The protests in Los Angeles by the death of George Floyd bring painful memories of other tragic unrest in the city against police brutality towards black citizens.
As in the current demonstrations, episodes of Rodney King in 1992, and in the poor neighborhood of Watts in 1965 were fueled by the police violence against black men.
The assault of King by four officers of the Los Angeles police (LAPD) was videotaped by a passerby, a precursor of the pictures viral on social networks by the death of Floyd in Minneapolis at the hands of a white police officer.
“In many ways, has changed only the year in which it occurred,” said the professor of law of the University of Southern California (USC), Jody David Armour.
“This pattern is pervasive and persistent pattern of police brutality against black americans urges mass protests”, he continued. “That knee in the neck of George Floyd is in many ways the knee of the united States in the neck of the united States black. It is a symbol.”
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This is an opinion that many share, from the legend of NBA, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar –who told the television network CBS that “nothing has changed from what they assumed was a traffic stop routine for Rodney King”– to the protesters who have filled the streets this week.
Jessica Hubbert, a 30-year old protester in Hollywood, said that the LAPD that “it has not improved anything in Los Angeles… still protesting, we do harm.”
Activists and academics highlight some differences, especially with respect to the racial identities of those involved.
Although the areas are mostly black in the south Los Angeles like the Watts were the focus of the violence in 1992 and 1965, have remained quiet in recent days.
Looting and clashes are concentrated in tourist spots like Hollywood and in prosperous areas such as Beverly Hills and Santa Monica.
John Jones III, a community leader in Watts, is the one who has called for calm in this and other surrounding regions.
“The people here definitely are following what is happening throughout the city… understand the anger and the rage,” but “we’ve already gone through this a few times… know what that means a riot, the destroy the neighborhood,” said Jones, who runs the children’s club, and distributes meals.
He explained that young people of the community have moved to other areas as the center to protest, and made clear that there can be “100% sure” that none is involved in looting or other crimes there.
Any way, the “journalism of the smart phones today enables you to show “more than a face in the looting,” said Allissa Richardson, author of “Bearing Witness While Black” and assistant professor of journalism at USC.
“With the riots of Watts or Rodney King, you saw people of color doing most of the damage in their own community,” he recalled. “We are now seeing (…) activists are targets that come, destroy and deface property.”
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In spite of 2,700 arrests for criminal activities during these days, the authorities of Los Angeles have not been informed about any death in the protests in progress. Some 63 were killed in the riots of King.
The fact that the death of Floyd did not occur at the hands of the LAPD may have dropped the anger, Jones said.
“In 92 I think it hit a little more close to home… it was our own police,” he said. “The position was to do what we can to feel our pain”. “Like this hurts a lot,” he said.
Both the level of organization, such as the identity of the protesters, is also different in the era of the movement “Black Lives Matter” (“The lives of black people matter”, said Armour.
“Many of the protesters seen in these protests are not black,” he said, pointing to many young whites, asians, and latinos also participate.
“I think that there is a growing recognition… that we have profound problems when it comes to valuing the lives of black people,” he said.
Hubbert, the protester in Hollywood, said that comparisons with the Rodney King or Watts are not significant in comparison with the trauma that blacks have suffered for centuries.
“The 92 doesn’t mean anything,” he said. “We’re fighting for the last 500 years of black people… We are tired, continue to kill!”.
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