I usually get annoyed when one topic takes over news and culture podcasts for the week (e.g., Girls, Sharon van Etten’s latest album, Baratunde Thurston’s book tour). This week I didn’t get annoyed by the excellent coverage of the 20th anniversary of the LA Riots (or Uprising, depending on how you saw the situation) on LA’s traditional and social media. Instead, I haven’t been able to get enough.
I was 11 years old during the Riots and living out in the suburbs 20 miles away from any of the action. I definitely was aware of what was going on. I knew the name Rodney King and had seen the video. Everyone had, but I didn’t know the excessive force used against him by the four LAPD officers was not an isolated incident. I didn’t know about Latasha Harlins and Soon Ja Du. I’d never heard of the Watts Riots of 1965. Nor did I know anything about police* brutality, institutionalized racism in the justice system, redlining, de-industrialization, and a recession that hit the poor and working class communities of LA hard. (*In my mind, the police were there to serve and protect, and warn us about doing drugs with the DARE and SANE programs.)
Like millions of others, I watched the coverage of late April and early May 1992 on the news. I was scared and saddened. I didn’t understand why people were burning buildings in their own community. I don’t remember being worried that the burning and looting would reach East LA where my grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins lived. I highly doubted that anything would happen in Hacienda Heights; though something did happen a town over.
I remember talking about the looting with some kids who lived down the street. I don’t remember the boy’s name, but he either bragged about looting or just said he wanted to be out there. I also remember watching Edward James Olmos doing a cleanup (I was a fan at the time). I think my cousin who lived in East LA went out to help.
Since I was a kid, I’ve read more about the Riots and talked to people who were closer to the action and/or remember it differently. I’ve also learned a lot more about the conditions that set the stage for such an uprising in LA. I’m not a clueless 11 year old anymore, naturally. I’ve had not-so-great experiences with police and been at marches/rallies that got sketchy. Luckily, I never took a rubber bullet to the eye or got pepper sprayed. I no longer live in the suburbs, but in an LA neighborhood that might have seen some burning and looting 20 years ago. It’s changed a lot in the 12 years I’ve been here. We even have a light rail line (Expo!).
A lot has changed in LA in 20 years. At the same time, we haven’t come that far, but it feels good to know that there are many in LA who are still working to effect change.