Social and Racial Injustice in US: LA Riots and Rodney King's Case
The song April 29, 1992 (Miami) by the band Sublime describes social and racial inequalities. The song begins with a police officer reporting damage to a vehicle over his radio. Following this the song begins describing the scene during the Los Angeles riots during the early 1990s. “The riots stemmed from the acquittal of four white Los Angeles Police Department officers in the beating of black motorist Rodney King in 1991” (CNN, 2019). The Los Angeles riots in 1992 following the beating of Rodney King by police officers are the backdrop for this song. The song goes on to describe the chaos that the riots in Los Angeles were. It describes the setting of buildings on fire, looting, and the violence that was. Throughout the song, it breaks for more police officers talking back and forth over their radios several times reporting different types of disturbances that went on during the riots. According to CNN, “the rioting destroyed or damaged over 1,000 buildings in the Los Angeles area” and “the damages were over $1 billion” (CNN, 2019). Sublime’s song does a terrific job at helping one visualize the scene that was the Los Angeles riots of April of 1992. Overall, the song details the struggle of people at the bottom economically, racially, and socially struggling to survive due to the oppressive system we live under.
Sublime’s song April 29, 1992 (Miami) best signifies the conflict theory perspective. Throughout the song, it tackles the subject of injustice in regards to race and poverty. If we think about this time in history, this song is referring to the Los Angeles riots following the beating of Rodney King by police officers. The officers we not charged with anything, which caused an up-roar of people in the streets throughout southern California. People had grown tired of the unjust treatment of people due to their socioeconomic status and race by “the man” or in this case police officers. When the officers got off free after beating Rodney King, people took to the street rioting the injustice that was. If we look at the text, the conflict theory perspective on poverty states that “stratification results from lack of opportunity and from discrimination and prejudice against the poor, women, and people of color” (Pg. 110). In the case of Rodney King and the Los Angeles riots, Rodney King was beaten and not given the justice he deserved because of his socioeconomic status and his race. Further more, the white police officers being acquitted of all charges made an every larger statement. These actions said that still white men had power over people of color, and they were able to do as they pleased without consequences. With that being said, what happened to Rodney King was the final injustice people would stand for. This is what Sublime’s song is hinting at through the lyrics. The song says “But if you look at the streets, it wasn’t about Rodney King in this fucked-up situation and these fucked-up police it’s about comin’ up and stayin’ on the top” (Sublime-April 29, 1992 (Miami)).
In these lyrics, the band is saying that this situation is far larger than the Rodney King injustice and that the entire system of our society is messed up. Those at the bottom must rise up against the injustice that is poverty and race that keeps us down and suppressed. In other points of the song, the lyrics say how the rioters were getting things they could not afford like alcohol or pampers. This demonstrates how people living in poverty are not capable of getting the necessities in life. For instance, only a person truly in need would steal things such things as diapers if there was rioting. Further more, it shows the dire situation that many people in poverty are living in and what the riots symbolized for many. At the end of the song, it drifts off saying that there is rioting in cities all around the United States. The point the song is making at the end is that injustice is everywhere, and we need to make a stand. At looking at the conflict theory perspective, in this case we have the police in power and people of color like Rodney King being taken advantage of like he was. More so, we conflict between those at the top and those at the bottom. Therefore, people at the top oppress those at the bottom in poverty or because of their race in order to hold and keep their positions at the top.
At looking at the injustice that sparked the Los Angeles riots, one could see that Rodney King was beaten due to the prejudice of the police officers. According to the text, prejudice is “an irrational attitude toward certain people based solely on their membership in a particular group” (Pg. 190). In Rodney King’s case, he was black and broke the law and the officers treated him harshly because of the fact. In today’s society, we can still witness injustice acts like this being committed regularly. For instance, the regular shooting of black males by police officers stems from this prejudice like in Rodney King’s case. Over and over in recent years we have seen the countless killings of black males by officers and other white individuals claiming they were perceived at dangerous or armed with zero evidence of such. Just as in the case of Rodney King, the victims of today do not receive the justice they deserve. Prejudice prevails and those at the top are able to keep doing at they please with no repercussions.
The inequality that people of color face is also a case of institutional discrimination. Based on the text, “institutional discrimination affects the life chances of people of color in many aspects of life” (Pg. 221). As hinted in the song, people of color and those living in poverty face oppression and difficulties obtaining the necessities of life. Some examples of this are our school systems, workforce, law enforcement and society as a whole. At looking at our police force, why is it that black individuals are more likely to be pulled over by police officers and be shot. Yes, this stems from prejudice of the police enforcement system but also due to institutional discrimination. This can be seen in how law enforcement is taught to racially profile. Hence, institutional discrimination continues to exist today and it’s so embedded in our society I see no change in the near future.
Next privilege plays a major part in the lack of justice that lower socioeconomic groups receive. In returning to the case of Rodney King, the police officers that beat him were acquitted due to their privileges in society. In today’s society when one thinks of privileges, “white privilege” comes to mind. In the case of the four police officers who were acquitted, surely white privilege played a major part. According to the text, white privilege is “the advantages that US whites enjoy in their daily lives simply because they are white” (Pg. 239). These advantages can be seen with Rodney King and the killings of so many black young males. It is unthinkable that police officers would shoot and kill a white individual, but in today’s society it is all too normal. More so, it is unfathomable how police officers can get away with shooting so many black males and justice is never served. Our reality is that we live in a culture where white privilege is all too real, and it allows many advantages to white individuals like not having to fear for their lives most of all.
In the song April 29, 1992 (Miami) by Sublime, the main message is that people at lower socioeconomic statuses are tired of the inequality. The text defines social stratification as the “rankings of people based on wealth and other resources a society values” (Pg. 109). The sociological concept of social stratification is important because the song’s message is that people at the bottom are tired of the inequality that is our entire system. The message this song made following the Los Angeles riots was a powerful one that is still true today, even twenty plus year later. Still today people of color and those living in poverty have been unable to make major strives forward out from under this oppression. The system our society lives under is a broken one, but those at the top won’t allow for a change because they refuse to give up their spot. Perhaps in another twenty years, our society may make some steps forward away from the social and racial inequality that is.
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