire throughout the city, Los Angeles became engulfed in rioting, looting, shooting, and protests.
While the initial incidents of violence took place within a sector of the African American community of South Central Los Angeles, in a few hours they had spread to the Latino, and other racial/ethnic, communities within the city. Forty-one (out of fifty-three who died) that were killed by gunshot wounds, ostensibly by the "forces of order," nineteen were Latinos. One policeman who killed a Salvadorean national the second night had fatally shot an African American person in 1987, an incident that had been protested by the black community forcing Chief Gates of the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) to criticize the police officer. Eventually, more than twenty cities in southern California experienced incidents of violence and protest.
Thousands of California local and state police forces, supported by units of the U.S. armed forces patrolled the city of Los Angeles in the days following the worst urban social conflagration the United States has ever experienced. Further, hundreds of Immigration and Naturalization Service, Federal Bureau of Investigation, and Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents, swept the city's communities like a swarm. Undocumented immigrants particularly were singled out and became, all of a sudden, blamed for what ails southern California.
Units of the Marine Corps that were deployed in the city following the disturbances had been part of the troops that had participated in the military action against President Manuel Noriega in the republic of Panama. Also, some of the army units deployed throughout the city from Fort Ord, California, had been involved in combat against Iraq in the Persian Gulf.
During the uproar, fifty-three persons lost their lives while 2,400 more were injured and thousands arrested. More than a thousand structures were set on fire and damages reached hundreds of millions of dollars in direct losses in this city, better known for its film industry and palm trees than for its social conflicts. Los Angeles, the second largest city of the United States was rocked by such an outburst of rage that analysts are still trying to discern its causes. But, "public opinion" had already made up its mind about the culprits.
In the aftermath of the disturbances, a Los Angeles Times poll in May 1992 found that 50% of those polled called for moral leadership from within inner-city communities (read blacks and Latinos) and a CBS poll found that 43% of those polled attributed the causes of the incidents to "breakdown in family values" while only 35% blamed "government neglect." This predominantly white majority public opinion was the target of former Vice President Dan Quayle=s comments that year about family values. The subtle message was that "these people" lived immoral lives and therefore engaged in immoral acts of violence. This criminalization of what was a violent social action led officials to ignore almost completely the underlying causes of the rebellion. The ALaw and Order@ theme used so effectively to quash the social movements of the 1960s, was reinvigorated in liberal California.
The events, plastered on prime-time television, broadcasted live for hours, seemed to be beamed from a far away third-world nation. Yet, through the great technological advances of satellite, microwave communications, video, and computer graphics we could experience the rage and feel the heat of the fires right in our own living rooms.
Despite the intensive media coverage and the thousands of words that have attempted to capture the context for this "Angelazo," many were grappling for an explanation. Despite visits to the ravaged local neighborhoods by politicians of all stripes, including then President George Bush Sr., despite its impact on the 1992 elections discourse, local, and state commissions report, it still seems that the national elites have not discerned the content of the message sent by this rebellion.
While some analysts have focused on the broad participation of all ethnic sectors as evidence of the class basis of this rebellion, the overwhelming majority of those involved were African American, Latino, and Asian. Race and ethnicity were the most important factors in any contextualization of this rebellion. What happens in American society is that being Latino or black means a greater likelihood of being in a subordinate social and economic class. Communities of color clearly understand this reality, but the white elites still do not.
Additionally, although the media has tended to characterize this conflict as a black/white issue, in fact, this is probably the first "multicultural" uprising in the United States. While the media and the Hollywood industry still represented Los Angeles as a black and white city, the reality is that in 1992, 39% of the population was Latino, by the year 2000, the Latino population rose to 45% of all Angelinos, and whites, who represented 39% of the population in 1992, declined to only 32% of the population in 2000. Despite the portrayal of Los Angeles in 1992 as an Anglo and African American cauldron of conflict, only 10% of the city=s population was black. Within the Los Angeles Unified School District, more than thirty languages were spoken in the classrooms. This city is probably the most multilingual city in the United States, it is also a place where various forms of bilingual education became the law of the land.
Ironically, the center of the rebellion was South Central Los Angeles, for example, this district, which encompasses the area most devastated by the 1992 rebellion and the 1965 Watts uprising, is today 50.1% Latino and 44.8% black. Within the city of Los Angeles proper, more than 40% of the population is foreign-born. This is an area that increasingly has become more polarized and stratified.
Collective Behavior in the United States
What took place in Southern California cannot be reduced to individual psychology. Focusing on individual psychology will confuse and lead away from developing a frame of reference that will make sense of these events. The focus needs to be on the social and collective nature of human social life. Collective behavior is an inherent part of our humanity and must be placed within the context of ordinary people responding to extraordinary situations.
During the last decade of the nineteenth century, a French sociologist, Gustave Le Bon, was asking himself the same questions we pose today. Why do people participate in such seemingly irrational political or social upheavals? Le Bon was partially responding to some of the social conflicts that accompanied the modernization and industrialization of France. Today, those who speak about "animalistic behavior" are for the most part coinciding with Le Bon's analysis. He thought that people's behavior in crowds is reduced to the "lowest common denominator." The main difference with what happens today in the United States and what happened in France during the eightteenth century is the intense process of racialization that accompanies these characterizations of those who engage in social protest (Rodriguez, 2005). This process of racialization becomes intensified if the protestors are persons of color.
