The Los Angeles Riots, twenty years on

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BanjoRed91's picture
BanjoRed91
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Apr 27 2012 16:18
The Los Angeles Riots, twenty years on

April 29 will mark the 20th anniversary of the start of the L.A. riots that engulfed the city for days. I was born right before this happened, but many people I know remember very well the breakdown of law and order that occurred. I am wondering if anyone on this forum was there or has any memories of it, and what are everyone's reactions to this? Twenty years later and still not much has improved.

R. Spourgitis
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Apr 27 2012 17:07

http://zinelibrary.info/files/320Days.pdf

Interesting piece here from the time (summer '93). Chicago Surrealist Group's statement on the LA Riots in 1992.

Sorry, this link doesn't work here I realized (direct links to .pdfs not allowed?). Copy/paste the url or google "Three Days that Shook the New World Order" and you should get it.

IDP
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Apr 28 2012 01:28

Check out "L.A. Rebellion 1992 Looking Back After 15 Years" that Insane Dialectical Posse put out in 2007.

Juan Conatz's picture
Juan Conatz
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Apr 28 2012 03:13

Spourgetis, not sure what I did, but I fixed your link by removing the url brackets and just copy and pasting the link. Could be glitch because of redesign going on.

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x359594
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Apr 28 2012 04:35

I was there.

As a prelude to the upraising/riots the night after Rodney King was beaten I was stopped by the cops in front of the apartment building where I lived at the time. I was coming home from work. Another man exiting the building was also stopped (a visitor and not a tenant.) We were told to get down on our knees and hold our hands above our heads. I did as I was told but the other man resisted and was thrown to the ground face down and had his arms yanked behind his back and cuffed. I was also cuffed and dragged to my feet. The other guy remained face down.

I got a good cop/bad cop play and answered that I lived here and was coming home from work. They patted me down, then the "good cop" uncuffed me and let me produce my ID. This apparently satisfied the cops. They also looked at my work ID and bus pass. Meanwhile they released the other guy (I didn't see what happened with him.) They told that we matched the description of an armed robber despite the fact that the other man was about 15 years younger, 2 inches taller and dressed completely differently from me. I never found out what this was about, but when I watched the late TV news I saw the Rodney King tape for the first time.

Before the verdict came down there was talk about having a demonstration should Sgt. Stacy Coons and company be acquitted. More later.

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Juan Conatz
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Apr 28 2012 05:52

Worth checking out 4/29/92 Birth of A Nation, which is a documentary on the LA riots. Some pretty good footage of the demos that preceded the riots and the gang truces, most of which get glossed over in the recent 20th anniversary remembereances happening now.

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x359594
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Apr 29 2012 04:42
Juan Conatz wrote:
...Some pretty good footage of the demos that preceded the riots and the gang truces, most of which get glossed over in the recent 20th anniversary remembereances happening now.

One notable development that came from the upraising/riots was the politicization of a portion of gang members. The Black Riders, former gang members, trace their origins to the upraising. So does Cop Watch L.A.

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Hieronymous
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Apr 30 2012 06:16

The 1992 Rodney King Rebellion was a turning point in my life. With the exception of the spontaneous euphoria during the march to the Port of Oakland during the attempted general strike on November 2, 2011 organized by Occupy Oakland, it was the only time in my life when I felt like I was living fully in the moment, facing an historical door that was opening to give my comrades and I the subjective ability to affect the course of events.

I was living in in the student/activist ghetto of south Berkeley at the time, back when the area was dotted with collective houses -- like the anarchist/Earth First! one I was living in. At the time I was working at a phone bank (before they were called "call centers") represented by ILWU. I got home after the work in the evening of the day of the verdict and we dragged a TV out of the closet (none of us ever watched it) and turned on the live news and saw L.A. in flames. A crew of us went out and did some spontaneous anti-police pro-fight back propagandizing around the area south of the UC Berkeley campus and nearby in south Berkeley and north Oakland.

