Can L.A. Finally Forget the Fatalism of Chinatown?

A UCLA Historian Offers a New Narrative for a City That’s Defined Itself by Its Injustice, Violence, and Corruption

A mother, seeking to protect her daughter and herself, fires a gunshot toward her abusive father, and then flees by car. Los Angeles police, on the scene but in no danger, open fire on the departing vehicle, killing the mother.

Her unnecessary death is more than a tragedy, or another instance of bad judgment by the cops. Her shooting has become an all-but-official emblem of California’s most populous city.

That’s because it’s the celebrated final scene of the 1974 film Chinatown.

Every American municipality has suffered from police or state violence, and most …