Le Bon notwithstanding, the issue is not so simple. While it may give us a false sense of understanding and social distance from the behavior pervading the social conflagration in Los Angeles, to label such behavior as sub-human truly misses the point. These were not only violent irrational outbursts growing out of frustration, in reality there was a rational structure to these events. There was leadership, division of labor, and clearly discernible behavioral patterns and a process in these events. These were not the first or the last of these scenes in the United States' race/ethnic relations drama.
One characteristic of these events is that just like in the 1965 Watts insurrection, during the Los Angeles 1992 insurrection one could see looters stopping at red lights and crosswalks with their trunks full of stolen goods. We also could see looters helping other female looters when they tripped over and fell to the floor because of the heavy load they were carrying. How can we make sense of such seemingly contradictory images?
First, as much sociological research has clearly demonstrated, not all members of a crowd share the same emotions and feelings. During the 1970 Kent State riot, which resulted in the killing of four students and the wounding of nine others, participants were shown to have different feelings and proclivities. The crowd that seemed to confront the National Guard was not a homogeneous mass. There was no "herd instinct."
The violence that has pervaded this city was indicative of a social insurrection. As in other similar events through history we will eventually find that many ordinary people were part of the set of events that rocked the city. We can be made to feel more guarded and protected by labeling the participants as anarchic "hoodlums" or "riff raff" but we must not allow ourselves to be coddled into a false sense of security.
For example, recent 1990 census data provides proof of this fact. The first outbursts of this rebellion originated not from the poorest districts of Los Angeles but from its most stable neighborhoods. This tends to support the notion of the "continuing significance of race" within American society. The basic sense of frustration arising from African Americans was their treatment as second-class citizens, even when gainfully employed and living stable lives (Dunn & Hubler, 1992). Latinos, who are historically represented as passive, docile, and malleable, engaged in collective behavior in areas like Pico-Union, a center of newly arrived Central American immigrants. A significant number of these Central American immigrants--Salvadoreans, Guatemalans--are also political refugees. While most of them are poor, they are part of the working poor and not part of a Awelfare dependent,@ stigmatized and Ainner city@ lumpen population so prevalent in the popular culture=s imaginary.
Genesis of the Social Despair
This social insurrection evidenced the fine and tenuous basis of community in Los Angeles in a way that no natural disaster had ever accomplished. The bond that holds society together is the shared agreement that legitimizes social norms. These rules have power over us because we have some sense that they have some measure of reasonability and fairness and that they somehow apply to all persons.
This tenuous consensus was shattered by the jury's verdict on April 29, 1992. The majority of the residents of Los Angeles, as surveys clearly evidenced, felt that the verdict was a miscarriage of justice. Simi Valley, where the trial took place, while not the bigoted community the media had projected is still, sociologically, very distant from Los Angeles's rich ethnic diversity. This city had become a site where law enforcement officers found refuge while working for the city of Los Angeles, but it was also a "refuge" for other whites and upwardly mobile minorities to escape from Los Angeles' problems. In some ways, it was a site for Awhite flight@ just like Orange County was during the 1960s and 1970s.
But this verdict was merely a catalyst that unleashed many forces that were festering in U. S. society. Forces that had accumulated with an intensity and a force that had weakened and undermined the hold of social norms over people's behavior. Los Angeles had become a matrix where various ethnic communities, while sharing common geographic spaces at some points of their everyday life, lived in separate cultural spaces. One cultural space was marked with material abundance, in which law enforcement was really there to Aprotect and serve,@ although the other cultural spaces were marked by poverty, declining social services in deteriorating neighborhoods, and a law enforcement system that harassed and stigmatized them. The bonds that created community were facing a challenge, and they had lost their legitimacy. For communities of color, the daily experience of racialization perpetuated their growing sense of them as Anonwhite@ which in our society means not dominant, not entirely AAmerican@ not fully human (Chavez, 2002). Particularly for Latinos, this sense of Aotherness@ was clearly expressed in popular culture expressions like the late 1990s Chicano rap of Kid Frost where a sense of being the Aracialized other@ was clearly expressed in the lyrics (Chavez, 2002).
These bonds that keep Los Angeles society and most United States communities together, especially in large urban areas, were weakened during the previous two decades before the rebellion. The process of healing that supposedly took place after the 1965 Watts rebellion never reached fruition. The roots of that incident and this recent one have hardly been addressed. The origins of this crisis lies not in the Rodney G. King trial and its aftermath, but deep in the core of contemporary U. S. society. The rendering of the verdicts were just a spark that hit the powder keg of the nation.
Joining the Ranks of The Third World?
Some regions of the United States are increasingly becoming mirror images of the countries that we have disdainfully labeled the "third world." Third world nations that confront declining incomes and rising external debts have historically been fertile ground for social unrest. Globalization has meant the reproduction of third-world conditions inside of the metropolis. Because parallel to these super exploited nations in the global economy, large segments of U. S. society have become places where rising poverty, despair, hopelessness, and rage, are only contained by the state's coercive apparatus. Law enforcement has clearly assumed the role of an occupying army in these barrios and inner city cores.
