Not a Moment in Time

We begin with history. What lineage stands behind today’s policing?

From the start, settlers in the U.S. have occupied land by policing it. Under settler colonialism, everyone and everything existing on that land must be dominated, managed, or eliminated to make way for the needs of white supremacy and capital. This is why we have police. It is impossible to separate policing from land theft and occupation. Harm to those in close relationship with land is not an accidental result of policing: it is the intended result.

In Los Angeles, land and policing have been interwoven since the beginning of European conquest. The Tongva people indigenous to what we now call Los Angeles have resisted centuries of successive Spanish, Mexican and U.S. rule which has included enslavement (downtown LA was converted into a “de facto slave market of Tongva labor”)[1], extermination, and forced assimilation.[2] Tongva people continue to struggle for official recognition and land rights, as well as for preservation of their landmarks. Meanwhile, Los Angeles has been the recipient of waves of Indigenous peoples displaced by colonial violence, making it the home of the “largest Indigenous population of any city in the US.”[3]

While the Tongva people struggle for land rights and resist their physical and cultural destruction, the settler colonial apparatus that forcibly severed them from their land has continued to target the Black and Indigenous peoples who have come to L.A. The Tongva village where downtown L.A. now stands was forced to relocate, and the Indigenous and Mexican people who came to the city in search of work were criminalized and incarcerated by police.[4] Any discussion of neocolonialism and the continuation of conquest and land theft must be grounded in an understanding of Tongva history and ongoing resistance, and a commitment to Tongva sovereignty and land rights.

While the manifestations of colonialism and conquest faced and resisted by the Gabrielino and Tongva communities (as well as other indigenous people who have called this area home) have been diverse, what guides the state’s relationship to these communities is the “logic of elimination.” This logic includes not only “summary liquidation of Indigenous people” but also the construction of a “colonial society on the expropriated land base,”[5] thus turning invasion into a political structure, which is then fiercely guarded by police. In fact, the Tongva scholar Charles Sepulveda urges us to recognize the connectedness between the struggles for police abolition and decolonization, considering them part of the same vision of “creative re-imagining of human relationships to place, beyond the structures of white supremacy.”[6]

The history of colonized Los Angeles also cannot be understood without a focus on the Black freedom struggle. At the same time Los Angeles was being imagined as a haven for white settlers, Black people also looked to the city as a place where they could seek upward mobility through industrial work and land ownership. As Black people fleeing the racial terror of Jim Crow came here for opportunity and survival, the settler city responded with housing policies like redlining and racially restrictive covenants, barring Black communities from owning land outside of specifically designated areas like the one along Central Avenue in South Central. White settlers along the perimeter of these areas feared that nearby Black neighborhoods would threaten property values. As a result, policing was concentrated along the Central Avenue corridor to violently constrict the autonomy of Black people even in their own communities.[7]

By the 1970s, South Central not only faced systematic police violence but also deliberate deindustrialization and neoliberal economic policies. These policies cratered the economy in Black communities that had relied on factory industrial jobs. Mass unemployment led to increased displacement from housing, meaning that swelling numbers of Black people in Los Angeles were forced out of their homes and then further marginalized by increased police violence. These dynamics extend into the present through the process of gentrification. As divestment from poor and working class communities of color across Los Angeles transformed from an exploited labor pool to a “surplus” population, wealthy capitalist developers and the state alike eyed their neighborhoods as places to generate white wealth.[8]

Policing was always central to those transformations. In the 1990s, policies like Weed and Seed sought to “weed out” unwanted segments of Black neighborhoods  while handpicking others to “seed” for so-called “revitalization” efforts.[9] These approaches show how police worked to advance the process of bringing white capital into spaces that in prior years had been violently segregated. Adding to banishment and displacement led by local police, immigration police agencies like ICE viciously enforce U.S. borders within our communities, policing the boundaries of the state itself.

More than once in the history of Los Angeles, efforts to deploy police as enforcers of neo-colonialism have been justified through “public” projects for sports or entertainment. For example, the Mexican-American communities living in the areas of Palo Verde, La Loma, and Bishop were evicted from a place that would have been slated for public housing but instead became Dodgers Stadium. Police enforced the violent Chavez Ravine eviction in order to create a space for entertainment and consumer consumption.[10]

This pattern of displacement to generate white wealth continued in the 1984 Olympics, which the city used to fund a huge expansion and militarization of the LAPD. Police executed a campaign of gang sweeps in order to “clean up” the city for the Olympics, upholding a project that imagines the city as a playground for white wealth while razing the homes of Black, brown, and poor communities. These dynamics directly led to the 1992 uprisings.[11] They also continue today, with sports projects like SoFi Stadium in Inglewood created for the 2028 Olympics receiving tax breaks and subsidies from the city, while at the same time displacing Black, brown, and poor communities.[12]

The relationship between land and policing in Los Angeles goes beyond the physical presence of police. As the rest of this report shows, that relationship also includes the structures built to maintain segregation and control even when police are not physically present. Whether or not a police officer is physically present, the conquest that policing represents is always there. Together, the systems that comprise surveillance and policing of land in Los Angeles extend and defend the power of the U.S. settler state.