Log In

Reset Password

Operation Hammer (1987-1990): racial profiling at its worst

First Prev 1 2 3 Next Last
LA police raid (Photograph courtesy of NoOlympics LA)

In acknowledgement of Black History Month, The Royal Gazette continues the publication of stories throughout February on African-American, Black Bermudian and global African people, events and institutions, and their contributions in history

Operation Hammer, a law enforcement programme by the Los Angeles Police Department that began in 1987, was ostensibly an attempt to crack down on gang violence in Los Angeles, California. Many critics, however, saw the operation as racial profiling because it targeted the city’s African-American and Hispanic youth.

The origin of Operation Hammer can be traced back to the 1984 Summer Olympics, which were held in Los Angeles. Under the supervision of LAPD chief Darrel Francis “Daryl” Gates, the LAPD expanded gang sweeps during the Olympics ostensibly to protect the tens of thousands of outside visitors and Los Angeles residents expected to attend the Games. Many of the events were scheduled for the Los Angeles Colosseum located in South Central Los Angeles, a major area of gang activity. The main areas the LAPD targeted were South Central and East Los Angeles, and the tactics used included mass arrests and detention of suspected gang members.

Yet, even after the Olympics ended, the LAPD used old anti-syndicalist laws designed to curb the activities of 19th-century labour activists and political radicals, and against members of the two largest 1980s gangs, the Crips and the Bloods. Again, the LAPD arrested hundreds of Black and Hispanic boys and young men who were “suspected” gang members. Despite these arrests, many of them were never charged with a specific crime and were subsequently released.

In April 1987, the LAPD began Operation Hammer after a group of people were shot on their front lawn in a drive-by shooting at a birthday party in South Central Los Angeles. Gates responded with a round-up of gang members. Arrests of suspected gang members continued through 1987 and into 1988. At the height of Operation Hammer in April 1988, 1,453 people were arrested by 1,000 police officers in South Los Angeles on a single weekend.

South LA gang sweep (Photograph courtesy of The Mirror)

Citizens who were not suspected gang members also were victims of Operation Hammer. On August 1, 1988, 88 LAPD police officers raided two apartment buildings located on the corner of 39th Street and Dalton Avenue. When the police arrived, they searched for drugs, and in the process caused massive property damage, including smashing furniture, punching holes in walls and destroying family photographs. The police sprayed graffiti messages such as “LAPD Rules” and “Rollin 30s Harlem Crips Die”. These tactics were clearly designed to intimidate both drug members and apartment residents who were believed to be sheltering them and protecting their criminal activity. During the raid many residents in the apartment building and neighbourhood were rounded up, beaten and humiliated. Despite these brutal tactics, the police raid netted less than than six ounces of cannabis and less than an ounce of cocaine.

By the time Operation Hammer ended in 1990, it was estimated that more than 50,000 people had been arrested in its raids. The LAPD arrested far more young Black men and women than even in the 1965 Watts Riots. Operation Hammer clearly employed racial profiling that targeted African-American and Hispanic youth. The anger and frustration from that profiling as well as the police assault of motorist Rodney King contributed to the Rodney King Riots in 1992.


“Operation Hammer,” PBS, https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/lapd/interviews/gates.html; “Operation Hammer,” The Nation, https://www.thenation.com/article/archive/want-understand-1992-la-riots-start-1984-la-olympics/; The Media Awareness Project, http://www.mapinc.org/newscsdp/v01/n450/a05.html; Alexander Cockburn and Jeffery St. Clair, Whiteout: The CIA, Drugs and the Press (London: Verso Books, 1999).

You must be Registered or to post comment or to vote.

Published February 07, 2023 at 7:57 am (Updated February 06, 2023 at 10:07 pm)

Operation Hammer (1987-1990): racial profiling at its worst

What you
Need to
1. For a smooth experience with our commenting system we recommend that you use Internet Explorer 10 or higher, Firefox or Chrome Browsers. Additionally please clear both your browser's cache and cookies - How do I clear my cache and cookies?
2. Please respect the use of this community forum and its users.
3. Any poster that insults, threatens or verbally abuses another member, uses defamatory language, or deliberately disrupts discussions will be banned.
4. Users who violate the Terms of Service or any commenting rules will be banned.
5. Please stay on topic. "Trolling" to incite emotional responses and disrupt conversations will be deleted.
6. To understand further what is and isn't allowed and the actions we may take, please read our Terms of Service
7. To report breaches of the Terms of Service use the flag icon