The Los Angeles Police Department had become in the last decade before the rebellion probably one of the most "militarized" and proactive police department in the United States. Its policy of active enforcement (with very high arrest rates of minorities) is almost the civilian counterpart of "low intensity conflict" strategies carried out by U.S. military in the Third World in the 1980s. The cuts in the state=s budgets as a result of Proposition 13 led to a reduction in the budgetary resources invested in policing in Los Angeles, then LAPD Chief of Police Darryl Gates, militarized the department in order to face a large community with fewer resources. In fact, despite the talk about how armed the populace of Las Angeles was, not one policeman died during the rebellion. Of the 239 shooting victims, only three of them were policemen. Law enforcement agencies had overwhelming firepower while the rebellious masses did not.
One of the reasons for the militarization of the Los Angeles Police Department is the very small ratio of policemen to the large population of Los Angeles. Other cities like New York had twice the number of police officers that Los Angeles had. In some sense the LAPD had to adapt to the challenge of a relatively small police force. Obviously, they chose to implement a racist policy on what was in fact a society bursting with social problems. These communities became the new "internal third worlds."
In some sense, these places have been created by processes of segregation that, although more subtle, hidden, and covert than thirty years before, still have the same overall effect. Institutional racism is still alive and well and operates in more covert ways than in earlier decades. Real estate, insurance, and banking have for years used and still use illegal redlining practices to avoid investing social and economic resources in these internal "third worlds."
Recent studies of the banking system have evidenced clear patterns of discrimination in lending practices. The Atlanta Journal/Constitution newspaper published a series in 1988 that evidences this clear pattern of discrimination. These inner-city districts have become places where despair and hopelessness abounds and from these emotions, righteous indignation and rage are just a short step away. A decade after the rebellion, studies document that these segregating and discriminating practices continue today (Stein & Laila, 2003; Turner et al., 2002).
The rage was also fueled by heavy-handed police tactics within these minority communities. The LAPD was criticized by the Christopher Commission, a commission whose role was to audit the police department's activities in light of heavy public criticism. Similarly, during the summer of 1992, a study completed for the Los Angeles County Supervisors sharply criticized the Sheriff's Department record of police brutality, particularly against members of minority groups. These law enforcement agencies have compounded the inner-city problems by trying to deal with issues for which they have no cultural competency.
During the rebellion, the rage overflowed the upper edges of the forces of order's ability to contain it. During those days, for a brief period of time, the streets of Los Angeles were in the power of the masses, anarchic masses notwithstanding.
What underlies the forces that were unleashed by the opening of the floodgates? What raw nerve was snapped when the Simi Valley jury delivered its verdict of not guilty for four white policemen?
Growing Social Inequality
It seems obvious that in the last two decades before the rebellion social inequality had become more visible and intense in the United States. Numerous politicians of all political stripes blamed both the Ronald Reagan and George Bush Sr. administrations for creating the conditions for the social unrest. The truth of the matter is that the roots of the growing chasm between the rich and the poor could not be placed entirely on the lap of the Reagan and/or Bush administration. In reality, while the social and economic policies of both the Reagan and the Bush administration compounded the increasing polarization, they did not create this social trend.
The growing gap that divided the United States then and today has its origins some decades ago when the nation was healing the wounds caused by segregation, separation, and racial hatred. While these attempts to heal were being made a social chasm was being built right underneath society's efforts. The progress that was being achieved gradually in certain programmatic efforts were being set asunder by larger, structural changes in the character of the nation's economic system. In fact, the police forces were handed a situation that they are not able to cope with. During those days debates in the United States about "community policing" created much discourse but never became the panacea that many of its proponents hoped it to be.
While the "great society" efforts were being implemented, the process of restructuring and de-industrialization was rapidly gaining momentum throughout the United States. In addition to the dismantling and de-funding of federal programs like Aid for Dependent Children and Families (AFDC), other major structural changes were impacting the destiny of the poor. These poor also include the high percentage of communities of color like Latinos and blacks who are poor. This social and economic trend has had a dramatic impact on this nation's social structure and specifically on the relationship between the socio-economic classes of the United States. This secular social trend has challenged the U.S. middle class, has created a seemingly permanent group of persons mired in poverty (which in the popular culture are constructed as people of color), and has made even more difficult the forging of a national political consensus.
A Post-Industrial Society for A Global Economy
One result of the rationalization of the United States industrial production has been the relative de-industrialization of its economic base. As industries have vied to compete in the global market they have abandoned local U. S. communities and located their manufacturing processes in places where the costs of production are lower. From the northern border of Mexico to the Asian nations of the Pacific Rim, U.S. capitalism has globalized even farther its manufacturing activities.
This process of rationalization has had two faces, one, the process of corporate restructuring undertaken by major industrial and financial enterprises, and two, de-industrialization. The corporate restructuring is one way that corporate America has utilized to create leaner and supposedly more efficient units that can compete more effectively in today's markets. One result of corporate restructuring has been the merger mania that has engulfed many corporate sectors in the last few years. Another contemporary outcome has been the Aoutsourcing@ of productive activities to other parts of the world, including highly skilled work.
The merger process has obviously not created new productive capacity but has allowed many corporate firms to reduce costs in order to pay for the high costs of buyouts and mergers. Additionally, they have, in some cases, been able to streamline their bureaucracies and focused their services on the most profitable areas while outsourcing others. At the same time, many workers and middle-level management had found themselves without a job in an increasingly weakened economy.
