Week 30-31: remembering the 1992 Los Angeles Riots
I took a break from blogging last week because:
1) I’m sick of writing about my students right now because of the way they’ve been acting and treating me.
2) I had a sub for three weeks. What could I honestly blog about besides complaining about my student’s behavior and how most of them probably only wrote a total of five sentences over the span of three weeks?
3) These past couple of weeks have been the exact same.
I’m thrilled to share that my teacher has returned! I survived! I tried to prep my students for that big ol’ standardized test that’s coming up in two weeks, but I hate to say that I failed because my students refused to do any work (except a select few). Instead of getting frustrated, I’m at ease because I know I tried to teach them while their teacher was gone. When I asked them what they learned this month, they said “nothing”. At least they were honest…
I’ve been delaying working on a project for City Year communications because I got really caught up with Peace Corps stuff. The project is a photo and audio slideshow showcasing South LA: The community we serve. I’m supposed to get interviews with community members, students, teachers, corps members, etc. and take lots of photos that illustrate our community. The theme of the project is to show all the good things about South LA because so many people stereotype it as a “bad” neighborhood and associate it with the LA Riots.
The 20th anniversary of the uprising and the peace treaty between the bloods and the crips was this past week, which motivated me to actually make progress on this project. Yesterday, I went to Watts to take photos for the project. I stumbled upon a community resource fair hosted by the South LA Community Coalition on a lot at 81st Street and Vermont Ave that is still vacant due to the 1992 uprising. The vacant lot is soon to become a park. The Mayor and community organizations and activists spoke.
It was moving to see so many South LA residents working together for a common cause: To rebuild South LA. Ironically, unemployment has risen in South Los Angeles, which was one of the sparks for the 1992 Riots. According to a LA Times article, a post-riots report said the area needed an investment of about $6 billion and the creation of 75,000 to 94,000 jobs.
The federal and state governments spent as much as $768 million, according to a 1994 estimate, but the private sector has not invested much in South Los Angeles, which is where the jobs are. Larger businesses don’t invest in South Los Angeles because of crime and poverty –will people break into my store? Will people have the money to purchase items from my store? Unfortunately, this type of investment is what South Los Angeles needs. Reading up on the LA Riots this weekend reminded me about a couple of interviews I conducted over the summer about the riots. My radio reporting professor, Judy Muller, was my favorite interview. She covered the LA Riots as an ABC correspondent. I found an awesome radio story she reported for KPCC Los Angeles public radio that brings you back to the moment the riots started.
During my last semester at USC, I had to write a paper based on the play Twilight, which is a collection of interviews about the LA Riots. My professor asked me to do a similar style of interview and find those who experienced the riots or focus on race. I compiled a list of interviews I conducted, which make me question so much about society and Los Angeles today.
Like Tiki Torches – Judy Muller, former ABC correspondent who started reporting in Los Angeles in 1990 after moving from the east coast; she is now a professor at the USC Annenberg School of Journalism. Short blonde hair with bangs, wears glasses, slender, dresses stylish. In her late-50s. Eccentric personality, welcoming, very intelligent. Caucasian. We talked over the phone because she is away from Los Angeles at the moment on vacation in Colorado.
ABC News hired me as a TV correspondent and based me in Los Angeles.
My first thought was, ‘oh boy, this is a desert nothing will happen there.’
And then Rodney King got beat up and we were off running.
So I covered both the criminal trial of the cops and then the federal trial for violating Rodney King’s civil rights.
But it was after the first criminal trial, when the cops were acquitted by an all-white jury in Simi Valley.
I will never forget it.
I was in the newsroom; we had just reported the verdict.
And we looked up at the monitors of the news screen and within a couple of hours the city was coming apart.
It was ugly.
Very few of us actually went into the areas where there were rioting.
It would have been just foolish to walk in with $6,000 camera.
A lot of coverage was from the helicopter.
And when things quieted down, we were able to go back into the neighborhoods.
I’ll never forget it.
Never forget palm trees on fire like tiki torches.
Anybody who did go out got a bullet-proof vest.
Our news director said we don’t have enough for everyone.
Some things have not changed.
The high unemployment rate in areas where minorities live, Watts, South Central.
The opportunities for young people aren’t there.
And as long as you have that, you’re going to have a lot of resentment… should there be anything to torch that flame, ignite that problem…
Jobs, jobs, jobs we should be looking at.
The police department is no longer what it is.
It used to be an occupying force, us against them… predominately white, racist.
The face of the police department looks more like the people.
A lot more Hispanic, African American, gay officers.
I was going to say diverse.
But [Los Angeles is] more than that, it’s complicated.
And that’s what I love about it. I keep discovering new things about it.
I feel like I just arrived.
This isn’t just about a bike light – Luis Garcia Rico, a USC student majoring in political science and American studies. Large Hispanic man wearing baggy jeans and a black zip-up with a red shirt and matching red and black baseball cap. He is sitting at a table with other panelists, including an African American USC Department of Public Safety officer, white Los Angeles Police Department officer and a young Hispanic woman and man who are serving as the moderators of the discussion. The blackboard reads, “Bridging the Divide.” Garcia discusses a time when he was pulled over on his bike by LAPD around the USC campus on his way to get dinner at Wing Stop.
