The LA Riots: A perspective 20 years later
On April 29th, 1992 I was a 7 year old second grader in Oakland, CA with little understanding of race and identity issues. I was just being introduced to the history lessons of slavery and the plight of Native Americans at a time when all that occupied my mind was the foursquare game during recess and what Oakland A’s game I could figure a way to attend with my buddies.
But that night, I was glued to the TV set watching the images coming out of LA. The riots were sweeping South Central Los Angeles. I remember seeing fires, store-windows getting broken, cars smashing into other cars, gunfire and bloodshed. I couldn’t turn away from the TV.
It’s pretty ironic that part of me thought it was all kind of cool. I was unable to put the pieces together as it related to Rodney King, economics, police brutality, or racial tolerance. All I saw was movie-like violence and I was enjoying it.
My emotions changed once I saw the looks of concern on my mother’s face. Then I started getting scared. It’s like everything got real out of nowhere and I realized this actually isn't a movie... these are real people shooting real guns, throwing real bricks, with real people getting hurt. It was all a bit much for me to process so I found my brother to throw the football around. I don’t remember asking any questions or talking it over amongst family.
As years went on, I remember rarely talking about it. Was it because of proximity to where I was? Would it have been different if I lived in LA? Or was it just really uncomfortable to talk about? I don’t know.
So here we are, 20 years later. I have a deeper, more nuanced racial and political analysis on things. This anniversary (and the wonders of YOUTUBE) gave me the opportunity to relive the events of that fateful week. I was in shock while viewing the footage and reading first hand accounts of what happened on the streets of Los Angeles those few days in 1992. From the beating of Rodney King to the open gun battles in Korea Town.
What was clear was that Los Angeles had been at its boiling point for years and everything hit the fan once that horrendous verdict was made. One of the most disheartening things was to see people with honest rage releasing it through violent means and at the wrong people. The sick irony can found in the fact that while guilty cops were being found innocent on one side of town, a lot of innocent folks would pay the price.
I talked to a friend from LA about the riots. He refused to talk claiming it was all too real for him and he didn’t feel like “going there” again. What he wanted to talk about was the massive “community rebuilding” effort led by the residents of South Central following the riots.
Indeed, there was a great deal of activism and organizing that came soon after the riots. Marques Harris Dawson of the Community Coalition highlights in a recent op-ed published on The Huffington Post that the community came together around three specific issues:
- Reform the police department,
- Rebuild communities ties fractured by the crack epidemic and violence of the 1980s, and
- Increase economic investments and opportunities in South L.A.
Workshops were led, partnerships created, and hope restored in area that survived a nightmarish few days in early 1992.
Marques and others point out that all isn’t good in South LA today. The community there is still marginalized and a lot of promises broken by city leaders. Now more than ever, economic inequality stands to keep generations from succeeding in urban areas from south LA to East Oakland.
Twenty years ago, the acquittal of four police officers who beat Rodney King (with video evidence to prove it) led to a wave of violence that left 53 dead, thousands injured, and hundreds of businesses destroyed. We are dangerously at the same point we are at 20 years ago.
Our communities still feel the rage of injustice in the deaths of Oscar Grant, Trayvon Martin, Amadou Diallo and countless others. Ane too many of the same vulnerable communities are dangerously close to that same tipping point. Only now it’s even more widespread.
If you knew the cause of the next fire wouldn’t you prevent it? Our leaders and most importantly our voting community need to realize that we are all better off when we are ALL better off. When ALL of our basic needs are met and ALL of us are treated with dignity and fairness.
Let’s make it a point to ensure that leaders are held accountable for their bold promises of jobs and fairness. We can lift everyone up out of these nightmares we live in as long as it is done in a fair, comprehensive, and holistic manner.
If not, then we are all guilty of the fire we set.
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