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Richard Valdemar

Richard Valdemar

Sgt. Richard Valdemar retired from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department after spending most of his 33 years on the job combating gangs.

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20 Years After the Rodney King Riots

The acquittal of four LAPD officers in 1992 triggered rioting in Los Angeles that was primed to occur.

May 01, 2012  |  by Richard Valdemar - Also by this author

Sunday marked the 20th anniversary of the beginning of the Rodney King Riots in Los Angeles. In 1992, major rioting would continue until May 25. Much has changed since those days of anti-police rioting, yet much has remained the same.

In the years preceding the riot, the dominos had been set standing on their ends to tumble down in a chain reaction. The chain reaction was touched off by the acquittal in Simi Valley of four LAPD officers accused of beating Rodney King. If this had not been the spark, I believe, one of many other incidents might have set off a similar conflagration. Los Angeles was ripe for a riot and many forces conspired to make it happen.

One of the primary causes that set the stage for the riot was government and police policies based on politically correct thinking rather than common sense and public safety. The Los Angeles media fanned the embers with sensational headlines and race-baiting coverage.

Prior to King's arrest, in an LAPD booking area, a sarcastic sign read, "Smoke 'em, don't choke 'em!" This referred to the LAPD policy of forbidding the arm bar choke hold (carotid restraint) once used to subdue suspects in a PCP rage. Several experts including Chief Daryl Gates had opined that African Americans were physiologically different in their anatomy, making this hold especially deadly to them. The sign suggested that it would be easier to justify shooting a hysterical, combative suspect rather than try to justify a choke hold to subdue him.

Grappling and swarming techniques were also frowned upon by police instructors during close-quarters combat. Too many officers are shot by suspects with the policeman's own weapon in these types of confrontations, according to this line of thinking. In training, officers were told, "Don't get too close to the suspect."

As a result, officers began to rely more heavily on pepper spray and TASERs. These were considered more modern, kinder and gentler methods of subduing a violent combative suspect. The PC proponents disliked "man handling" suspects. If this failed, they might endorse batons. The old but very effective Gonzales sap was frowned upon. Police batons had evolved from wooden clubs to plastic versions. Eventually, the LAPD issued the side-handled (PR-24) baton. Training and practice in the use of these weapons was sparse. Finally, the plastic batons were replaced by aluminum ones.

During the Rodney King incident, the TASER failed to work on King. Remember, the media-edited video only showed the officers standing away from the suspect and swinging their batons (at times very ineffectively).

The more effective tactic of swarming an uncooperative suspect or grappling him into a choke hold would have ended this incident much more quickly and would have looked better. The department's PC policy and training ensured an uglier standoff where officers beat the suspect with metal batons.

Meanwhile, the Los Angeles media helped stir up racial unrest by focusing on every incident as racial profiling and mistreatment of minorities by police. The victims of these minority suspects were usually of the same race, and many of the police officers were women or men from racial minority groups. Because of complaints in the Latino community, Special Order 40 was instituted to forbid LAPD officers from inquiring about a subject's immigration status. Gang members, drug traffickers and human smugglers loved these law-enforcement-limiting conditions.

Before rioting exploded in Los Angeles, the seeds of violence were planted in government housing projects in South Central by political and racial groups like the Nation of Islam (NOI), Revolutionary Communist Party, the New Black Panthers, and organized criminal gangs like the Crips, Bloods, and Black Guerrilla Family (BGF). The media missed this agitating and fermenting of tension, but police intelligence units did not.

During the initial rioting, individuals were arrested wearing T-shirts calling for unity between Crips and Bloods against the police. Pre-printed NOI fliers called for "Jihad against the LAPD!" If the riots were spontaneous, how did these T-shirts and fliers suddenly appear? They were obviously prepared beforehand in certainty of the riot.

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