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

Date01 December 2015
Published date01 December 2015
Policing the Anticommunity: Race,
Deterritorialization, and Labor Market
Reorganization in South Los Angeles
Aaron Roussell
Recent decades have seen the rise of both community partnerships and the
carceral state. Community policing in Los Angeles arose after the 1992 upris-
ings and was built on two conceptual building blocks—the territorial impera-
tive and community partnership—which remain central more than 20 years
later. At the same time, LA has undergonea significant black-to-Latino demo-
graphic shift linked with its restructured economy. This article discusses these
changes using archival analysis and 5 years of participant observation in one
South LA precinct. Police help to reshape the demography of South LA in
ways conducive to post-Fordist economic shifts. The “community” concept
appropriated by urban governance initiatives is composed against an
unwanted “anticommunity,” which serves to heighten territorial control over
black and Latino residents. Rather than encourage community cogovernance
over the institution of policing, community rhetoric facilitates racial prefer-
ence in neighborhood transition under the auspices of an increasingly bifur-
cated labor market.
The rise of community partnerships in urban governance has
increasingly dominated the discussion on crime, law, social serv-
ices, 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 con-
trol, 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
I would like to thank the residents and officers of South Division fortheir candidness,
time, and patience with this research. Additional appreciation to Luis D. Gasc
on for our
ongoing collaboration and Cheryl Maxson for providing data. Finally, many thanks to
Terressa Benz, Kristin Haltinner, Raoul Li
evanos, Mona Lynch, Jodie Nicotra, Marisa
Omori, and Monica Williams for their helpful comments on various drafts of this manu-
script, as well as my long -suffering reviewers and editors w ho helped refine and improve
these arguments. I am very gr ateful.
Please direct all correspondence to Aaron Roussell, Department of Criminal Justice
and Criminology, 722 Johnson Tower, Washington State University, Pullman, WA 99164-
4872; e-mail: a.roussell@wsu.edu.
Law & Society Review, Volume 49, Number 4 (2015)
C2015 Law and Society Association. All rights reserved.
community policing by nearly every major urban police force in
the country (Johnson and Roth 2003), a tactical and philosophi-
cal shift which purports to reconnect urban populations with
those agents the state has assigned to protect citizens and main-
tain order. Focusing on the shifting demographic and economic
terrain of Los Angeles, this article describes ways in which com-
munity policing helps remake urban neighborhoods. The com-
munity in community policing, rather than reflecting organic
notions of residents, conforms to police notions of territorial
The Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) began imple-
menting community policing in 1992, in tandem with the
national push for such initiatives. This effort was not a spontane-
ous 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, particu-
larly 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 inde-
pendent 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
Although the popular image of South Los Angeles is that of
an African-American ghetto—a “spatially segregated and contigu-
ous 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 L atino and nearly one-
third immigrant, a number which certainly undercounts the
undocumented population (Hipp et al. 2010). Families with suffi-
cient 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 demo-
graphic 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
814 Policing the Anticommunity
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 bifur-
cated 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 pull-
ing 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 low-
status, labor-intensive tasks on the other. By the end of the
1990s, LA remained the largest industrial city in the United
States, but its “industries [were] based on nonunionized low-
wage workers...drawn increasingly from the ranks of immi-
grants, legal and undocumented” (Valle and Torres 2000: 4).
Many service employers, such as hotels and cleaning services,
explicitly prefer immigrant and undocumented Latinos over
native-born black citizens. One ostensible reason for this is their
“soft skills”: Zamudio and Lichter (2008) argue that this is code
for tractable imm igrant labor, as undocumented migrants can be
paid substandard wages, collect no benefits or worker’s c ompen-
sation, and are unlikely to sue over workplace violations. Yet the
preference against black labor has long been a historical trend
in LA (Sides 2003). As Marcelli, Pastor, and Jossart (1999)
remind us, this economic arrangement also swells the ranks of
the informal economy of both visible and invisible, citizen and
noncitizen labor, including day labor, prostitution, street food
vending, and drug selling. Meanwhile, the homeless population
has expanded significantly in LA’s “Skid Row,” about three-
fourths of whom are black, particularly since the 2008 housing
market crash (Stuart 2011).
To expand on the relationship between the turn to community
on the one hand and the growing prison nation on the other, this
article situates both trends within a framework that emphasizes the
responsivity of each to the racial/capitalist state. It contributes to a
developing, place-based literature that considers together political
economy, law enforcement, and the racialized social forces that
shape urban space. For example, Lynch and her colleagues (2013)
identified economic and political pressures from gentrification and
tourism as driving differential drug law enforcement in San Fran-
cisco. These policies subjected black residents in different neigh-
borhoods to coercive containment or expulsion depending on the
political/economic development goals for each neighborhood. In
LA, Stuart (2011) finds that special law enforcement task forces
sweep homeless populations in “Skid Row” into subpoverty
Roussell 815

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