Monday, April 30, 2007

Fifteen Year Anniversary of L.A. Riots

I have lived most of my life in Los Angeles. On April 29, 1992, I saw events occur that I knew could happen, but never believed would transpire. After the inconceivable acquittal of the LAPD officers charged with the beating of Rodney King, some sections of the city exploded. The fires burned in familiar places and mayhem ensued close to home. It was our city's darkest hour.

The anniversary passed with few public comments. Time Magazine published a special section. The Los Angeles press had a couple items, but most of the attention was paid to Senator Barack Obama's glamorous appearances. (Image: LA Times) I rather like Sen. Obama, and I appreciate his compelling oratory style and stubstance. (Stevie Wonder is pretty cool too.) When Sen. Obama spoke at the First AME Church in South Central LA (a prominent pulpit in the city, certainly so after the 92 riots), he spoke of a wound in our cities and of a metaphorical bullet that needs to be removed. There is a wound, yes, but to remove the lead, where to begin?

It is astounding to see the lack of progress and development in South Central. I remember driving by burned out sections of town on my way to grad school at U.S.C. that remained vacant for years. And still, I can't believe that the same politicians are reelected, the same platitudes are offered. The song and dance hasn't changed since the Watts riots. Of course people have been and continue to be fed up.

Little has been done to create economic development. The Times reports that a Rebuild LA (the private post-riot recovery agency) "study said that an infusion of $6 billion was needed to reverse decades of stagnation in South Los Angeles. When the agency shut down in 1997, corporate investment totaled only $389 million."

To that point, Sen. Obama adds:
"We have now spent half a trillion dollars on a war that should have never been authorized, and should have never been waged," Obama said. "We could have invested that money in SouthCentral Los Angeles, or the South Side of Chicago, in jobs and infrastructure and hospitals and schools. Why is it we can find the money in a second for a war that doesn't make any sense?"
The above comment is a day late and a dollar short, to say the least. Whatever you think about the war, federal money was never going to solve the problems of South Central (no matter how many times Congresswoman Maxine Waters will lie and promise to the contrary). One thing that South Central needs is more investors like Magic Johnson working with corporations like Starbucks to bring good jobs and sustainable business to the region.

Lastly, I'll note that I didn't see many blog posts about the anniversary. I would like to comment on one post at the capable blog LAist: (Can't We All Just Get Along - 2007). The post was somewhat interesting, but one phrase jumped out as absurd: "For five days, all of the stored up bitterness, resentment, and frustrations were unleashed in a cathartic rage on the city as the rest of the world watched." (Italics mine.) Cathartic? Since when is arson (more than 1,100 buildings), murder (53 lives taken), racially-targeted violence (2,300 people injured), and widespread mayhem considered cathartic? Not the right choice of words. Catharsis is a purification, described by Aristotle as the purging of emotion, fear, or terror by experiencing a poetic tragedy. While I understand that a riot, like catharsis, is a release of energy, its end result is not pure. If writers and politicians continue to frame riot in terms of "uprising" or exacting satisfaction, then it will be construed to be a justifiable event, which it is not and never can be.

On Wednesday, I'll feature a book that is essential in understanding the King beating, the trial, and the riots.

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