As the 25th anniversary of the Los Angeles Riots approaches (April 29 - May 4), three Virginia Tech experts are available to comment on the historical implications of the protests, what’s changed, what hasn’t, and what work still needs to be done.
Faulkner is a visiting assistant professor in the Department of Political Science. Her areas of expertise include constitutional and administrative law, race and public policy, and critical organization theory.
“When thinking about the L.A. rebellion, I don't think it's very useful to discuss race relations. What happened there had nothing to do with race relations and everything to do with the unchecked power of racist police. It is about systemic racism. The two have to be differentiated because we're not just talking about groups of people figuring out how to get along. We're talking about official and unofficial public policies that target a marginalized people — African Americans in this instance — and systematically mark them for unfair treatment and even death. So, what remains the same? The system itself. We are, however, having more open conversations about the role of race in our lived experiences.”
“As a country we have continued to reduce racial problems to the level of individual actions. If a police officer behaves inappropriately, we discuss it in the context of one bad apple among many good ones. We have never grappled with the structural component of ideas and behaviors. We have never investigated the tree's rotting roots as the primary cause of the bad fruit. It's just so much easier to scapegoat individuals. Some problems reoccur over the course of history simply because they weren't adequately addressed the first time.”
Reed is a professor of sociology and director of the Race and Social Policy Center. His expertise includes race, ethnic health disparities, social policy, and criminal justice.
“Three years before the Rodney King riots, the U.S. Supreme Court made a ruling in Graham v. Connor that set us on the current path of interpreting the police use of force. It in effect changed the view of the police use of force from that of an individual encountering a state action that could potentially be a violation of the person’s constitutional rights under the Fourth Amendment to that of the police officer’s right — the right to act if they have reasonable fear. This set today’s high bar for prosecution of officers.”
“There is no good evidence that the use of force by police against African Americans has abated at all. If anything, data suggest that more African Americans are killed by police now than 25 years ago.”
“The ‘pattern or practice’ lawsuit — authorized by Congress after the Rodney King riots — became a particularly important Justice Department tool for reform, especially under Attorney General Eric Holder. However, the new Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, is in the process of discarding this systemic approach.”
“There is one small hopeful sign. In a Pew Research Center survey completed in May 2016, 50 percent of whites agreed that blacks are treated less fairly than whites in the country. Although 84 percent of blacks think so, in 1995 only 37 percent of whites thought that blacks were treated unfairly. I say this is a hopeful sign, because I am convinced that this suggests a change —for the better — in the dominant consensus about race and the police.”
Matheis is a visiting assistant professor of government and international affairs in the School of Public and International Affairs. His expertise is in areas that bridge social and political philosophy and public policy, with concentrations in migration, refugees, feminism, race, indigeneity, and global justice.
“Discrimination in employment, housing, education, and finance and lending industries, among other sectors, remain entrenched in racist distributions of resources and opportunities. More may have more but those who already had more, at the expense of people of color, have proportionally radically more than ever before.”
“The claims of people of color remain non-credible and/or automatically suspect, whether in terms of immediate, commonsense or everyday remarks or legal claims. Despite over a century of extensive evidence showing the intractable conclusion that racist, white-supremacist discrimination governs economic, political, and cultural facets of our society, legal appeals for corrective interventions remain ineffective or refused.”
“Whether one perceives organized or disorganized collective or mass actions as protests or riots, most of the occurrences yet count as reasoned responses to social injustice. That is, many observers misconstrue protestors and rioters as one and the same because they want to consider them non-credible or unreasonable. All contemporary governance systems have had decades to take corrective actions that proactively prevent riots by fostering equity and justice. Governments that fail to do so leave oppressed and marginalized populations little or no alternative forms of expression, save for organized resistance that sometimes shares space with those who choose to riot. The burden falls, first, on those with power and, second if at all, on those who resist oppression using various strategies. The oppressed owe no one an explanation for their chosen forms of resistance until after the rulers have clearly exhausted efforts to end discrimination.”
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