Los Angeles Times

No community can tolerate such loss

- By Brenda Stevenson

What has not changed in the past 25 years is that people demand equality and are willing to fight for it. African Americans have been part of this battle from the beginning — as heroic patriots during the American Revolution, abolitioni­sts in the quest to end slavery or marchers in the civil rights movement. They have been undeniably crucial to the evolution of our society toward its founding ideals.

And race, perhaps more than any other variable, continues to divide us all. If that were not true, how could we tolerate the manifest difference­s in resources, well-being and protection­s that place black people in such an unenviable and vulnerable position in our society?

Today, as 25 years ago, black unemployme­nt in Los Angeles is more than triple that of the national average. More than one-third of households in South-Central Los Angeles are below the poverty line — two times the percentage­s in California and the nation. SouthCentr­al, the focus of the unrest a quarter of a century ago, still has the county’s largest concentrat­ion of liquor stores, the smallest percentage of green space, the lowest proportion of medical facilities and healthcare profession­als, and the largest share of deficient K-12 public schools. These structural deficits were foundation­al to the civil unrest in 1992, and they will be just as foundation­al the next time.

Blatant evidence of inequality before the law also looms large as fodder for discontent that ignites the fires of destructio­n. In 1992, the catalysts for the unrest were the beating of Rodney King and the killing of Latasha Harlins. But it is not just unanswered violence that indicts our systems of policing and justice.

The black community is subject to inexcusabl­y high incarcerat­ion rates (40% overall of those incarcerat­ed, although we are only 13% of the national population). A black person will be sentenced more harshly than a white one. The incarcerat­ion rate of black children hovers at five times that of whites; more than 50% of juveniles tried and sentenced as adults are black. Even school suspension rates are lopsided (3.5 times as many blacks get kicked out of school as whites).

These daunting statistics disable families, stall individual and community progress, and spawn protest and unrest. There remains too much injustice, too much indifferen­ce to the loss of black life. No community can tolerate so much loss. We could not 25 years ago. We cannot today or tomorrow. America’s cities, including Los Angeles, will erupt again. In 1992, Brenda Stevenson was a new assistant professor at UCLA. She currently is Nickoll Family Endowed Professor of History and African American Studies at UCLA and the author of “The Contested Murder of Latasha Harlins: Justice, Gender, and the Origins of the L.A. Riots.”

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