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April 26, 2012 3:08 AM   Subscribe

The L.A. Weekly does a "then and now" photo feature on the 20th anniversary of the L.A. Riots.
posted by bardic (54 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

 
20 years...damn.

I remember that weekend very vividly, from the late-afternoon helicopters which seemed to provoke rioters into increasingly violent "performances" for the cameras, to the literally dozens of fires burning through the night, with a growing list of businesses and landmarks which had been destroyed, and then the awful looting. All the while wondering "where the hell are the police?"

I drove through some of the neighborhoods the following Monday (I had an art history assignment due that week which required me to visit LACMA) and it although the smoke had cleared, it was still a terrible sight.

What surprises me most about these pictures is how very spread-out the events were (and that a single photographer managed to make his way to all of the locations, during what was not a great time to be driving, even by L.A. standards. For riots to range from South Central to the West Side and as far north as Hollywood, it's pretty amazing. That's a huge geographic area, comprised of many wildly divergent neighborhoods and zones. (Los Angeles is about 30% bigger than all 5 boroughs of New York, and the riots took place, at least to some extent, in pretty much every part of the city.)

Clearly this was a riot that was spread via live television. Who knows how much worse a riot could escalate and spread nowadays, with things like Twitter and instant access to WAY more information than back then.
posted by ShutterBun at 3:37 AM on April 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'd been idly working on my own FPP for the 20th anniversary, so I'll just drop some links here. The LA Times also has a great retrospective:
Recent interview with Rodney King
Timeline
Photos of the riots
An interview with Reginald Denny's surgeon
Where are they now?
Other coverage

NPR also has some good stories:
Revisiting a dark day in LA history
Riots impact on the LAPD

My family moved from Seattle to LA the summer after the riots, and I remember being scared because my parents were house hunting in the San Gabriel Valley (so not in any actual danger) at the time.

I think Shutterbun is right to wonder how twitter, etc. would have affected the riots, although new technology would undoubtedly affect how the police and firefighters responded to the violence as well. But I also wonder how the 1992 riots compared to the 1968 riots, or the 1943 zoot suit riots, in which the local media egged on the violence by servicemen against minorities, (Wikipedia), in terms of the interaction between the rioters, the police, and the media.
posted by postel's law at 4:10 AM on April 26, 2012 [5 favorites]


I just noticed this comment attached to the Times own then and now photo essay:

la4oscargrant at 8:11 PM April 25, 2012
COMMEMORATE THE L.A. UPRISING! COMMUNITY SPEAKOUT 2PM SUNDAY 4/29 FLORENCE & NORMANDIE ALL HAIL THE LOS ANGELES FREEDOM FIGHTERS! COALITION FOR COMMUNITY CONTROL OVER THE POLICE
posted by postel's law at 4:13 AM on April 26, 2012


Good grief...I'll certainly admit that the LAPD has had their hair mussed on more than a few occasions, but to celebrate Florence and Normandie (an intersection whose name still haunts me to this day, no shit) as some kind of "ground zero for victory" of any kind is obscene.

Thanks for the extra links, postel's law. I think a single "20th anniversary post" is a good idea, and although this one jumped the gun a little bit, I'm looking forward to absorbing anything being shared in this thread.
posted by ShutterBun at 4:48 AM on April 26, 2012


I think Shutterbun is right to wonder how twitter, etc. would have affected the riots,

"LA riots" is a misleading label for this event. There were race riots across the whole country and old-fashioned TV was more than a sufficient medium to spread the message.

I was living in Atlanta at the time and it was no more acceptable to see random white people targeted for racial attacks by blacks than it was to see Mr. King being beaten by white police. Atlanta proved herself unworthy of the being called "the city too busy to hate."

What I most recall is how King handled himself with dignity and class and his emotional "can't we all get along" remarks really did a lot to lessen the tension.
posted by three blind mice at 5:19 AM on April 26, 2012


Oh, good old TV was certainly sufficient to spread the riots, to be sure. I'm sure there have been thesis caliber essays written about how the mere presence (or absence) of media crews can make or un-make a riot.