Parallel to this process, the de-industrialization trend that has changed the character of the U. S. economy in the last two decades has eliminated hundreds of thousands of good paying, union-protected manufacturing jobs throughout the nation. Jobs that provided the economic basis for the rise of many United States workers to a middle-class status in the U. S. stratification system. Jobs that because of the apprentice programs had provided an entry-level door into the economy and specifically entry into the industrial sector for many young U. S. citizens. These entry-level jobs, which are paths to further advancement into a secure middle-class status, have experienced a dramatic decline.
This process has also changed the character of the United States' large urban areas which have experienced dramatic transformations. Urban areas used to be centers of manufacturing, today they are centers of a myriad of services. From financial to information transfer services to trade and commerce, cities today have become emblematic of the post-industrial economy.
In substitution for manufacturing jobs, this service sector has created a significantly large number of jobs. But, these jobs seem to be polarized between jobs that require high levels of education at one end and low-skill, low-paying jobs at the other end. Many people of color and poor whites have found themselves locked out of the economy by this new "post-industrial" economy. The present state of extreme poverty experienced by some groups like Puerto Ricans and African Americans in New York and Chicago are partly the result of these urban transformations.
Race, Poverty, and Social Inequality
The very latest poverty statistics released by the Census Bureau in August of 1991 were startling to say the least. In general, there were 2.1 million more poor persons in the United States since 1989. The poverty rate had increased from 12.8 % in 1989 to 13.5 % in 1990.
In fact, one in five U.S. children lived in poverty and not only did they continue to be overrepresented among the poor, this proportion of children who are poor continued to increase. Among all the industrial nations of the world the United States had the highest proportion of children who are poor. This nation, among industrialized nations of the world, was the nation with the highest infant mortality rate.
Michael B. Katz, a historian whose work has focused on U. S. history, and especially on the history of our welfare system, published a book in 1989 entitled, "Undeserving Poor." The subtitle: "From the War on Poverty to the War on Welfare." This is a very clever description of what we have been seeing in the United States during the last fifteen years.
Katz explains that definitions of who are the deserving poor have shifted and that social policy and the popular culture's understanding of the poor hardly ever has had much to do with the reality of poverty. Today is not much different than yesterday. The possible exception is that in California, being poor means being Latino or black, not white.
When people think about a family on welfare, a distinct image appears in people's minds: an African American or a Latino woman with a large number of kids. This image rises despite the overwhelming social scientific evidence that this is far from the truth. In fact, the average family on welfare during the early 1990s was made up of 2.2 persons.
The 1992 electoral campaign of white supremacist David Duke was barely defeated. Yet it was effective in gathering a large proportion of Louisiana's highly educated young voters. The subtle, encoded messages were clearly understood by the electorate. When Duke mentioned in his speeches the "underclass" people knew exactly who he was talking about. When he talked about "blood sucking welfare cheats," everyone, without using any epithet, knew who he was referring to. Popular culture in the United States has reached a very coherent consensus. Blacks and Latinos are sucking our resources by their indiscriminate use of the welfare system.
The reality is so different.
First, at least half of the poor are not black or Latino, they are white. An essay in the December 16, 1991 edition of Time by Barbara Ehrenreich provides some interesting statistics about this issue. Unfortunately, some of her statistics are misleading because in her essay she says that whites constitute 61% of those receiving welfare when in fact, those figures include a good percentage of Latinos who classify themselves as whites.
Nevertheless, whites still constitute a major portion of those on welfare recipients. The major difference is that Latinos and blacks constitute 66 % of the poor in our central cities. Obviously, when the media and people in our communities see the images of the central city poor they assume that the overwhelming majority of the poor are black or Latino across the nation.
Conversely, in non-metropolitan areas, those areas outside of our cities, including rural areas, are very different with respect to who are the poor. Only 29 % of the poor who live outside of our large metropolitan areas are Latino or black. While being poor may not seem qualitatively different whether it is in a non-metropolitan area or a rural area, the reality is that it does make a difference.
Racial and economic segregation is sharper within the core of U. S. cities. In other words, most of one's neighbors in the city core will also tend to be poor and persons of color. This is not always the case outside of metropolitan areas. Neighborhoods in general are less segregated and the poor can very often be found among the middle and working classes. Hidden and unobtrusive, but they are there. The stigma is less powerful in the suburbs, particularly for poor whites, than it is for people of color within the city core.
Inner Cities: Economic Deserts
Metaphorically, the inner core of our cities are like deserts they are to be economically arid, dry and barren, truly devoid of anything, including hope. In fact, the etymology of the word desert goes back to the Latin word desertum or abandoned. That is the best description of the effects of the process that has transformed the heart of our large urban areas.
The corporate restructuring and de-industrialization of the United States that received its momentum a few decades ago is the underlying context for the changes experienced by our cities. They are also the stage within which communities like South Central Los Angeles, South Bronx, West and South Chicago have been transformed in areas of anger and despair.
For example, Puerto Ricans and other Latinos are facing tremendous economic and social challenges. While the poverty rate in 1990 for Latinos in general was 28.1%, 40.6 % of Puerto Ricans lived in poverty. In 1990, 51.2 % of Puerto Rican children lived in poverty (U.S. Census 1991). Thirty-nine percent of households are female headed households. The rate for African American female headed households was 48.1 %.
