Friday, April 29, 2011

April 29th, 1992

Los Angeles, CA

Nineteen years ago today LAPD officers Stacey Koon, Laurence Powell, Timothy Wind, and Theodore Briseno stood trial on charges of assault with a deadly weapon and use of excessive force for the brutal beating of Rodney King, a parolee who was pulled over by the CHP for speeding and reckless driving.

All four officers were acquitted on the charges of assault and the jury deadlocked on Powell's excessive force charge.

And Los Angeles went bugfuck.

Six days later fifty-three people were dead, 2000 people injured. Around 3600 fires had been set destroying 1100 buildings costing between 800 million and a billion dollars in damages. The California National Guard came in to set up checkpoints and enforce curfews.

The cause of the riots is not simple and is debated to this day. Racial tensions, money, politics, an Us vs Them mindset between the police and the community. Like all riots it shifted rapidly from any sort of political protest to blatant looting, making it easy to dismiss real world problems as common thuggery.

My memories of the event are chaotic at best. It was nineteen years ago, after all. I can't remember last week. Hell, I forget my own fucking birthday sometimes.

But here are a few things:

  • Traffic jams on Lincoln, people getting out of their cars to help direct and move cars out of the way because all of the police were somewhere else on tac alert. Ambulances weaving through the gridlock of cars. Better route than the one I had planned, which went by the burning shopping mall.
  • Standing in line at an almost empty grocery store talking to a Vietnam Vet who was there when the U.S. pulled out. Looking around, shaking his head and saying it reminded him of Saigon. Not an encouraging conversation.
  • Driving down to USC to help a near stranger get her stuff and get the hell out of there after she tells me about the dead guy in front of her dorm.
  • Friend of mine in the National Guard called up for duty and stuck in South L.A. with a gun, but no ammunition. Hey, at least the gangbangers giving him shit across the street were locked and loaded.
  • Paramedics getting shot. Guys on rooftops with shotguns.
  • Thinking I was well away from any of the crap going on when my roommate turns on the television and says, "Huh. Isn't that right down the street?"  And then hearing gunfire in the distance.

In all, I got off light. No one I knew was pulled out of their truck and beaten, or shot at, or stabbed. Nobody had their car stolen, or their house broken into. For the most part it swept right past me.

But for a lot of people it didn't.

We're a different city now, but not so different that something like this couldn't happen again. There's just as much rage, just as much as poverty. Our unemployment rate hovers just over 12%.

Nineteen years on and we're still a powder keg.


le0pard13 said...

Yep. So true, Stephen. My memories:
• my wife & I leaving work early to check on our house and my in-laws
• driving past & behind the old Fedco at La Cienega & Rodeo and watching the crowd that gathered around its shut doors
• arriving at home and catching the news helicopter report on TV as that Fedco got looted
• watching from my in-law's upper deck home in View Park the unfolding chaos in the surrounding areas (and counting the number of blazes out there in that 270° view)
• telling my wife that the nearby 7/11 was on fire

BISH said...

I remember it like yesterday because I was there on the front line. Everyone on the department went back into uniform (I was a plain clothes detective at the time), we rode three to a squad car, and there were times we decided to keep moving because it was better than three facing down a hundred rioters.

I was in more fights in three days than the rest of my career put together. My most vivid memory was going up ladders behind firefighters to act as human shields because we were wearing bulletproff vests and the fire department didn't have any. We were sniped at and rocked and bottled, but somehow we clawed the city back.

Not LAPD's OR LA's finest hour, but some of us still did our job with the integrity we'd always done it.

inkgrrl said...

I remember it well. The month leading up to that had been packed with GSWs & stabbings filling up the ER & ORs at MLK, so the seriousness of what was happening didn't really click until I got a call from a work buddy yelling at me not to come in to the hospital as the streets were crazy and rioters would kill me before I got there. He said he was in the closet with his kids and mom, and the line cut out right after I heard gunfire very close by. Couldn't get back through to him for days, but I was back at MLK before he was. It all sucked.

Kerry said...

Thanks for marking the day, Stephen. Seems to have - ahem - missed any mention in most of the MSM.
I recall seeing TV coverage of a throng moving near downtown/north, setting palm trees on fire, shoving one another, and mugging for the camera like they owned the city. Which they did, for a while.
Hardly the 'uprising' that some spinners put on the chaos - much more the kind of thuggish anarchy that will likely prevail in a true wide-scale emergency, especially with an entire generation echo-chambered into balkanized thinking by living online and not being around other people. Sheesh, did I really just say all that?

Daniel Garon said...

Rodney King was "arrested" where the Baby Beef Burger used to be, right in front of The Corral, near Hanson Dam. I know this because I grew up about a mile from there.