If there was a lesson the LAPD learned in 1992, it is that if you do not respond decisively to lawlessness, you will quickly have much more of it. That lesson was learned the hard way, when timid police supervisors (one of them in particular most egregiously) failed to act when violence first flared near the intersection of Florence and Normandie Avenues. I would argue that had the LAPD responded as it should have in those first hours of the riot, much of the devastation and loss of life that followed could have been averted. Proof of this came in the following months when a number of incidents in South Los Angeles threatened to break out into rioting but were quelled with a swift and sure response by police.
It is clear that authorities in Baltimore have not heeded this simple lesson. In showing restraint, in sending the clear message that lawlessness will not be swiftly and harshly met, they have allowed their city to descend into chaos. And in so allowing, they have ensured that a greater level of force will be required to restore order than would have been had they taken action at the first sign of violence. At the time of this writing no one has yet been killed in Baltimore, but that will likely have changed by the time you read this.
Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake gave instructions to police that protesters be given “space” to exercise their right to free speech. But in doing so, she admitted, “we also gave those who wished to destroy space to do that as well.”