During the riots in the 90's (and of course, prior to that) there was at least a requirement for someone to come up (or call) and tell you "get to a TV" or "turn on your radio." Information of that sort is now so ubiquitous that "word of mouth" is a mere percentage of a percentage of how quickly people can find out about things.

A "just for fun" flash-mob could only happen in this day and age, but imagine a "flash-riot."
posted by ShutterBun at 5:41 AM on April 26, 2012


In 1992 my family lived in Santa Barbara County. Most of the violence we saw on television didn't sink in for me at 8 years old. The strongest memory I can recall is when my younger brother and I were told that the Los Angeles Children's Museum was completely destroyed. We had visited it for the first time not long before, and the museum was a large part of the city of Los Angeles in our minds. It turned out to be just a rumor, but the idea that a place we loved so much could be gone forever had a big impact on us.

I can also remember a conversation my parents had in the car after the riots about what had happened. My father was convinced that there could only be more riots in years to come, and that they would be larger and more widespread, throughout Southern California at the very least. That conversation likely played a large part in my mother's decision to move us to Massachusetts two years later after their divorce.


I really liked this comment from Xoebe last year, about the palm trees on the 101 shoulder downtown that burned in 1992.
posted by helicomatic at 5:42 AM on April 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


Los Angeles is about 30% bigger than all 5 boroughs of New York, and the riots took place, at least to some extent, in pretty much every part of the city.

That's not my recollection. Rioting seemed pretty centered on South Central and Koreatown, with isolated outbreaks around it. Major areas (mostly affluent areas like Beverly Hills and Bel Air) were untouched.

I recall that Daryl Gates said the initial fires and looting were diversionary tactics for gangs that wanted to tie up police and fire resources while they looted gun shops, and that something like 150,000 guns were looted during the riots.

I have been sitting on my story of the riots for two decades now. I'm not sure I can tell it, even now. I worked on a forensic reconstruction of the George Holliday video for the Federal trial. I like to call it the Holliday video rather than the Rodney King video, to acknowledge him for recording it and for the sacrifices he made on account of it. Everyone that touched this video had a curse on them, it ruined their lives. I hesitate to even speak of it, every time I do, the curse reappears and bad things happen to me.
posted by charlie don't surf at 6:08 AM on April 26, 2012 [5 favorites]


Here's a list of what looks like all 53 deaths in the riot with location and causes from the Wisconsin Department of Sociology.
posted by PHINC at 6:41 AM on April 26, 2012


1992: Nightmarish hellscape
2012: Nightmarish hellscape
posted by weinbot at 6:41 AM on April 26, 2012


To be fair, I qualified my statement by saying that the riots took place "to some extent" to all other areas. Beverly Hills is technically a different city, although it's surrounded by Los Angeles. Emergency calls did originate from the southernmost portions of Beverly Hills (d epending on what one considers the southern border; I generally use Pico) Bel Air is WAY out there and pretty heavily insulated, so I don't doubt that it went untouched. Still, as riots go, I'd say that it was pretty well spread out, centered around South Central, Koreatown, and Downtown.

Here's a map of the riots I compiled, based on a map of structural damage attributed to the fire (source ) and a map of the different neighborhoods.

Obviously, South Central, Koreatown and Downtown suffered the worst, while more affluent neighborhoods toward the west were relatively unscathed, (population density and affluence probably have a lot to do with it) but look how widespread it is, even considering that. (this map may not include structural damage in places like Beverly Hills, Culver City, Santa Monica, etc. because they are different cities with their own police & fire companies.)

The dots on the map cover only the first night, through 10pm (so, about 4 hours), and yet they cover nearly a 40 mile by 30 mile area. Frightening.
posted by ShutterBun at 6:48 AM on April 26, 2012 [4 favorites]


For a look at riots in the age of twitter and smartphones, there were a few little incidents in old London Town last year.
posted by panaceanot at 6:49 AM on April 26, 2012 [4 favorites]


Atlanta proved herself unworthy of the being called "the city too busy to hate."

