In recent years, the treatment of African Americans by police departments around the country has come under increased public scrutiny. As any student of the longer historical relationship between law enforcement and people of color will know, this relationship has been the subject of tension and scrutiny at many moments in the past as well. In his new book, Policing Los Angeles: Race, Resistance, and the Rise of the LAPD
(University of North Carolina Press, 2018), Max Felker-Kantor
examines this multi-racial relationship in the key city of Los Angeles. The book begins with the uprising of the Watts neighborhood in August 1965, where decades of frustration with urban poverty and racial discrimination along with anger at racist police practices exploded in violence. The book then traces the subsequent decades of policing and anti-police abuse activism. During this time, reforms were common, yet real change was often difficult to achieve as symbolized by the 1992 rebellion, sparked by some of the same issues that caused the previous Watts uprising.
In this episode of the podcast, Felker-Kantor discusses this history of policing and importantly, the way LA communities of color mobilized to reshape law enforcement in the city. He highlights both the achievements and limitations of their reform. He also discusses both the possibilities and limits of urban political reformers working within city government and the ways in which the police themselves became a political force. Finally, Felker-Kantor discusses some of the little-used archival sources he examined for this project in light of the notorious difficulty historians have faced obtaining access to law enforcement records for histories of policing.
Christine Lamberson is an Associate Professor of History at Angelo State University. Her research and teaching focuses on 20th century U.S. political and cultural history. She’s currently working on a book manuscript about the role of violence in shaping U.S. political culture in the 1960s and 1970s. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.