Tuesday, April 29, 2008


It began with a TV broadcast.

The reading of the verdict.

The helicopter view of Florence and Normandie.

The first reports of looting.

The first sign of fire.

Reginald Denny.

More looting.

More signs of fire.

Signs of looting and fire heading north.

A Parker Center protest.

Police cars being overturned.

Palm trees burning alongside the 101 Downtown.

More signs of looting and fire.

Koreatown shop owners standing atop their businesses, rifle in hand.

"Can we all just get along?"

Looting and fire -- in one's neighborhood -- right before one's eyes.

Smoke filling the air.

Staying indoors.

The police car situated down the street.

Family members breaking down and crying.

Final exams postponed.

What's going on here?

What is happening to my City?

Is this for real?

This is madness!

Oneself breaking down and crying.

We need an earthquake - NOW - just so everyone will stop.

That is what the Militant recalls from April 29-May 2, 1992. The event known as an uprising, a rebellion, a civil disobedience, an urban disturbance, a melee, an insurrection, a riot -- depending on one's cultural, geographical and sociopolitical perspective, was something the Militant will never forget, yet he kind of wants to.

He is keenly aware, just as he was aware back then, than many do not, could not and will not understand. They think it's just "California people being themselves." They think it's just "L.A. getting what it deserves" (they probably selectively forgot that other such events happened in several other American cities on 4/29/92 as well). They will never understand.

A good percentage of people reading this were not here when it happened, or maybe not of the age where they could comprehend what happened. But it did.

The Militant would not condone any of the actions, he has more sense than that. But looking back, it was the breaking point of a society that tended to wallow in naive content. A wake-up call. It was part of a process. Like the Oklahoma City bombing three years later or the multiple terrorist acts in the East Coast nine years later, it meant reality was no longer knocking at our door - it was busting it down.

So what now, 16 years later?

Many people contend "There's gonna be another one." The Militant wonders whether they're just guessing, or actually hoping. The Militant doesn't think so, at least not on the same scale. 1992 was also the birthdate of the World Wide Web, and in less than 10 years it would become a mainstream phenomena. Now it's a part of daily life. Heck, you're on it right now.

No, teh Int3rw3bz isn't gonna stave off another riot, but people are less and less in the dark regarding information and self-expression. Blogs and forums and the like won't save the world per se, but perhaps the pent-up anger that got unleashed in '92 could have been prevented if people had a common means to express themselves. Granted, not everyone has the luxury of the web (though you'd be surprised, the Militant knows for a fact that more and more low-income people have access to the Internet than you would assume). But the web is starting to leave the stationary computer realm and go mobile - on our phones or other devices. It is becoming more accessible.

The Militant also believes communities - and the perception of communities - have changed since 1992. When the fires finally burned out and actor Edward James Olmos invited citizens to go outside and help clean up the mess, the Militant was instantly inspired. The awesomeness of that spirit of involvement seemed to overshadow the ruckus of the previous few days. This spirit of cooperation, of involvement soon grew into the love and care of our communities that never really existed before.

Others may think this whole obsession with identifying with communities and neighborhoods, be it Westside, Eastside (both the wrong one and right one), NELA, Downtown, Silver_Lake, Silverlake, Boyle Heights, Palms, Sherman Oaks, Harbor City, Garvanza, Atwater Village, Pacoima, etc. etc. is "Too East Coast." No, it's a process. People are starting to take stock in their communities, they are starting to frame them. What was one ambiguous "city" that wasn't really a city is becoming more like a real city. We're a young city, remember that. Comparing Los Angeles to New York or Paris or Tokyo is like comparing a teenager to a bunch of senior citizens and asking, "Who's smarter?" To many the answer may be obvious, but the younger one can still have the opportunity to grow and learn, whereas the older ones will always be set in their ways.