The accumulation of disadvantages brought by a legacy of racism, the present dynamics of institutionalized racism, coupled with the basic economic transformations the nation is undergoing, have created a wasteland inhabited by people of color in the heart of what use to be the industrial hubs of the United States.
Epilogue?: Forging A Political Consensus
The trial that the United States faces is seemingly overwhelming. There are no recipes, no herbal teas and no home remedies that can magically heal the wounds. How can the United States reach a political consensus that will facilitate a national concerted effort to address these economic, social, and political challenges? A consensus in the past was established by heralding all the moral outrage that was present within the majority Anglo/white community about the moral injustice of segregation. That reservoir of moral outrage is empty today. In fact, we are running on empty. The 1992 U.S. presidential elections probably raised some hopes but the problems are structural in character. Today, with terrorism and homeland security being the major focus, the theme of racial justice is not part of the national political discourse.
During the cold war a consensus for raising military budgets was built around the notion of a "common enemy." The evil empire was the analgesic that allowed us to endure the pain of social cutbacks, reduced services, and decreasing maintenance of the nation's social and economic infrastructure. Then as today, the United States is experiencing social problems that are blooming.
Yesterday, policy planners were concerned with building a defensive/offensive capability that would protect the national integrity and security of the United States. Today, every child that has to grow and be socialized within the economic deserts that plague the nation's urban areas is a bomb waiting to explode. The concern for terrorism that pervades our contemporary culture focuses on the external, global issues at the expense of the internal and domestic social and economic challenges. Instead of social programs, urban issues receive legal repression. The recent passage (1998) by 62 % of Californians of Proposition 21, to increase penalties and make it easier to send juveniles into the criminal justice system will potentially continue the stigmatization and criminalization of communities of color.
Unfortunately, today there is no "evil empire" to force the majority into a consensus, since the moral outrage reservoirs are empty, what remains is narrow self-interest. This can also be a productive path if developed creatively. What is at stake today is the issue of national unity, a major historical concern for the founders of this nation as well as contemporary analysts.
The real issues of national security that have obsessed the United States for so long are today of a domestic nature. While we focus on other lands the acid that corrodes the United States= social and economic structure is not external but spawned by national policies and economic rationality. More dangerously, as we move deeper into the twenty-first century the basis for this nation's democratic processes in an increasingly culturally diverse society are being undermined by economic processes.
Hanna Arendt said during the 1970s, and Arendt is far from being a liberal, that the main contradiction of the capitalist system is that it presupposes that people can be politically equal even though they are economically unequal.
The United States is slowly pulling the economic rug out of the foundations of its democratic system. A nation that demographically is rapidly changing and becoming more racially and ethnically diverse, a nation that is becoming more economically polarized, is a "house divided against itself." A house divided against itself can only collapse.
Epilogue to An Epilogue: Or "How Los Angeles= Wounds Fester"
"It cannot be denied that the masses revolt from time to time, but their revolts are always suppressed. It is only when the dominant classes, struck by sudden blindness, pursue a policy which strains social relationships to the breaking-point, that the party masses appear actively on the stage of history and overthrow the power of oligarchies."
B Robert Michels (Political Parties, 1911)
Robert Michels, a German political sociologist, in his thesis about the "Iron Law of Oligarchy" states that large organizations can not but be undemocratic. In the same way, a society dominated by large organizations will also tend to be undemocratic. If we examine the events of the in 1992 Los Angeles, what would be Michel's diagnosis? Have we expanded democracy to include the "others"? Are we left with nothing but cynicism to build on?
LAPD Officers Stacey Koon and Laurence Powell where indicted for violating the civil rights of Rodney King on April 30, 1992. On April 16, 1993, both officers were found guilty of one count for violating Mr. King=s civil rights and later sentenced to thirty months in a federal correctional camp. While the tension over the impending verdicts was lifted, the core issues that gave rise to the uprising remain even today (2005). Most knowledgeable observers of the communities that make up Los Angeles never expected anything serious to occur, even in the event of another acquittal of all the defendants. There were not high expectations for a just verdict that year. This explains the kind of euphoria that swept many communities of Los Angeles in response to the guilty verdicts on these two officers that became symbolic of the abuse against an entire community.
In some sense the expectations about how the Los Angeles insurrection would change national discourse on the challenges that face our nation's cities were unfounded. A 1994 poll by the New York Times and CBS evidences that the racial/ethnic divide is alive and well in America. Only 37 % of Americans believe race relations were good. Blacks and whites still have widely different perspectives on solutions to race relations issues and problems. While 66 % of blacks still support preferential hiring when there has been job discrimination in the past, this policy only received the support of 28 % of whites. In 1996, the voters of California voted in favor of Proposition 209 to dismantle the use of affirmative action in the public sphere. Again, this measure indicated the continuing racial polarization that pervades California as the majority of whites voted in favor of the proposition and the majority of people of color voted against it.
Many white Los Angelenos, given the worsening economic conditions in California would probably agree with Sheila Watson, a forty-four-year-old homemaker from Moyer, Alabama who told the New York Times in 1994 that "Things have changed for the worse for white people." It is then not surprising to find that although change has occurred in Los Angeles following the riots, the fundamental causes of the uprising have remained untouched. We have changed without changing.
