LOS ANGELES - It has been 30 years since Los Angeles experienced the Rodney King riots, a time when crime and race relations were arguably at their worst in the city. To those of us who lived through it, 2022 feels a lot like 1992.
In 1991, LAPD officers were captured on film beating suspect Rodney King after he had led police on a high-speed car chase and tried to evade arrest. When video of the beating aired on television, people were appalled. It was instantly labeled a racial incident by the left because King was Black. Racial tensions escalated throughout the year as instigators accused the LAPD of widespread racism. When the police officers were acquitted a year later, protests erupted throughout the country. In LA, the protests turned to looting and riots.
Gang violence had already been on the rise and crime was the highest in decades under the two-decade long leadership of Democrat Mayor Tom Bradley. I was working in downtown LA at the time, commuting through south central LA. Carjackings were commonplace. The tension was palpable, and I was careful where I stopped for gas. My brother was robbed, and I experienced some hairy moments.
The following year LA elected its first Republican Mayor in over three decades, a non-politician lawyer and businessman Richard Riordan. "As mayor I will get tough on crime, drug dealing, gangs and violence," he said, promising to add 3,000 officers. His tough-on-crime policies worked. He was reelected four years later and during his eight-year tenure crime was cut in half. And crime remained relatively low until the recent pandemic and George Floyd incident.
During the pandemic, California and LA implemented among the toughest restrictions and lockdowns in the country. It closed its schools, businesses, beaches, and parks. This left people uncertain about their financial future, took away purpose, and left them with idle time.
Then George Floyd’s death happened. For the first time since 1992, LA experienced riots and looting. LA’s leftist Mayor and city council again blamed the incident on systemic racism in policing and the criminal justice system. They threw their support behind the Black Lives Matter and defund the police movements. Los Angeles cut $150 million from the LAPD budget, handing the money instead over to leftist experiments like guaranteed income handed out to residents via a lottery.
Thanks to the defunding, LA now has 500 fewer officers than in 2019. It also has a demoralized police force which clearly does not have the support of City Hall.
To city leaders, the criminal is the victim, and the police are the culprits. The response of many officers has been to retreat from crime fighting. This is only natural since the more aggressively they fight crime, the more likely they are to be accused of brutality or being a racist.
They also have been directed to take a hands-off approach to many crimes, including petty theft and homeless camping on sidewalks and in parks. Homicides were up 94% last year over 2019 and auto thefts were up 59%.
At the same time LA elected District Attorney George Gascón, whose primary focus is on "making our communities more safe and more equitable." Put simply, "more equitable" means finding ways to prosecute fewer minorities. To the left, these minority groups are the true victims of so-called "systemic racism."
Gascón masterminded Prop 47, which converted a host of crimes from felony to misdemeanor in California. Steal less than $950 and you face only misdemeanor charges. His top supporter was George Soros who, through his "Open Society" foundation, donated $2.25 million. (No, Soros does not live in LA, he is from Hungry and lives in New York.) Also providing over $2 million was Netflix CEO, Reed Hastings, and his wife. (No, they also do not live in LA, they live in Santa Cruz).
He immediately announced that he would not seek cash bail for numerous offenses and would release those currently awaiting such bail. He also said he would never seek the death penalty (despite it being the law in California) and would end charging juveniles as adults. He also announced he would reevaluate all sentences of prisoners having served over 20 years. He is already so unpopular he is facing a recall effort.
For the first time in 30 years, I feel uneasy driving around LA in a nice car or wearing a nice watch. Two weeks ago, my friend pulled into a 7-Eleven in West Los Angeles in his BMW convertible. He was wearing a nice watch and necklace. Before he could get out of his car three men wearing ski masks were pointing guns at him. They opened his door, ripped the watch and necklace off him, stole his wallet, and sliced him with a knife.
This type of crime is now so common in LA that the police recently issued a "Area Safety Bulletin" about "violent street robberies" by local gangs. The bulletin warns of a rash of robberies whereby residents are targeted based upon their car with the target being expensive watches, jewelry, and purses.
Another friend had his garage broken into. He found one item, an expensive suitcase, a couple blocks away in a homeless tent. He contacted the police. Though the tent was illegally erected on a public sidewalk, the police said they could not enter it because the city considers it a "dwelling."
And, two months ago, the mother of my friend’s childhood friend was killed in her home during a burglary attempt. I no longer wear a watch, and with my car lease up, a luxury car is out of the question.
Rising crime and homelessness are bringing people together like never before. There is now broad agreement among residents regardless of party that the progressive policies are not working, and change is needed.
Just like 30 years ago, Angelenos have an opportunity this year to turn around the direction of the city. Real estate developer Rick Caruso is running for mayor. Like Riordan, he is not a career politician. He was also a Republican, though he switched to Democrat just before announcing his candidacy. One can certainly understand Caruso’s reluctance to run as a Republican. LA has not had a Republican mayor in 20 years, no one on the 15-person city council is a Republican, and LA does not have a single Republican representative in the state legislature or Congress.
He is about tied in the polls with Rep. Karen Bass. She is a former community organizer who comes from the Mayors Lori Lightfoot, Bill de Blasio, and London Breed school of progressive governance. Chicago, New York, and San Francisco are not doing any better than L.A.
When Angelenos vote later this year here is hoping they remember 1992.
Jim Breslo is an attorney, host of the "Hidden Truth Show" and founder of RealKast, a new media company. He was formerly a partner at the international law firm Seyfarth Shaw, defending companies and individuals against alleged civil rights violations.