Even though I was only 11 years-old at the time, I can still remember it like it was yesterday. I remember watching the videotape footage of Rodney King being beaten mercilessly like a wild animal in Los Angeles. That film was etched into my memory.
I also remembered the four officers being acquitted. Before I knew it, news of an uprising in L. A. were broadcast. Violence broke out all over the city and beyond as a result of the court’s consciousless decision for the sake of protecting their corrupt underlings. The people who have long suffered under the oppressive negligence of the city of L.A. and the military-style occupation of poor black and brown communities became enraged and all hell broke loose.
The uprising, known as ‘riots’ in the mainstream, were a direct result to yet another slap in the face of people of color forced to suffer under a racist injustice system who supposedly worked under the false premise of to “protect and serve.” It was one of many chapters of members of disenfranchised communities of color expressing their rage towards a society that deemed them unimportant and worthless. We would see similar cases internationally from the streets of Egypt to the avenues of London. The people were rising to show the world that they were mad as hell and they’re not going to take it anymore.
There are a few things to be learned from this anniversary:
1. The American justice system is not about justice, but about control, particularly when it comes to poor blacks and browns.
2. Whiteness trumps justice almost every time. The acquittal of the four white officers is glaring evidence of that truth.
3. The lives of black and brown people mean very little to nothing in a white supremacist society.
4. The police in poor communities (of color) are not meant to “protect and serve” but to “dispose and enslave.”
5. Nothing’s changed.
There are more sparks flickering near the oil drum of society. One of those sparks will be the one that will cause a huge explosion. What will be that spark that will set off a racial explosion way too powerful to put out?
Twenty years ago this weekend, after four cops were acquitted for the widely publicized assault of Rodney King, communities in LA united in anger. In under a week, thousands showed through physical expression of their anger that the Dream of the U.S. was not working. In that time 53 lives were taken and more than 3,000 fires caused about a billion dollars of damage, according to reports. But let’s be clear: two decades after LA went up in flames, the anger still bubbles barely beneath the surface and the US remains in crisis.
The vicious beating of unarmed motorist Rodney King which was caught on tape, March 3 1991 by bystander George Holiday angered many. But at the same time it gave people some sort of hope that things would change. The video tape was seemed the crucial piece of evidence that many had long been waiting for that would vindicate thousands of Black and Brown folks living in Southern, Cali who had long complained about the brutality of LAPD…Many felt it would lead to the arrest and criminal punishment of the 4 officers who were seen striking King over 50 times with batons and tasering him. The video tape underscored the long list of social and political conditions that were leading up to the 92 Uprisings. You can peep that infamous video HERE.
April 29th marks the 20th Anniversary of the week-long civil unrest popularly known as the LA Riots. Violence erupted throughout the city of Los Angeles in the aftermath of the acquittal of four LAPD officers who were accused of beating African American motorist Rodney King. The beating was famously captured on a held-held video device.
Amidst the images of violence, the fires that raged in the background and all of the allusions to earlier moments of insurrection—Watts in 1965 and Newark in 1967—my most lasting memory of the LA Riots was the watching the series finale of The Cosby Show on the evening of April 30th, 1992—a full day after the city erupted. As the Huxtables celebrated the college graduation of their only son Theo from New York University, the show that had defined Black Middle Class aspiration for nearly a decade and whose popularity made a claim on a post-race society before such language even existed, was revealed as flaccid in the face of the anger and betrayal of those that The Cosby Show ostensibly represented.
Having dropped out of the University of Oregon after 2 quarters, I was living in Los Angeles working and taking two classes at UCLA. Like many middle-class white youth I presume, I paused when the verdict was delivered and noted the injustice that spurred my outrage before getting back to my life. I was angry, like many others, because a jury of THEIR peers concluded that 4 police officers did nothing wrong in beating Rodney King 56 times, but the anger lasted only for that second. That was the reaction from many in West Los Angeles. “That’s outrageous, can I get a cold beverage”; “what an injustice, is the mall open yet?”
I cannot believe that today is the 20th anniversary of the L.A. rebellion. To commemorate the incident, I am sharing this poem by one of my favorite poet’s Lucille Clifton. Look for this and other poems about policing, violence and resistance in the next couple of weeks in a publication that I have developed.
“Everybody just assumed they were guilty,” said Mathew McDaniel, a filmmaker who made the documentary, “Birth of a Nation 4-29-92.”But there was far more to it than one jury verdict. “The Rodney King situation was just the straw that broke the camel’s back,” said YoYo Whitaker, who grew up in South LA and was then just beginning her career as a rapper and actress. “The community had been suffering so long and screaming out for help.”