Abstract

This article explores the Coalition Against Police Abuse (CAPA) and the resistance to police abuse in Los Angeles during the 1970s. It argues that the use of force directed at social movements by the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) after the 1965 Watts uprising did not destroy resistance but rather provided the foundation for a new phase in the struggle against police violence. Evolving out of the repression of Black Power and Chicano movements, CAPA rejected the idea that the LAPD could be reformed from within. In order to fundamentally alter the relationship between residents and local criminal justice systems, CAPA demanded community control of the police. Activists worked to build a broad-based coalition to channel anger at police violence into an organized movement based on nonviolent protest, documentation of police abuse, redress through lawsuits, and political pressure in public hearings. By the 1980s, CAPA’s movement gained popular support from political officials, middle-class residents, church leaders, and civil rights organizations. This coalition, however, sought only minor changes at the margins of the criminal justice system that did not meaningfully alter the balance of power between the community and the police. Opposition to police abuse was consistent over time, but its ideological and political grounding narrowed as demands for accountability and justice were routed into established processes and institutions. Although the anti-police- abuse coalition challenged law-and- order politics, its achievements were moderate compared to CAPA’s initial vision of community control of the police.

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