Race, Control, and Resistance: Community Empowerment and the Struggle against Police Repression in Late Twentieth-Century Los Angeles

Friday, January 3, 2014: 9:10 AM
Columbia Hall 1 (Washington Hilton)
Max Felker-Kantor, University of Southern California
The militarization of urban police forces and implementation of punitive sentencing policies, as recent studies have shown, contributed to the devastation and economic inequality that plagued inner city neighborhoods and communities of color throughout the post-civil rights period in America’s inner cities. Black and brown residents, as this paper demonstrates, continually contested policies of social control and coercion in ways that offered more democratic and social justice oriented solutions to urban disorder and violence. This paper investigates the ways African American and Mexican American communities in Los Angeles challenged abusive police practices and criminalization of urban space that exacerbated economic inequality between the 1965 Watts uprising and the 1992 civil disturbance. Focusing on community-based organizations such as the Coalition Against Police Abuse, the Barrio Defense Committee, the Citizens Commission on Police Repression, and the Latino Community Justice Center, this paper explores the ways communities of color responded to and attempted to change repressive policing that targeted inner-city communities in post-civil rights Los Angeles. These organizations conceived their struggle against police repression and punitive law enforcement policies as part of a larger movement that had a transformative vision for what Los Angeles could and should be. By extending the narrative of community organizing past the 1960s, this paper shows how communities of color in Los Angeles adapted civil rights struggles to new conditions of the 1970s and 1980s. Only by examining how state-based methods of coercion and community organizing developed together, I argue, can we can begin to see a different image of inner city communities that provides a more just, inclusive, and democratic, albeit neglected, conception of the possibilities for the inner city in late-twentieth century America.
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