Op-Ed by Professor Viator Examines Lack of Systemic Change in Policing, 30 Years After Assault of Rodney King

Wednesday, March 03, 2021
Rodney King speaks at a 2012 event at the Hudson Union in New York. Photo by Justin Hoch.

WASHINGTON POST -- Felicia Angeja Viator is assistant professor of History at San Francisco State University, a former Bay Area DJ and the author of the recently published book, “To Live and Defy in LA: How Gangsta Rap Changed America” (Harvard University Press, 2020). She wrote this opinion piece for the Washington Post.

“Many expected 1991 to be a landmark year in the fight for police accountability in Los Angeles and across the nation. It wasn’t,” Viator wrote. “The wide dissemination of video footage of police abuse was brand-new, and it garnered an unprecedented amount of attention that ensured sympathy for victims of police abuse. But it was not enough to secure meaningful change because, as it turned out, the justice system was willful in its commitment to devaluing Black lives.

“Decades later, police killings are routinely filmed. Think of Oscar Grant in Oakland, Anthony Lamar Smith in St. Louis, Eric Garner in New York, Michael Brown in Ferguson, Alton Brown in Baton Rouge, Philando Castile in suburban St. Paul and George Floyd in Minneapolis. The existence of video evidence no longer inspires much hope for police accountability. Yet there is still radical possibility in the dogged work of young Black activists today who understand that even in the absence of accountability, video continues to provide a way to make visible the grim determination of the racist systems protecting violent cops.”