It became kind of blatant at that point.
I said, ‘okay, this isn’t just about a bike light.
‘I couldn’t help but think – were they looking for someone?
Did they just want to mess with someone?
It’s kind of hard to trust the judgment that they are doing the right thing.
Police officers are humans, too – Asst. Capt. John Thomas of the USC Department of Public Safety, former lieutenant of the LAPD – Thomas grew up in South Los Angeles and is a graduate of Crenshaw High School and the University of California at Los Angeles. Prior to coming to USC, he served as a lieutenant in the LAPD. He is a short, big-boned African-American male in a beige DPS uniform. He has a black mustache and bald shiny head. Helpful, and has a friendly personality. He is one of the panelists at the same event Garcia spoke at.
The riots were a wake-up call.
You can actually look at the racial percentages in Los Angeles and they will mirror the LAPD.
The officer is thinking, ‘Am I going to stop all these people on their bikes, versus just south or west of campus where people know they are supposed to have lights on their bikes?
[admits that officers may racial profile because they are looking for someone to keep the community safe]
This is why officers are aggressively doing stuff.
There’s an LAPD policy that if a person files a complaint that isn’t frivolous the department will investigate it.
The worst [a victim] can do is ignore your feelings and say nothing happened.
As long as police officers are recruited from the human race these situations will continue.
Police officers are humans too, you’re going to get good and bad.
Our goal is that the community does not think [these incidents encountered], reflect the entire force.
We’re still rappin’ and flappin‘ – Linda Guthrie, A former Los Angeles Unified School District middle school teacher who has also been an officer the United Teachers of Los Angeles (the teacher’s union). She ran for president of UTLA in 2003. Wearing a khaki button-up shirt over a orange t-shirt. Sitting at a table with other panelists. She spoke at an event that discussed the “the myth of a post-racial society” in America – and specifically – Los Angeles after Barack Obama, the first black president, took office. She is an African American woman in her late 50s.
It’s mythology that propels us forward.
It’s the mythology we have to contend with so when we have the myth of a Post-racial society.
You have to approach it in a different way.
Black women and children, they are raised at the bottom of the heap.
Still in L.A. Unified, you can still see that black children are consistently under-performed. Resources aren’t directed toward them.
The suspension rate is 300 times as much as other children.
But we live in a post-racial society where it doesn’t make any difference.
America is a spin over substance.
Post-racial is the latest slogan to find its way into the popular culture.
It’s the gist that racism has occurred in the past.
My feeling is that when I mean, when I heard the term ”post-racial” I wanted to know what they were smoking, and where they live. [Audience laughs]
Every morning when I get up, I’m acutely aware of the fact that I am a black woman in America.
As I told my students in a multicultural class, as a black woman in America, that I am at the bottom of the heap.
When I have students approach me and automatically approach me and act a certain way, when they see the color of my face then I know we don’t live in a post-racial society.
When I turn on the TV and see black women referred to as ‘bitches’ and sexualized in a way that as akin to what happened during slavery.
I cannot say that we live in a post-racial society.
When you ask children what black people are about, we’re still rappin’ and flappin’.
Within our own races. Jessica Wallace, a 28-year-old outspoken African American woman. Big-boned and slightly overweight. She is wearing a black t-shirt and red bandana. Stood up in the audience during the public comment portion of the post-racial society event and spoke loudly with many hand and arm movements. A student at Cal State Los Angeles.
It used to be white people were racist with you every day.
This and that.
And then there were the people racist on the top were also white.
But now we have interracism within our own races.
That’s the colonial racism… that people have.
Maybe Latinos have against black that is your have a darker skin than me so I’m going to be racist against you.
We have, sadly enough, is that you weren’t born here and we were born here.
And that’s how they do it.
So, based on these interviews, the question is, even if the LAPD changed, has much else changed? Do we live in a post-racial society or is that a myth? If we live in a post-racial society, then why are the schools that struggle the most like Markham full of only minority students? Why are minority students getting a second-rate education? Why are we still fighting against different races? Why is unemployment even higher than it was in 1992? Why is violence still prevalent in our communities? I wish I knew. What do you think?
City Year Los Angeles’ deputy director sent all the corps members an email last night about how things have changed since 1992: there is more discussion among people and our civic leaders are diverse, but people still live in poverty and violence that circulate through the schools we serve.
We serve in these neighborhoods that were affected by the riots to help prevent anything like that again. We encourage our students to be leaders and receive a decent education so they can come back later and help their home neighborhoods. We are those who are finding a solution to the problem.
Our deputy director said that after our service year, we have to share the story of these neighborhoods and vote “honor the legacy of those we served.”
I will do so. I will also push to be my best in my last five weeks of service.
Yes, we really have only five weeks left…