Could it happen again? That is the taboo question on the 20th anniversary of Los Angeles’s murderous Rodney King riots, just as another racially charged prosecution—this time in Florida—captures headlines across the nation. Sadly, the answer is yes. As the Oakland riots in 2009 and 2010 following a transit officer’s fatal shooting of a parolee made clear, the threat of riots—what Fred Siegel has called “riot ideology”—still hangs over interracial incidents of violence when the victim is black. And just as the press cynically manipulated the facts in the Rodney King beating in order to increase racial tensions, it has done so again in the Trayvon Martin shooting in Sanford, Florida.
The best hope for avoiding a repeat of the L.A. mayhem, should blacks not be satisfied with the verdict in the Trayvon Martin case, is that police forces across the country have learned the lesson of the Rodney King riots: that outbreaks of civil anarchy must be immediately and unapologetically suppressed.