As much as I hate cops I feel like it pretty much proves my point to START with the article in the cop magazine about how the Rodney King riots changed policing in LA:
- Shortly after the riot, Chief Willie Williams was sworn in as the first outside police chief in 45 years. The voters created a new system where the chief could serve only a five-year term, renewable once at the city’s option. On two occasions so far, the city has sent the chief packing after five years.
(Police Mag April 2012)
Here’s Anaheim City Councilman Stephen Fassell talking about changes after riots in Anaheim due to police shooting people:
- We now have a representative government that we did not have before. We now have a city government that listens more. We’re only six or seven months into this, so we still have to learn our way around. Overall, the city is taking a renewed interest in that neighborhood (Anna Drive) and others. Neighborhoods, in general, have higher visibility in the eyes of the city government from one end to another.
(OC Register, July 2017)
Here’s some historians talking to Vox about rioting:
- The 1960s unrest, for example, led to the Kerner Commission, which reviewed the cause of the uprisings and pushed reforms in local police departments. The changes to police ended up taking various forms: more active hiring of minority police officers, civilian review boards of cases in which police use force, and residency requirements that force officers to live in the communities they police.“
- This is one of the greatest ironies. People would say that this kind of level of upheaval in the streets and this kind of chaos in the streets is counterproductive,” Thompson said. “The fact of the matter is that it was after every major city in the urban north exploded in the 1960s that we get the first massive probe into what was going on — known as the Kerner Commission.”
(Vox, September 2016)
This is from an abstract of a study done on the 1992 LA riots
- Contrary to some expectations from the academic literature and the popular press, we find that the riot caused a marked liberal shift in policy support at the polls. Investigating the sources of this shift, we find that it was likely the result of increased mobilization of both African American and white voters. Remarkably, this mobilization endures over a decade later.
(American Political Science Review, 2019)
There’s a whole-ass article about this in Jacobin this week
- Even the case of the 1960s is more complicated than the liberal story about scared white Nixon voters suggests. For one thing, there is substantial evidence that the riots led to higher government expenditures in the deprived cities where they erupted. James W. Button’s pathbreaking 1978 book Black Violence documented the ways the riots forced policymakers to pay attention to the effects of their policies on the urban poor, a group they had been happy to neglect previously. At a time when many social scientists viewed even protest movements as a kind of mass psychosis, Button showed that riots were a rational response to being ignored.
Later research showed that riots could increase welfare expenditures, even in areas where white racism was strongest. In other words, even if riots pushed white public opinion in a conservative direction, they also brought important benefits to the areas where they occurred.
(Jacobin, June 2020)
And here is the full 17-page PDF of an article published by the American Political Science Association in their journal, I’m linking to the whole thing but I’m only going to reproduce the conclusion here:
- We focus on violent protest as a political tool for a low-status group in the United States. While other scholarship has examined other forms of political action and asked if it is efficacious for racial minorities and other low-status groups, the scholarly literature has largely failed to ask whether rioting is a useful tool for building policy support, even though, from the perspective of the rioters, this question is paramount. Here we show that violent political protest can spur political participation among people who share an identity with the rioters.
- Although it often seems extreme from the American perspective, political violence is not isolated to particular regions or eras and is still common in many parts of the world. Moreover, the implicit threat of violence underlies the relationship between governments and citizens in many places. As the use of violence continues to be an active feature of our political system, our findings and approach may help future scholars better understand this important topic.
(American Political Science Review, June 2019)
And also just because riots may or may not be politically expedient doesn’t prevent them.
I want to talk for a second about the concept of a state monopoly on violence.
The deal is that in most states (here meaning countries or governments, not US States) the State (or government) is the only entity that is allowed to be violent. You’re not allowed to break down your neighbor’s door, your partner isn’t allowed to hit you, you’re not allowed to smash your boss’s windshield. The state and its agents are the only things allowed to be violent and their violence is supposed to be used to curtail societal violence. The cops outnumber your partner and have the legal power to lock them in a cage if your partner hits you, this is in theory supposed to prevent your partner from hitting you. Fear of state violence is supposed to act as a deterrent to crime and interpersonal violence.
BUT there are supposed to be rules. The state is the only one allowed to be violent but they’re not allowed to be wantonly, willfully violent. The state doesn’t get to hit you with no evidence of a crime, the cops aren’t supposed to smash in your windshield, sheriffs aren’t supposed to break down your door if you haven’t committed a crime that warrants a violent response from the state.
The state isn’t holding up its end of the bargain.
The state has lost its right to a monopoly on violence.
Yes, the violence is unfortunate. Yes, the violence is not ideal. No, I’m not applauding when people set fire to local businesses.
I am maybe applauding a little when they set fire to a massive corporation that has utilized the violence of the state against citizens while working hard to protect itself against workers (Target) and I’m applauding the destruction of symbols of inequality and institutionalized racism (Rodeo Drive in LA and the Market House in NC and all the statues of racists on this list) and I’ma be real here, I kind of always think police stations should be torn down brick by brick or forcibly converted into libraries or low income housing.
So while the violence is not ideal I don’t think that it’s illegitimate. The state has lost its right to a monopoly on violence and a violent response is certainly one way to make that point.
But here’s the other thing:
All these riots started with peaceful protests against state violence. There are thousands of photos and videos of peaceful protestors peacefully protesting and having speeches and asking for change.
And there are hundreds of videos and photos of cops launching tear gas and rubber bullets at these peaceful protestors. There is a staggering amount of evidence that in city after city police escalated tensions and introduced violence to peaceful protests.
(and please let’s remember: all of this started in response to an act of police violence. These riots didn’t fall out of a clear blue sky, they are a direct reaction to four police officers killing a man by kneeling on his neck for eight minutes while he begged for his mother and his life. That is, in my opinion, something completely worth burning down a police station over even if that act never accomplishes anything further than burning down that police station)