Different Worlds, Different Realities
David P. Leonard
Loyola Law School Los Angeles
Loyola Law School Law Review (Los Angeles), Vol. 34, 2001
Allegations of serious police misconduct in the Los Angeles Police Department's Rampart Division have once again cast a light on the different societies existing side-by-side in America. In some Los Angeles communities, it is virtually inconceivable that police would routinely harass members of certain minority groups and engage in an organized effort to frame people for crimes they did not commit. In other communities, the allegations have been accepted as simply the latest volleys in a long-standing pattern of official oppression.
This essay explores some ways in which the divergent experiences of various groups within the same city affect the groups' perceptions of the world. In particular, the essay focuses on such factors as poverty, race, and exposure to crime as contributing to the development of different world views. As examples of the starkly different views of reality, the essay examines two sensational sets of cases, those surrounding the police beating of Rodney King and the criminal and civil actions against O.J. Simpson. In both cases, different juries reached contrary results. A state jury from a largely white, middle-class suburb far from the inner city acquitted the police officers accused of beating Mr. King, while a federal jury in a downtown courtroom issued guilty verdicts against some of the defendants. In the Simpson matter, a downtown criminal jury issued an acquittal after only a few hours of deliberation, while a civil jury in an affluent suburb held Mr. Simpson liable in a wrongful death action. The essay argues that the inconsistent results in both sets of cases can best be understood as arising from the different world views of the jurors. Inner-city jurors had no difficulty, for example, believing that the police mishandled the Simpson investigation, and might even have planted evidence against him. The civil jury, on the other hand, clearly found such possibilities preposterous.
The criminal justice system has yet to come to terms with the simultaneous existence of different sets of perceptions about the world, and there is no obvious solution to the problems this creates. But to maintain public respect for the criminal justice system, we must begin to assess the damage done by huge disparities in wealth and opportunity in America. We should not strive for homogeneity, but we must recognize that as long as such wide disparities exist, we will remain a society characterized more by conflict than by cooperation.
Accepted Paper Series
Date posted: April 11, 2001
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