Los Angelenos also wanted "change." The effect of the insurrection was devastating to the city. Its sense of identity had been shattered. Los Angeles had always projected itself as the most diverse city in the nation and saw its strength precisely in that diversity. Many now feel that its diversity rather than its strength might be its Achilles heel and its weakness.
A Cacophony of Ironies
The first effort at healing the wounds of the city involved naming a white male to head the efforts to re-build Los Angeles after the insurrection. Peter Ueberroth, a businessman from Newport Beach and whose claim to fame had been organizing the successful 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. Unfortunately, the title of his efforts, ARe-build L.A. Foundation@ did not bode good things for Los Angeles. Some have argued that Los Angeles should not be rebuilt, rather recreated on a more just foundation.
But Ueberroth is a good organizer and a well connected businessman, but as many of the efforts in the aftermath of the insurrection, his efforts are tinged with irony. The fact that he is from Orange County, the county adjoining Los Angeles, is in itself ironic. For years after the 1965 Watts rebellion this county became the haven for the white flight that ensued in the 1960s and 1970s. Now, the knights in white shining armor that were to save the city would have to come from those communities that had abandoned the city earlier. He proposed to re-build Los Angeles without the use of public funds (in May 1994, Mr. Ueberroth resigned his position with Rebuild LA).
Another irony was the naming of Willie L. Williams as the first African American to ever manage the LAPD with 9,000 officers and 3,000 civilian staff, covering an area of 467 square miles (1209 km5). The new chief of the LAPD replaced Daryl Gates whose term was marked by controversy and was sharply criticized by the Christopher Commission. Chief Williams comes from the police department that was involved in the bombing of a whole inner-city block to end a standoff between the Philadelphia Police Department and the Black nationalist group, MOVE. One wonders what is kept in store for this city in terms of "riot control" in future civil disturbances. Members of the LAPD have disclosed, as they were preparing for the rendering of the verdicts on the Rodney King 1993 civil rights case, that they will have greater flexibility this time around in dealing with "crowd control." But Chief Williams only lasted until 1997 when Bernard Parks, also African American, was named chief until 2002, when again a white police chief was named, William Bratton 
The final irony lies in that one of the last acts of the Bush administration was to order the justice department to prosecute the four police officers that beat Rodney King for violating his civil rights. The prosecuting team did a very effective job in presenting a strong case against officers Koon and Powell. They also were able to have a multiracial jury despite the defense= efforts to eliminate African Americans from the process. On April 16, 1993, only Koon and Powell were found guilty of violating Rodney King=s civil rights, and they spend thirty months in federal correctional camp. Rodney King won a civil suit and received 3.8 million dollars with which he began a record company. The irony is that the leader of the original prosecuting team was Terry White, an African American district attorney. The leader of the prosecutor=s team for the second legal process was Steven Clymer, a white district attorney.
In economic terms there was some progress in the city's "rebuilding efforts." In some areas progress has been greater than in other areas. In cities like Lynwood, 85 % of buildings damaged or destroyed were rebuilt. But in the City of Angels itself only 17 % of the buildings that received major damage had been rebuilt by 1994. Also, the polarization that pervaded race relations in the city remains. The problems raised at a national level by the Kerner Commission in the 1960s and the California McCone Commission are still present in Los Angeles. While there are improvements and important advances in some areas, in terms of police brutality, segregation and unemployment, financial and commercial practices all remain basically the same as they were decades before.
In fact, for all the publicity that the federal government received for its efforts in the "rebuilding" of Los Angeles, most of the funding has come from private sources, specifically the insurance companies. The Federal Emergency Management Agency provided about 125 million dollars in grants and other forms of aid. The Small Business Administration has provided about 318 million dollars although the insurance companies have paid out close to 775 million dollars for close to 8,500 claims. Rebuild LA's contribution, is more ambiguous, although officially stated at 500 million dollars many of the funds are actually pledges that did not materialize.
On the other hand, Latinos feel that their suffering has been compounded. Fifty-one per cent of the arrested were Latinos, 30 % of those who died were Latino, 40 % of the businesses destroyed were Latino and yet, according to a study by the Tomas Rivera Center in Claremont, California, denial rates for loans and grants to Latinos has ranged from 76 % to 90 % (Pastor, 1993). Latinos constitute the largest minority group in the city and in the state.
Still, some innovative efforts have sprung from various sources, including the religious sectors. One of them, called the "New City Parish," is the result of a coalition of inner-city Lutheran congregations that have incorporated themselves in order to better coordinate their efforts. Their efforts have ranged from food and clothes distribution immediately following the uprising to the development of a child care center, a tutorial center and a business maintenance service.
Unfortunately, the kind of massive economic aid that would be needed to provide jobs for the thousands of young men and women of this city never materialized. These local community economic development efforts, while necessary, can only be effective as part of an overall economic development plan.
One business sector that is experiencing growth and that is a harbinger of things to come is gun sales. Los Angeles and Orange County (one of the adjoining counties to Los Angeles) were among the top three in handgun sales in California in 1994. Firing ranges were also doing some brisk business.
A Vision for the Future?