We were up pretty late that night, so a bunch of my housemates and I got up late on April 30, 1991 and walked the 3/4 miles to Sproul Plaza on the UC campus in the late morning. It was the second day after the verdict and we joined a crowd of over 8,000 angry young people on the campus. Berkeley High had walked out and at least a quarter of the crowd was high school kids. It was pretty amazing and impressive that this self-organized mob was able to move freely through the city and find appropriate targets. The first one, the old Berkeley Police station of course. The cops inside were fully armed, in full riot gear, and looked like they were shitting in their pants with fear. Some rocks were thrown, breaking out the few windows on the exterior of the building. The traditional student leftist-activist types were the first to discourage this, which was a little premature to do since we had no idea how the cops would respond. So the mob moved and headed 1 block back toward the UC campus where we'd started. We turned a corner and those of us at the front were on the steps of Berkeley City Hall and all we could see through the glass doors in the lobby were 3 or 4 cops. As this 8,000-strong angry mass went straight at them, the cops ran in fear out the doors at the opposite side of lobby and out of the building.

The building was ours. I had been in it before and roughly knew the layout. The city council had their offices on the top floor (4th or 5th). So about a dozen of us, half of whom were Black high school kids and the other half early 20something anarcho-punks, rushed the stairwells and got to the top floor. We could hear scrambling as the receptionist closed the counter window and locked all doors to the inner chambers of the office, as the politicians and staff evacuated down fire escapes. But one of us noticed that the walls were merely high partitions with a gap under the ceiling and we quickly pushed one of us over the top. He unlocked the door from the inside and we controlled the offices of the city manager (the real administrator in a small city like Berkeley), the mayor and the whole city council. I had these fantasies of rifling through the mayor's desk drawers and finding embarrassing things, like the occupiers of Columbia University in New York in 1968. I fancied drinking the city manager's expensive Cognac and looking through his files. We were all elated and I ranted incessantly about sending out communiques like Situationist International did from the occupied Sorbonne University in 1968. We would declare Berkeley an autonomous Commune and abolish the police, money and wage labor. We would call for a general assembly, to found the commune, that evening at the Berkeley Community Theater across the street (also made famous as the site of the Hendrix documentary Jimi Plays Berkeley about his 1970 concert). Maybe I was alone with these ideas, but in that moment everything seemed possible. History seemed tangible and malleable; I was trying to make my dreams reality.

We expected that at least some others in the massive crowd knew about the 1964 Free Speech Movement occupation of Sproul Hall at UC Berkeley and how over 800 people got arrested there (the largest mass arrest in California history up to that point), sparking a week-long student strike. In that occupation, people filled all the hallways and offices throughout the night. So we waiting and waited and waited for our comrades to join us. No one came up the stairs. It was weird, we had this amazing opportunity and no one was filling up and occupying the building. So we went up on the roof to see what was happening. The building is "U" shaped and outside, in the courtyard in the middle, there was some kind of "speak-out" going on where people appeared to be giving speeches on a bullhorn. On the roof, we all thought "What the fuck! We've got total control of City Hall and what are they thinking making speeches?!" We yelled for others to come up, but either no one could hear us or they were ignoring us. I couldn't believe it. A fantasy I'd dreamed about ever since I'd become a radical and read about the 1871 Commune and the burning of the Hôtel de Ville, and it was dying before my eyes. I was livid, thinking "here's our chance to make history."

But it was all for naught. After having been in the building for about 20 minutes, it looked like the crowd was down by a couple thousand and that it was getting ready to move. We ran down the stairs, only to open the door in the building's lobby to people's backs as several of them had linked arms to prevent anyone having access to the stairwell. I recognized some of the faces, the moderates in the Black Students Union and in student government at UC Berkeley. And those with the bullhorns were the same campus activist types from the different ethnic associations and student government. The crowd did seem to be ignoring their directions and marched 7.5 miles to the Bay Bridge.

