Policing the Anticommunity: Race, Deterritorialization, and Labor Market Reorganization in South Los Angeles

By Roussell, Aaron | Law & Society Review, December 1, 2015 | Go to article overview

Policing the Anticommunity: Race, Deterritorialization, and Labor Market Reorganization in South Los Angeles


Roussell, Aaron, Law & Society Review


The rise of community partnerships in urban governance has increasingly dominated the discussion on crime, law, social services, and institutional initiatives (Brown 2010; Herbert and Brown 2006; Hughes and Edwards 2002; Myers and Goddard 2013; Rose 1996). A parallel trend, referred to by such phrases as the carceral state, the prison nation, and the new social control, has seen the rise of mass incarceration, as well as the increased regulation and surveillance of public space and black and brown populations (Beckett and Herbert 2009; Foucault 1995; Gelman, Fagan, and Kiss 2007; Richie 2012; Stuart 2011). Implicated in both of these currents has been the adoption of community policing by nearly every major urban police force in the country (Johnson and Roth 2003), a tactical and philosophical shift which purports to reconnect urban populations with those agents the state has assigned to protect citizens and maintain order. Focusing on the shifting demographic and economic terrain of Los Angeles, this article describes ways in which community policing helps remake urban neighborhoods. The community in community policing, rather than reflecting organic notions of residents, conforms to police notions of territorial control.

The Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) began implementing community policing in 1992, in tandem with the national push for such initiatives. This effort was not a spontaneous desire to engage more closely with LA residents, but rather a political response to the 1991 police beating of motorist Rodney King and the 1992 uprisings that followed the acquittal of his assailants by a white jury in Ventura County. Residents, particularly in majority black and Latino South LA where the uprisings began, exerted collective pressure to combat police racism and brutality (Costa Vargas 2006; Davis 1993a; Loyd 2012). The independent Christopher Commission Report generated in the interim recommended community policing as one way to make police "accountable to all segments of the community" and create a more "positive relationship" with the community (1991: 105- 106). The LAPD's resulting community policing approach remains the official response to calls for police accountability in LA.

Although the popular image of South Los Angeles is that of an African-American ghetto-a "spatially segregated and contiguous Black community" (Patillo 2003: 1046)-black residence began to decline in the early 1980s from a height of about 85 percent. By 2007, South LA was over half Latino and nearly onethird immigrant, a number which certainly undercounts the undocumented population (Hipp et al. 2010). Families with sufficient means of all ethnoracial groups have left South LA for the LA Harbor, Long Beach, and the suburbs (Davis 1993b; Soja 2014). As Costa Vargas (2006) suggests, South LA "is quickly becoming the exclusive home of the brown and black California version of the lumpenproletariat, and as such has become the site for an unprecedented volume of imprisonment and deaths" (28)-a broad statement supported by other LA researchers (Davis 2006; Stuart 2011; Valle and Torres 2000). Linking demographic transition to urban governance, Costa Vargas suggests that up to 14 percent of black outmigration from LA in the 1980s and 1990s was due solely to the forced "migration" of incarceration.

These demographic shifts are also linked to the vast urban restructuring that LA has undergone since the 1970s (Soja 2014; Soja, Morales, and Wolff 1983). The rise of LA's bifurcated service and information economy in place of its postwar manufacturing dominance has provided the area with limited job growth, swelling the Latino population of South LA by pulling immigrants from Mexico and Central America (Ibarra and Carlos 2015; Valle and Torres 2000). Such a post-Fordist arrangement allows for both investment in high status, high income technology and entertainment industries on the one hand and a supportive economy of workers carrying out lowstatus, labor-intensive tasks on the other. …

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