Column: Torrance police bigotry scandal echoes the early days of L.A. race discrimination

R&I – FS

Revelations of an ugly battery of bigoted texts by members of the Torrance Police Department came as no surprise to local resident Joan Marks.

Why not?

“Because I’m a minority,” said Marks, offering that as one of several reasons she wasn’t shocked by my colleague James Queally’s bombshell story about years of vile texts by a dozen or more Torrance officers who took aim at Black people, Jews and members of the LGBTQ community.

“It’s very upsetting,” said Marks, a retiree who worked for many years in children’s social services. “I can’t stereotype the whole city. We have some nice people in Torrance. But I don’t trust the Police Department and would be leery about calling them.”

Marks told me that when she wears a hooded shirt, she doesn’t use the hood, just to make sure she’s not profiled as a threat to public safety. But she added that bigotry extends well beyond the borders of Torrance.

“It’s national,” said Marks, whom I met while she strolled Charles H. Wilson Park, where in the summer of 2020 an Asian woman was verbally assaulted by someone telling her to go back where she came from.

Marks, who is well-versed in local history, threaded the current scandal back to the darkest days of the past, when powerful civic leaders in Torrance and other places in California conspired to keep their towns and cities mostly white.

“We know all about restrictive covenants,” Marks said.

That was a tool first used early in the 1900s by city planners and powerful members of the Southern California real estate industry, who dictated where home shoppers could and could not buy.

Los Angeles did not invent the practice, but because the city was rapidly expanding, it perfected the tricks and tools of segregation, which remains largely in place a century later here and elsewhere. The long shadow of bigotry has not lifted either. And in Torrance, which is mostly white and Asian, only about 3% of the population is Black.

“Torrance was a place where you couldn’t get approval for a subdivision without restrictive race covenants,” says Gene Slater, author of “Freedom to Discriminate: How Realtors Conspired to Segregate Housing and Divide America.”

Slater said Southern California communities including Torrance proudly promoted “permanent race restrictions” for the benefit of “the working man.” These pioneering tactics, he argued, were copied in ways that helped segregate the entire country.

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