It took the LA Riots to make me realize that this was home, not a place I’d moved to. I was enraged by the cowardice of the police, judiciary, and everybody else who set the stage for the 1992 LA Riots.
A short list includes:
- The four LAPD cops who walked free after their trial was moved from LA to Pretoria out in furthest Ventura County.
- Darryl Gates, who would snarl when the City Hall poodles would timidly suggest he wasn’t doing such a great job. Please remember that Gates at one point had requested a submarine for the LAPD. He already had armored vehicles with rams on them, so why not.
- The aforementioned City Council
- The looters who burned down Esowon, LA’s oldest black-owned bookstore.
- And all the rest of the looters who got into the act by cleaning out Samy’s Camera on La Brea. Hello, opportunistic white people.
Day One of the riots started late in the afternoon. The verdicts were read out, and my first thought was “Holy shit, we’re in for it now.” Having lived through college riots at Ohio University in 1970, with a subsequent National Guard occupation, I was not optimistic. There was smoke that night, but the main action was south of the 10 Freeway. White people were not overly affected.
Day Two dawned, and I was due to take a Quark class in Westwood. Feeling famously cheap, not wanting to pay for UCLA parking, I rode my bike 8 miles from the Fairfax to the Wilshire/Westwood office building. At 3:30 the instructor said “time to go home, it’s getting bad out there”. From the windows, the north-bound 405 was a glittering parking lot.
The White Zombie Apocalypse greeted me out on the street. Traffic was gridlocked on Wilshire, in both directions. All the white people in their cars had the windows rolled up, and they all had late-stage rigor mortis; lockjawed, stiff-armed, and frozen in place.
I got on my bike, whistle in mouth, blasting, and sliced lanes eastbound to Beverly Hills. Nothing moved. Crossed Santa Monica, which was also totally zombiefied, and raced onwards towards my office on Wilshire & San Vicente, a mile west of LACMA.
The traffic began to open up. I began to see Latino day-workers, stranded at bus-stops as the RTD buses thundered past them. At my office building, I could see smoke, and chaotic traffic. Terry, the black building manager, and Richard, the Ghanaian night desk man, hustled me into the lobby.
“What the fuck are you doing out there?” I told them, and they shook their heads.
Richard was getting a primer on American race politics. Terry was disgusted beyond measure at the looters. One looter had been slip-cuffed in front of the building, but the cops got a call and left him. He saw Terry and said “Help a brother up, will ya?”
Terry scornfully told him “I’m. Not. Your. Brother.” And walked back into the building. Down the street, looters cleaned out Adry’s Discount. Cameras, washers, everything. Somebody got shot in front of the Jewish Center.
Upstairs, the agency was empty. I looked out my window, and counted over 15 columns of smoke. I saw San Vicente being used as a race-track. I rode home to my apartment in the Fairfax.
I watched TV, flipping through all the free channels, watching ashen-faced, overpaid LA newsreaders trying to make sense of it all. Their million-dollar paycheck bubbles were nothing to Koreans protecting their property by any means necessary.
In the midst of all this stupidity, I saw Huell Howser on PBS. With only a sound-guy and camera-man, on Hollywood Blvd, in front of Sears. Huell walked right up to the entrance, as looters swarmed like roaches, carrying everything, and asked The Big Question.
“Whatcha doin’ that for?”
They were stuck for an answer. He had the biggest balls in the city, making all of the rest look like the hollowed-out cowards they were. For this alone, he has my undying respect and affection.
That night I slept on the floor the smoke was so bad. I could hear gunshots. My then-girlfriend up in Fresno wanted me to come up. I would, but at dawn, when the curfew was lifted.
I drove to Fresno at dawn. Descending into the San Joaquin Valley down the Grapevine, I saw the Nat’l Guard convoys heading up the mountain. I was thrilled.
When I got to Fresno, the local bobble-head news-readers cheerfully reported events exactly backwards, with the coda of “we don’t have riots up here yet!” Out in ruburbian Madera County, the riots were as distant as in a Tolstoy novel.
I couldn’t wait to get back, and returned late Sunday night. And I’ve been here since.