[This article appeared in the June 1992 issue of Conservative Review, pp. 8-9.]


The Los Angeles Riots: The Deeper Meanings

Dwight D. Murphey 


            By the time this appears in print, the Los Angeles riots that followed the acquittal of the police officers in the Rodney King case will hopefully be well behind us, and our collective loss of memory may be working its healing balm.  Just the same, we would do well not to forget some important aspects.

            The most shocking thing about the whole episode—more shocking, even, than the videotapes of the King arrest and later of the mob’s beating of the truck driver—was the failure of government to perform its essential functions.  Chief Gates had warned that an acquittal might bring rioting—and for that he had been damned and ridiculed.  Large sections of the city were in effect turned over to the mob for many hours after the verdict came down.  Only later, after thousands of fires had been set, dozens of people killed, and grand theft had reemerged (as it always does, oddly enough, on such occasions), were substantial numbers of police and troops brought in.

            It has long been apparent to conservatives that government today does a lot that it should not be doing, and lets a lot go undone that it should be doing.  If the City of Los Angeles and the State of California, backed by the federal government if it were called upon by the governor, will not even attempt, over a period of several hours, to preserve life and property, what earthly good are they?

            If any event should spell the death knell of the “gun control” movement, the Los Angeles riots could be it.  I have never wanted to have a gun in the house, afraid of its potential misuses either by myself in a fit of misjudgment or by someone else.  But when it becomes crystal clear that the politicians are so busy in a time of civil disorder holding their fingers up to the wind that they are unwilling to perform the most elemental tasks of government, the society becomes, in Hobbes’ phrase, “a war of all against all.”  Or at least the task of self-preservation becomes that of the individual, on behalf of himself and his family.  I haven’t decided to run out and buy a shotgun yet, but only because the searing trouble hasn’t come close enough to me personally.

             I was gratified to read that some of the Korean merchants sprang to their own defense as they wondered in anguish where the army was.  I was also shocked to find that Hispanics played as large a role in the looting as blacks.  The Hispanics cannot plead a history of slavery in the U.S.A.

            It brings to mind the varying attitudes that have existed among blacks toward the Korean entrepreneurs.  It is clear that many of the rioters had a special animus against them, hating them precisely for their virtues.  The burning of their shops was an extension, really, of the boycott that was conducted earlier against Korean merchants in New York City.  The black conservative newsletter Issues & Views had, typically of its own decency, denounced the boycott as “our own brand of racism.”  Writing in the newsletter, William Reed spoke of the merchants as “a race of people whose only crime seems to be how they capture their visions through hard work and commitment.  The unavoidable truth is that we blacks never took the initiative to open our own stores before the Asians came.”  But the vicious elements in Los Angeles don’t read Issues & Views, preferring the demagoguery that passes for wisdom among the more prominent black “leadership.” 

The Realism Behind “Redlining”

            Another reflection about the L.A. riots is that we should seriously reconsider the justice of that part of our civil rights laws that prohibits “redlining.”  The term originated with the reputed “drawing of a line around certain areas of a city on a map” by lending institutions and insurance companies that were deciding not to lend against or insure property within the redlined area.

            Why, precisely, should anyone in a free market risk investors’ money by granting loans secured by property within a riot-prone area?  Or by granting property insurance there?  To require them to do so amounts, really, to a governmental “taking” of the lenders’ and insurance companies’ funds.  (Or else it amounts to a “hidden tax” against borrowers and insured persons generally, as the costs incurred through bad loan and insurance risks are passed on as a part of the price of services to others.)  Not only does government abrogate its function of providing protection against mass arson and looting, it requires private parties to turn a blind eye to the realities, losing vast sums because, supposedly, to do otherwise would be a form of “bigotry.”  Hogwash!  “The fault, dear Brutus, is”… in the masses whose barbarism is there on TV for all to see, not in the institutions that stand ready to serve the market if only civilized prerequisites are maintained.

