The twentieth anniversary of the Los Angeles Riots is fast approaching. The media coverage is ramping up, and as is common most non-Los Angeles media, not a lot of it is really understanding the city and what's happened.
The New York Times
focuses on what it calls a changed demographic in South Central Los Angeles
. The article itself points out that African Americans were just half of the residents of South LA in the 1990s, so Mexican and Salvadoran residents are nothing new. The riots were a multiracial uprising, one that was spread out throughout the greater Los Angeles area, and not just in South Central. The liquor store at the end of my grandmother's block on the westside of Long Beach was burned down, and two years later I would ride on the school bus to high school in Long Beach and passed by still charred buildings and lots that were made empty by the riots. Besides that, Hollywood, Koreatown (of course), and other parts of mid-city all burned.
I was protesting at Parker Center when the Simi Valley verdict was announced. I spent the evening in South Central, talking to people and watching the fires. The next day I walked from my apartment in Angeleno Heights to Pico Union. There was looting and some arson (historic Andrews Hardware on Seventh Street, for instance) but no violence.
I had lived in the curfew area during August, 1965 so I had some eyewitness basis for comparing the two riots. The Watts Rebellion for the most part was a unitary revolt of black youth against police brutality and de facto segregation. The Rodney King explosion, in contrast, was a series of separate but simultaneous detonations: kids against police in the wake of Operation Hammer, a more or less targeted attack on Korean businesses, and a postmodern food riot that expressed the acute economic distress of poor Latino neighborhoods.
Or, to look at it from a slightly different perspective, it was an archipelago of events with specific local histories: In Compton, for instance, black and Latino kids burned down businesses owned by absentee black developers; in Latino Huntington Park, Cuban-owed businesses were trashed; and in Hollywood, persons unknown stole Madonna’s underwear from a Frederick’s display window. Several kids I interviewed at a gang unity event in Inglewood scorned the idea that the Rodney King beating was an instigation; they spoke instead of Latasha Harlins, the black teenager shot the previous year by a Korean storeowner — who was sentenced to probation rather than to prison.
I later wrote that the most important image of that week was actually taken the Christmas before: a Times photograph of thousands of women and children standing in the cold for a free handout of a chicken and a toy. L.A. had not seen such hardship since the late 1930s. But the impact of the recession on poor immigrant neighborhoods — the ultimate prime-mover of most of the looting – went otherwise unreported.
In contrast to the aftermath of the 1965 riot, which produced the whitewashing McCone Commission report that was followed by eloquent and fierce rebuttals, there was no official interest in unpacking the separate but convergent causes of 1992, or looking at the mass repression and violation of civil liberties that followed.
The only significant reflection was an ACLU report that showed that the majority of the arrestees were not African-African, and that most in fact had been taken into custody either north of Adams Boulevard or outside the city limits — facts that hardly support the dominant stereotypes of black gangs looting the city. The television news, reported from helicopters hovering at 500 feet or paraphrased from police spokespeople, was particularly egregious.
Looking back after 20 years, it's hard to believe what happened, even though I watched it all live, like everyone else, and was old enough to try to understand. As horrifying as it was seeing Reginald Denny being beaten within an inch of his life, I remember watching the TV coverage outside of Parker Center (the LAPD headquarters), and it became clear that the police had no handle on the situation. Though not a whole lot of people felt that bad seeing police cars overturned and trash cans thrown through the doors of Parker Center, you realized that no one was in control, and that was the scariest thing. I'd be lying if I felt like my own life was in danger, living in a comfortable suburban area, but the rumors that flew around made everyone nearly hysterical.
That said, all that remembered, when I look at
it's almost hard to comprehend images like this:
I hope I never see anything like this again where I live. I hate that I can't say that I can't imagine anything like it happening again.
Although the text is from Wiki, it was this now infamous footage that was up there with seeing Heysel and the Bradford fire unfold before your television watching eyes. I was 16 at the time....
At approximately 6:45 pm, Reginald Oliver Denny, a white truck driver who stopped at a traffic light at the intersection of Florence and Normandie Avenues, was dragged from his vehicle and severely beaten by a mob of local black residents as a TV news helicopter hovered above, piloted by reporter/pilot Bob Tur, who broadcast live pictures of the attack, including a concrete brick that was thrown by 'Football' Monroe William that struck Denny in the temple, causing a near-fatal seizure. As Tur continued his reporting, it was clear that local police had deserted the city.
Coincidentally, it was Tur's live reports that lead to Denny being rescued by an unarmed, African American civilian named Bobby Green Jr. who, seeing the assault live on television, rushed to the scene and drove Denny to the hospital using the victim's own truck, which carried twenty-seven tons of sand. Denny had to undergo years of rehabilitative therapy, and his speech and ability to walk were permanently damaged. Although several other motorists were brutally beaten by the same mob, Denny remains the best-known victim of the riots because of the live television coverage
Was there ever any truth in the rumour that LAPD sent a lot of their manpower to guard the wealthy (and famous) areas in the north of the city - miles away from the violence?
I doubt that.
Daryl Gates, the police chief at the time, allowed the LAPD day shift to go home even after the verdict had been read, and left Parker Center in the early evening to attend a fundraising dinner on the westside of the city. The occasion for the dinner was to defeat a city measure which would have limited the power of the LAPD police chief.
This is the same Daryl Gates who explained the deaths of African Americans who had been put in choke holds by LAPD officers by saying "blacks might be more likely to die from chokeholds because their arteries do not open as fast as they do on normal people." He also testified before Congress that "drug users ought to be taken out and shot" because "we're in a war" on drugs, and any drug use was the same as treason.
Reginald Denny forgave the men who beat him, and said this in an interview
“How bad do you have to jack up a neighborhood before the neighborhood just says enough?” he asked.
He had compassion for the “helplessness” and “disrespect” that the community felt leading up to the riot, saying, “it takes a lot of crap to happen before it stops happening.”
“People seem to forget it was black folks that saved my life,” Denny said. “On one hand, there were some out there to try to kill me or do me in. On the other hand, they are trying to save me because I’m not the enemy, and believe me I am not the enemy.”
At the time of the interview 10 years ago, Denny had long since forgiven the men who assaulted him.
He reserved his anger for the politicians and police, whom he said abandoned the city that day.
“Where they hell were they?” he asked. “They were just like, ‘I ain’t doing nothing.’”
Ten years ago, Denny didn’t see much improvement in South LA . Reflecting on the riots, he concluded that they were fueled by “people in a city that the city gave up on.”
His hope was firmly with the people of LA.
"(They) weren’t gonna give up. Doesn’t that say something about character of the people that do live there? No matter how bad it gets, we ain’t giving up.”