AN EXAMINATION OF THE TIMES’ FAILURES ON RACE, OUR APOLOGY AND A PATH FORWARD.. The headline was stripped across the top of the front page, “Marauders From Inner City Prey on L.A.’s Suburbs.” The story, published by The Times on July 12, 1981, described a “permanent underclass” in the city’s “ghettos and barrios,” fueling a crime wave that was spilling over from South Los Angeles into prosperous — and largely white — communities in Pasadena, Palos Verdes, Beverly Hills and elsewhere.
The article, the first of a two-part series, purported to be an ambitious look at a major social problem, and it cited a lack of education and jobs as underlying causes of inner-city distress. But it also reinforced pernicious stereotypes that Black and Latino Angelenos were thieves, rapists and killers. It sensationalized and pathologized the struggles of poor families and painted residents of South L.A. with a broad brush. It quoted police and prosecutors unskeptically and implied that more aggressive policing and harsher judicial sentencing were the only effective responses to crime.
The series drew prompt and deserved criticism that highlighted an insidious problem that has marred the work of the Los Angeles Times for much of its history: While the paper has done groundbreaking and important work highlighting the issues faced by communities of color, it has also often displayed at best a blind spot, at worst an outright hostility, for the city’s nonwhite population…
Prompted by a pandemic, an economic crisis and a national debate over policing — all of which have spotlighted racial disparities in the United States — our nation now faces a long-delayed reckoning with systemic racism. We would be remiss, in the autumn of 2020, a season of grief and introspection, if we did not take part in that self-examination. This editorial is one part of that process.