Saturday, October 08, 2005

L.A. stories (The Uprising)

What I love about L.A. is that in 1998, I could drive five miles to the East and go from Filipino town to Olvera Street and the garment district. Five miles to the West is Beverly Hills. If I drive two miles to the South I'd be in Korea town. And in another five miles I'd be at the base of the mighty Watts Towers. This diversity is what makes L.A. thrive. But sometimes it can also be the wind that drives the wildfire. But to say that racial or cultural tensions caused the LA uprisings of 1992 would be wrong. In a society in which resources are so unevenly divided, and the economic dividing lines are pretty much indistinguishable from the cultural, racial, and geographical lines, something's gotta give. The signs were everywhere: on the news in the form of the Latasha Harlins shooting and many other similar stories; on the streets in front of my window in the form of gunshots fired by an Asian man at a youth running out of our parking garage; with every LAPD squad car "protecting and serving" our communities by stopping non-white youth for the offense of fitting a racial profile; and in every liqour store turned fortress with wrought iron bars, security cameras, and sheets of bullet-proof glass.

It was the spring of 92 and Gina and I were living in an apartment building in Korea town when the Rodney King verdicts were announced. Four white officers caught on tape beating a black man, were acquitted of criminal charges by a predominantly white jury in a Simi Valley courthouse. I had no doubt that something big was going to happen. It started out will small but vocal spontaneous demonstrations around City Hall. But by the next day, buildings were being set on fire, Korean business owners were on their roofs with assault rifles, and people were getting beaten and killed. I remember going up to the roof of our building and seeing smoke clouds in every direction. We were literally in the middle of it. That night we slept lightly if at all. We made plans to evacuate in case things got really out of hand, but we wound up staying for the whole thing. After a few days hunkered down in our apartment, I got in my car and drove to campus. All the liquor stores in my neighborhood were boarded up. The streets were eerily deserted. But by the time I got to the Miracle Mile district, the streets were a flurry of activity. The National Guard had moved into the Masonic temple on Wilshire Blvd and were setting up their command post. Razor wire fences and sandbag bunkers with machine guns made sure that everything to the West (namely Beverly Hills) was well protected. Meanwhile, buildings were still being set ablaze in my part of town. Protect and serve, indeed. It would be four or five days before a sense of order was restored in the city.

When things began to settle down, the talking started. Community groups led the way for people-- Blacks, Asians, Hispanics, Whites, to sit down and start the dialogue that was long overdue. Inevitably calls for social and economic justice went out, right along with demands for police reform. People were marching in the streets. Signs reading "Justice for Rodney King" were being carried by people of every color, right along with unflattering effigies of Police Chief Darryl Gates and Governor Pete Wilson. The city would never be the same, but some things would never change. Most people in Simi Valley probably still look back on what happened as (what George H.W. Bush described as) "random terror and lawlessness", while some Black youth will call it a "revolution". The question of whatever it actually "was" has passed into the realm of armchair discussion. All I know is that on the streets of LA today many of those dividing lines still exist. The parts of the city that were in bad shape back then, don't look like they're getting better. A general sense of decay was obvious to me on my last trip back. Meanwhile, the border of Korea town has moved about a mile to the West, inching ever closer to Beverly Hills.


Blogger Marc from Human Resources said...

so good. so so good.

thanks for sharing


6:58 PM

Blogger BradH said...

I remember this time vividly. I remember going to see a group called "Fishbone" that was playing at Crenshaw High School and thinking nothing of it. Until I noticed that my friend, Andy, and I were the only white people there at the concernt and the high school gym had posters of Chief Darryl Gates made out to look like targets with circles around his head. I was thrown out of the concert before it was over. For slam dancing, not insurrection. Luckily I was not injured other than some bruises.

I also remember hearing on the radio warnings to not drive down the 101 freeway because there were people randomly shooting at the cars. It's hard to make a justification, social, economical or otherwise, for random acts of depraved heart killing. Nevertheless, it happens. Glad you made it out alive Joe.

7:01 PM


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