Whether or not there is another uprising in Los Angeles in the near future, confidence in the fairness of the nation's institutions has been given a respite. But this city is still an armed camp. Whites are either moving or arming themselves because of fear that those same institutions will not be able to protect them from the wrath of disgruntled communities of color. Journalist Dale Maharidge (1996) was able to capture in The Coming White Minority the fear and sense of being in a state of siege that is shaping the worldview of whites in California. What happens in Los Angeles is important, not only because it is the largest city in this state and one of the largest in the nation but because many Ahave come to regard Los Angeles as emblematic of our collective urban future@ (Marks, et al 2003, quoting Dear 2000).
According to a comprehensive study of attitudes of Angelinos ten years after these events, AFear and Loathing in Los Angeles?@ (Marks, et al., 2003) indicates that 20,000 jobs were lost and 5,000 lost permanently. While the report cites a survey by Guerra and Marks (2002) that indicates a greater sense of community and tolerance than expected, contradictorily, but not entirely unexpected, Ahalf of those surveyed believe another riot is likely to occur within the next few years@ (Marks et al. 2003:4). Some 50,000 persons participated in the rebellion, causing damages that are estimated today to be at least 1 billion dollars (Marks, et al., 2003). The events touched off civil disturbances in thirty cities across the nation, and 3,700 police officers, 2,300 highway patrol personnel, 10,000 national guardsmen, and 4,000 army troops were used to quell the insurrection.
The United States will need to refocus the lenses through which it views its diverse communities. In the aftermath of the uprising one of the major television networks was advertising a program about the insurrection. A voice-over was saying "again black and white relations lead to confrontation in our inner cities." In the meantime, the images that were shown were of young Mexican men waving the Mexican flag in front of the Parker Center, the LAPD headquarters during the early stages of the insurrection. The vision needs to be broader so that we can see the other actors in the American drama.
Richard Rodriguez, a Mexican American writer, said in an overly optimistic piece in the Los Angeles Times in 1994 that, "We are without a sense of ourselves entire." I agree with him. This idea of America was formed in the struggle and the oppression of Native Americans, of Mexican Americans in the Southwest, of African Americans, and of Puerto Ricans in the Northeast. We have wanted to deny a part of who we are and yet it comes back and shouts at us in the least expected places: Los Angeles, Washington D.C., San Antonio, Miami . . .
"Can't we all get along?" Yes, maybe, but we must first transcend the stage of denial before we can be stronger. That "other" is the marginalized part of "us," we can learn to know our authentic selves if we can open a true dialogue with each other. Otherwise, the alternative will be less democracy for all and less stability for all. It is chilling to read that in 1993 the Justice Department announced that 300 FBI agents whose jobs had become superfluous because of international changes would be assigned to the nation's cities. An internal "evil empire" perhaps? The continuing xenophobia against undocumented immigrants tends to spill over into the native-born sons and daughters of immigrants. But more dangerous is how divisions based on race are being replicated within communities of color. Native-born and foreign-born Latinos racialize each other in ways that hark back to how the dominant community racialized Latinos as a whole. In schools around the Southwest native-born and foreign-born call each other racial epithets that the dominant society used against them.
Hopefully we will embark down this path not because it is in our best interest but because it is right. Fortunately, the justice system did not "pursue a policy that strains social relationships" this time around. Hopefully, the next steps will be about justice. As Martin Luther King used to say, in freeing others we free ourselves, otherwise Robert Michels will have had the last word.
. This analysis is rooted in decades of involvement in anti-racist training and organizing in the United States. The experiences as Associate Director for Racial Justice Advocacy at the National Offices of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Chicago 1988-90 and as a core trainer and Board member (until 2004) of Crossroads Ministry, an anti-racist organizing and training organization, shaped my understanding and analysis of race in the United States. A version in Spanish of this paper was read at the V International Conference on Hispanic Cultures in the United States, 6-10 of July, 1992 at the Universidad Alcalá de Henares, Madrid, Spain. Journalistic versions of this article in English have appeared in the last years in International Report and in Spanish in Deslindes, Colombia, Claridad, Puerto Rico and El Carillon from Andover, MA. This version was updated (2005) but the analysis was left as close as possible to its original intent, to emphasize the racial character of an event where race and class intersected and where Latinos where invisible to the media.
. In the period immediately after the Mexican American War, which ended with the signing of the Guadalupe Hidalgo Treaty of 1848, the newly conquered community of close to 100,000 Mexicans living in the Southwest, engendered the phenomena of social bandits. Social bandits were people who engaged in illegal activity as a form of social protest against social and economic oppression (Hobsbawn, 1965).
. Because the Civil Rights movement gained the higher moral ground, race-based discourse became tabu unless it was used to remedy the consequences of racism. But today, an ideology of Ablind racism@ has developed where race has been erased from public discourse and a coded language to talk about race has substituted the old racist discourse (Bonilla-Silva, 2003). In fact, legal discourse now argues that unless race is explicitly the purpose of an act of discrimination, in other words, unless Aintention@ to do racial harm can be proved, the courts have determined no racial discrimination case can be supported. At a time when the cultural consensus does not require the use of racial categories to indicate the target group, this new legal perspective will exclude communities of color from being able to effectively use the legal system as protection of their civil rights.
. At least until 1998, when the voters of California approved Proposition 227 that began the dismantling of bilingual education program in the state. This proposition and others that preceded it are indicators of the political racial polarization that marks California, the majority of communities of color voted against Proposition 227, majority of whites voted in favor. For an interesting historical look at the debate around bilingualism and "English Only" politics see Crawford (1992).
