The lessons of the riots in Watts in 1965 and Los Angeles in 1992 have been largely forgotten, creating the environment for protests around the nation this year, says Max Felker-Kantor, a Ball State University professor and an author of a recent book on the issue.
“In Black communities and other marginalized neighborhoods around the nation, the police continue to be viewed as a part of a power structure that reinforce institutionalized racism,” he said. “There is a sense that little has changed from the 1960s. In 20 to 30 years, if we don’t implement real changes, historians will say we missed another opportunity.”
Felker-Kantor examined the issue of race, poverty, segregation, and policing in his 2018 book, “Policing Los Angeles: Race, Resistance, and the Rise of the LAPD.” The book examines the riots of 1965 in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Watts and how the larger Los Angeles area erupted in 1992 after officers were acquitted of beating Rodney King, despite a widely viewed video.
While many communities around the nation are embroiled in protest marches, back on campus Felker-Kantor is teaching an Introduction to Black History class and a second course on U.S. History since 1877.
He believes today’s college students are paying close attention to the issues.
“In general, most of the students see this as an important moment to be on the right side of history,” the professor said. “Black students see this as a connection to themselves and to past struggles. White students, in general, see this as an opportunity to learn and be better allies to Blacks and other minorities.”
Felker-Kantor said Black communities were simmering on May 25 in response to the killing of George Floyd, a 46-year-old African American man who died when a Minneapolis Police Department officer knelt on Floyd's neck. Additional protests occurred following the August 23 shooting by police of Jacob Blake, a 29-year-old Black father, in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
“Blacks and others in communities across the nation sense that police continue to enforce a different form of justice,” said Felker-Kantor, who began writing his book while in graduate school at University of Southern California about 20 years after the 1992 riots. “These residents believe that the police do not protect and serve their communities. Instead, the residents believe that police have always caused tensions. Police are viewed by many as serving White interests of keeping African Americans contained and criminalized.”