More importantly, from the perspective of this lifelong Angeleno, pre-1992, people took their neighborhoods for granted. They enjoyed life and when things went wrong, they didn't really give much of a care. Post-1992, people are making an effort to improve their quality of life. Countless non-profit agencies dedicated to improving of communities, be they regional, socioeconomic, ethnic/cultural or other demographic, have started up. Citizen groups dedicated to community improvement, safety or beautification have also started up. The Militant definitely got more involved after '92. He never understood why until he realized that it was all part of the changed psyche of the city. Yes, you cynical hating transplants, of course not everyone wants to get involved, but the level of involvement that exists today is something that never happened in the '60s or '70s or '80s. Each and every one of the Militant's operatives - he is proud to say - are community-minded people who are involved, be it local government, academia, neighborhood councils, non-profits, etc. They are definitely doing things. Are you?

Things are not perfect, of course, especially in this current economic situation nationwide. The event that sparked on 4/29/92 was tragic...yet, perhaps a necessary evil. What happened isn't necessarily justified. But it happened, and we must use our experience in a constructive manner. As Angelenos, we should own our own perspective of history and point to that event not from the perspective of hate, embarrassment or shame, but as an important lesson to all, that we should get off our asses and get involved.

Stay Militant, Angelenos. Truly.


Anonymous said...

Good post, first thing I've read all day on this anniversary. I'm a transplant, and was a freshman in college on the East coast (Virginia) at the time. I remember the reactions of the Angelenos on campus during this time- hurt, angry, upset, sad, worried, etc. Lots of crying :-(

LA is a totally different place now, you're right. I moved here in 2002 during a lot of the "10 year anniversary" of the riot. Took myself on a little tour of the areas, which still are changing to this day. LA is definitely a teenager, and the riots can be seen as an outburst. Now we are growing up. Guess it had to happen.

It was very hard to watch on TV for everyone :-(

Anonymous said...

Oh Militant, can u caption the pic of the burning building? What and where is it?

fatpinkchicken said...

I was only six, so I only vaguely remember it. I drew a picture of a burning building in kindergarten after my parents apparently drove past fires on the freeway.

Even though I don't really remember a "before," and have nothing to really compare it to, your idea about community strikes me as comparable to something we've talked about in some of my classes.

The idea is that as media increasingly becomes fragmented, there's a focus on extreme localization/community identity. (Sites like LAist, The Foothill Cities blog, LA Eastside and your own come to mind here.)

I think (or hope) that the more people care about and become invested in their own little part of the world, the more they see the big picture, of how that little piece fits in with everything else.

Anonymous said...

i've been thinking about the riots a lot lately as well. I just remember it being a great time to grow up in los angeles, a week off of school for the riots, a week off of school for the northridge earthquake and then my junior high was on lock down during the north hollywood shoot out(i've been on the east side my entire life but was shipped to magnet schools elsewhere). maybe it sounds insensitive but as a child i had no idea what was really going on, i marveled at it all.

i was in first grade when the riots took place. i remember seeing everything on tv and being happy as a clam i could stay home all week but kept wondering why my mom wouldn't take us anywhere. i've talked to some older co-workers recently about their experiences during the riots and was shocked to learn that it was all so close. my entire family resides within the neighborhoods of lincoln heighs, el sereno and highland park. i was shocked to learn that everything was so close while it was going down. i'd always thought it was on the other side of downtown and i remember my maternal grandparent's relief that it was all over just as the riots were making their way into lincoln heights.

of course, those drop drills for drive by shootings came in handy when on happened during our afterschool drill team practice in second grade. there was the time the recess bell had already rang but no one left the classroom until the OJ verdict was read (most had radios, we were lucky and had a television in our class).

but our city is still portrayed in such a dim light. i lost all respect ofr Anderson Cooper who covered gang life in the hollenbeck divison. seeing him walk right down the streets right around the corner from my house telling the world that every young man is in a gang, every family is affected by shootings and every wall is covered with tags i knew it was all a such a lie. i drove for blocks after seeing that not spotting a single tagg.

i've already said too much so i won't bother with a conclusion.

Anonymous said...

We dont need no water let the muther fucker burn!

philpalm said...

I remember the insurrection and there were some looters that I knew. One had a heart attack when someone looted his booty...

I myself got a picture of myself posted post insurrection on the LA Times pushing a shopping cart past a looted burnt building.

In a way I was part of the clean up crews, I chose to scavenge copper in destroyed buildings....

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