.. See Clifford (1992) good source article for the levels of social stratification experienced by the city of Los Angeles. Most of the article's focus is on socio-economic/class issues.
. Le Bon (1946) attempted to understand the violence that followed the French revolution.
. The events that led to the rebellion follow a pattern very similar to the one detailed by the AStructural Strain Theory@ or AValue Added Theory@ of collective behavior by Neil Smelzer (1962).
. In fact, in a study done by George Rude in 1959 of the "criminal riff raff" that participated in the riots that preceded the French revolution of 1789, he found some interesting facts. Of the 662 persons that were killed in the attack of the Bastille prison, all had regular occupations and places of residence.
. Similar patterns have been found in Boston, Detroit, Denver, New York, etc. See "Mortgage Lending in Black and White" in Dollars and Sense April, 1990. For Los Angeles see Rosenblatt and Bates (1991). Recently the California Reinvestment Commission (Stein & Laila, 2003) found a similar pattern in California for African Americans and Latinos.
. Police forces in general, and the LAPD in particular came under additional public focus with the publication of former LAPD detective Rothmiller (1992) This book reveals the inner workings of the Organized Crime Intelligence Division, a unit that became a spying agency of the LAPD. Under its surveillance were Robert Redford, Connie Chung, Rock Hudson, Tom Lasorda etc. The surveillance net was extended even to the city's luminaries.
. See an interesting critique of "Community Policing" by Dean Lovelace, a community activist and Gordon Welty a sociology professor at Wright State University, Ohio in "Community Policing in Dayton: More Flash Than Substance" in the Dayton Daily News May 28, 1992.
. A classic and clear summary of the debate about the "welfare system" in the United States is Marmor (1990). This book also debunks the idea presented by neo-conservatives during the late 1980s that "Great Society" programs "created" poverty. Especially helpful are its pointed critiques of Charles Murray's neo-conservative classic Losing Ground. Unfortunately, President Clinton=s administration in 1996 fell to the ideological influence of the neo-conservatives and dismantled the decades old social support net when the 1996 Welfare Reform Act was approved. The war against welfare was concluded.
.. One early good study on these processes are Bluestone and Harrison (1982) analysis of de-industrialization and their more recent updated analysis (1988).
.. An interesting description of the kinds of jobs the "Reagan Job Machine" was creating is provided by this study by Barry Bluestone and Bennett Harrison "The Great American Job Machine: The Proliferation of Low Wage Employment in the U.S. Economy," prepared for the Joint Economic Committee, U.S. Congress, December 1986.
.. There is a serious need for research about the nature of racism in post-industrial society. The neo-marxist bent of some approaches has been blamed for its failure to look at race as an "economic" force and more as epiphenomena, but in fact, even within this perspective there is room for a contextual understanding of race. There is also a need to break with the black/white model to achieve a true understanding of race relations in the United States today, any effort that does not include the particular experiences of Latinos, Asians etc. will provide a flawed perspective. Bonilla-Silva (2003) begins to lend a focus to a new perspective.
.. Since the number for whites include a certain proportion of Latinos, in order to get to a approximation of the non-Latino white, I deducted Latino and black central city poor from the total of central city poor. Most of the "residue" should be white, Asian, and Native American poor.
.. This despite the evidence and wisdom that cities can be productive places for the national economy see Jacobs, Jane, Cities and the wealth of nations : principles of economic life New York : Random House, 1984.
.. Despite the hoopla over the well publicized efforts at "Rebuilding LA" the mood in suburban Southern California has been very cool to linking with the inner-city communities in a circle of life. All of Orange County's Congress representatives, a suburban adjoining county to L.A. voted against massive federal aid to Los Angeles. Ironically, most persons outside of southern California make no distinction between Orange County cities such as Irvine or Anaheim and Los Angeles. The failure to link with Los Angeles will affect the whole region economically. See Hubler (1992).
. After September 11, 2001, the fear of Islam and Muslim terrorism has replaced the Aevil empire@ as a divisive and uniting image for the United States. It has served to fan the flames of nationalism, while it has polarized the United States between those who struggle to maintain civil liberties and those who seem willing to give them up in exchange for the false security of the national security state.
.. The recent literature on multiculturalism evidences this concern for national unity. Unfortunately, the issue of justice is not a clearly articulated concern even in the liberal perspective of Schlessinger. See Dinesh D'Souza Illiberal Education and Arthur Schlesinger's The Disuniting of America as examples of early concerns for the disuniting effects of cultural diversity. More recently, Samuel Huntington from Harvard University in a Foreign Policy article in 2004 and a later book and Victor Davis Hanson, a Fresno State University professor of classics writing a book on sociology of assimilation have blamed Mexicans for their presumed inability to assimilate into Anglo-Saxon culture.
. By 1997, despite the fact that 500 corporations had promised they would invest more than 1 billion dollars in riot‑torn South Central Los Angeles few actually delivered on their financial commitments. (Utley 1997).
. Chief Williams left amidst another racially stigmatizing scandal in the Ramparts division of the LAPD. A anti-gang units had used the power of their badges to railroad dozens of Latinos and African Americans into false convictions with fabricated evidence. Ironically, but not surprising, the lead police officer was a Puerto Rican. This confirmed the community=s sense that the LAPD while more Acolorful@ was still an instrument to perpetuate white supremacy.