On our way to the bridge, the California Highway Patrol (CHP) was able to push the several thousand of us who remained on the march over the center divider, forcing us to weave our way through the bumper-to-bumper stalled traffic going the opposite direction. But we were greeted by an endless cacophony of horns honked in support. And it got unreal: I personally got high-fives from soccer moms in vans, turban-wearing Sikh truck drivers who reached down out of their cabs to slap my hand, and by the time we approached the turn off to the bridges toll plaza, it seemed like I'd slapped hands with dozens of people.

The CHP was trying to prevent us from approaching the bridge by racing cops on Harley Davidsons back and forth on the deserted freeway. First one brave guy climbed over the center divider and ran down the freeway, then another, and a half dozen, then dozens and the cops had to retreat. A little less than 1,000 of us marched up the upper deck of the Bay Bridge, where we were kettled by cops coming at us from the opposite side, in the San Francisco direction. Cops from the Oakland direction simply followed us and contained us from the rear. By this time the late afternoon rush hour usually began. But with our mass arrest on the upper deck of the Oakland side of the Bay Bridge (of 2 spans, the other side goes through Yerba Buena Island that span ends in San Francisco) completely blocked and prevented the entire evening commute, in both directions, stranding tens of thousands of East Bay suburban-bound commuters in downtown San Francisco. This alone sent a panic through those not sympathetic with the uprising.

But later that night Telegraph Avenue near the campus in Berkeley got mercilessly looted, as did the main shopping district in downtown San Francisco along Market Street, along with other spontaneous outbreaks of rioting and looting in other parts of San Francisco. A comrade lit an SFPD motorcycle on fire in a major intersection on Market Street and later served 6 months in jail.

We got the "college-kid-at-summer-camp" treatment at the San Rita County Jail in the suburbs. Since we did civil disobedience, we were the "good" protestors and the left-liberal City of Berkeley mayor even sent city vans to pick us up (which my comrades and I refused). We were only charged with a traffic infraction, but about 15 of us later got the pro bono services of a lefty lawyer fought the charges. I made the mistake of forgetting the court date and only got to the court at the last minute and wasn't able to change out of a t-shirt with a masked guy throwing a molotov cocktail on it, under a caption saying "BURN, HOLLYWOOD, BURN!" All of us got acquitted on a technicality.

The next day was Friday and was May Day. There was a massive ten-thousands-strong march in San Francisco, starting at the 24th Street BART station. Within just a couple blocks, it got kettled with the cops arresting everyone trapped on the city block along Mission Street. My affinity group in a feat of daring escaped, regrouped with others at Dolores Park, then attempted to march to the Castro District, where we miraculously evaded another kettle on Hartford Street, and even tried to harass the back of the cops' skirmish line, helping a couple comrades escape.

On that weekend the Bay Area cities of San Francisco and Berkeley declared marshal law and by the end of the weekend the militancy in the Bay Area had dissipated. Yet thousands of people got radicalized by taking to the streets, battling with the pigs, and in a few skirmishes even got the best of the cops and drove them off the streets -- if only temporarily. It was when I met many of the comrades I'm still struggling side-by-side with today. The memory of our collective power will stay with me for the rest of my life.

(some of this was cut-and-pasted from previous libcom posts)

Some recommended documentaries about Los Angeles to situate the Rodney King Rebellion, understand the significance of the gang truce, and see the history of the Crips and Bloods are:

Bastards of the Party (2005)

Crips and Bloods: Made in America (2008)

Juan Conatz's picture
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Apr 30 2012 08:20

Haha, goddamn that's a great story.

I also wrote a bit about the riots, although not as dramatic and more at arms length, as I was still in the single digits in age and many thousands of miles away

http://libcom.org/blog/20-years-later-los-angeles-riots-hip-hop-rage-trayvon-martin-30042012

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knotwho
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Apr 30 2012 22:01

I already linked it on Juan's blog, but the movie Bastards of the Party gives a good background on the history and political economy (I think I'm using that right) of the LA gangs.
http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=3187159310863046769