            While we are at it, we should reconsider that part of the Federal Fair Housing Act that is held to outlaw “steering.”  It is illegal for a real estate broker to show white buyers homes only in predominantly white parts of the city, thus “steering the buyers away from the predominantly black sections.”  Brokers are supposed to maintain records that will demonstrate that they have shown people of varying races homes in all sections, however populated.  Thus, a punitive measure is applied to brokers for doing precisely what most of their clientele desperately desire—which is to stay out of, and certainly not buy a home in, a part of town that is crime-ridden and riot-prone.   This prohibition is consistent with a desire to legislate a color-blind society, but it cuts severely into people’s freedom in carrying out concerns that are quite legitimate.  It should be repealed.

            If this is going farther than the political system is willing to go, there is, at least, a basic intermediate step that should be considered.  It is time we, at a bare minimum, place a time-limit on the exceptions we have carved out of personal liberty in the name of civil rights.  “Affirmative action” programs are a system of supposedly compensatory discrimination, and can have no permanent place in our way of life.  How long are they to continue?  Will another twenty years, say, be enough?

            The same should be asked of the laws that prohibit private individuals and firms from “discriminating”—that is, from selecting their own customers and companions.  It was never wise, in my opinion, despite the overwhelming consensus to the contrary, to command the goodwill of the races (or most recently of the sexes) through proscriptions upon choice.  I would hope that such legislation, which if fully enforced would criminalize a vast portion of the population for acts that seem perfectly sensible to the people involved, will not be assumed to be a permanent part of our law.

            Still another point comes up through the criticisms we have all heard, since the Rodney King beating verdict, of the composition of the jury, which was composed of ten whites, one Hispanic and one Asian.  “Not a single black,” we are reminded.  Perhaps the point is a good one.  But who was moved to make the point when Oliver North was convicted by a Washington, D.C., jury composed entirely or almost entirely of blacks?  Maybe when we stop the double standards we will be able to think through to some solutions we can all agree on. 

Double Jeopardy

            And while we are rethinking our legal system, we should ponder the meaning of “double jeopardy.”  As a lawyer, I am well schooled in the fact that the same misconduct can be a separate crime against several levels of government—the city under an ordinance, the state under a state law, and the federal government under a national statute.  That’s “hornbook law,” as they say.  But doesn’t it make a mockery of the spirit behind the fundamental rule against “double jeopardy” if someone can be put through a long trial at one level, and when acquitted be charged for the same act by another?  Maybe the solution is to require the pertinent levels of government to agree beforehand which is the most appropriate level to bring the case, and then for them to be bound by that.  Until I read the details of the trial I was hard pressed, as were most others, to see how the jury reached an acquittal of the officers; but I am also distressed to see the system work through manipulation.  Basketball coaching would become a lot more enjoyable if, after losing a game, a coach could simply say, “Well, we lost that game—temporarily.  I’ve called for a replay tomorrow in my gym.” 

What Are We Doing To Our Police Force?

            Police abuses—and abuses in any other area of our national life—are as intolerable to someone who truly believes in a free society as they are to those who are the brunt of such abuses.   It plays no part in our image of a good society, and gives our enemies of our society ammunition galore.  I saw the snippet of video on TV, never the full 81 seconds.  The brief extract shown on TV seemed awfully convincing, but I never saw the full film as shown to the jury, or heard the weeks of testimony.  Any trial lawyer will tell you it makes a difference.  The media is to a large extent guilty of promoting racial tension before and during the rioting.  We now know that the media chose only a single excerpt from the video, and one that—taken out of context—could be guaranteed to fan the flames of racial hatred.  This they showed over and over again, without ever showing the remaining sections of the video that explained the need for the use of batons.

            What are we doing to our police force?  We do not approve of violence or sadism, but if we send them out daily to risk their lives, and then release the criminals they arrest on bail, or give them only minimal sentences, how can we expect the police to be prepared to continue to risk their lives?  This question is particularly pertinent when the police are rewarded with distorted media publicity and public hostility.

            If we continue to ask our police to take the extreme risks they take each day, and to see their own colleagues shot dead by criminals whom the courts treat so lightly, we are likely to wind up with the kind of police force they have in Mexico or even Haiti.  Decent citizens will be slow joining the force, while those who are ready to practice brutality, or even to sell out to criminal gangs, will line up to enroll.  We shall then see how much protection the honest part of the community receives from the police, and how the drug-dealers and major criminal gangs thrive.