Well, it's a pretty shabby moniker if you think about it. Not "too decent to hate" not "too intelligent to hate", not "too affectionate to hate", not "too experienced to hate", just - too damn busy.

As if to say, we'll get around to it when we get a minute.
posted by IndigoJones at 6:50 AM on April 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


I don't want to be argumentative, but I'm not sure I can agree that George Holliday made some kind of "sacrifice" in all of this. If he endured a lot of trouble as a result of selling his videotape to a local news channel for $500, the subsequently endured a lot of hardship as a result of it, that's not a sacrifice. That's "an act of opportunism that ended up costing him." A sacrifice would be if he turned the tape over to the media, knowing that it was the right thing to do, but that it would cause him & his family hardship. All he knew at the time was that it was a video of police whaling on a suspect, and might make for good TV. Even now all he seems to have to say is that it's "cool" that his name appears in history books.
posted by ShutterBun at 6:57 AM on April 26, 2012


Police Tape: From Rodney King to Aiyana Jones
It’s been 20 years since four white police officers were cleared of unlawfully beating Rodney King in Los Angeles. But we might never have heard of Rodney King had it not been for an amateur cameraman who caught the whole thing on tape. On this edition, we hear how video cameras have changed the way we see the police. In a special radio adaptation of the film “Police Tape,” journalist Josh Wolf investigates how law enforcement and amateur videographers across the country have responded to changing technologies.
posted by zamboni at 6:58 AM on April 26, 2012


For a look at riots in the age of twitter and smartphones, there were a few little incidents in old London Town last year.

Really interesting. From the Wikipedia account of the incidents, it appears that social media were responsible not only for the propagation of the riots, but also widely responsible for the subsequent arrests.
posted by ShutterBun at 7:03 AM on April 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


I've only seen one riot in person, the 2004 VIESHA riots. I have to say it was pretty awesome.

Now you'll notice in the police report, they say the rioters "moved to a business district", and police "responded with tear gas". They actually have the causality backwards.

Police were busting up a party (it was too loud apparently). They hearded the kids from the party up the street towards where the main part of the festival was taking place. Then they teargassed the whole thing, including thousands of innocent festival goers.

I actually had a view of the whole thing from my dorm room window. I heard a bunch of screaming, saw people running -- I thought at first it was a terrorist attack, then I thought maybe a rock climbing wall that had been setup had fallen over.

After that, there was about 5 hours of 1000-2000 people standing around (maybe 10% of them filming with digital cameras) while maybe 10-20 threw teargas canisters back at the police or knocked down lamp posts. I had an amazing view of the whole thing, and got a bunch of pictures.

But what was bizarre was that, after the riots the "story" that was reported in the press was completely contrary to what everyone who was there actually saw happening. It certainly had an impact on how cynical I am.

---

From burned-out suburban wasteland to non-burnt out suburban wasteland.
I was living in Atlanta at the time and it was no more acceptable to see random white people targeted for racial attacks yt by blacks than it was to see Mr. King being beaten by white police. Atlanta proved herself unworthy of the being called "the city too busy to hate."
If something is "no more acceptable" then wouldn't it also be "more or equally unacceptable"? That is to say, either it's just as bad if police and street thugs beat people up, or somehow actually worse?

I think we should have higher standards for the police then for random criminals.
but to celebrate Florence and Normandie (an intersection whose name still haunts me to this day, no shit) as some kind of "ground zero for victory" of any kind is obscene.
Well they got what they wanted, right? The police who had been acquitted were put back on trial on new charges and convicted. That doesn't seem like it would have happened without the riots.

The U.S. still venerates the Boston Tea Party, which was basically just a riot.
posted by delmoi at 7:06 AM on April 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


Emergency calls did originate from the southernmost portions of Beverly Hills

I lived just outside the southeastern corner of Beverly Hills at the time, and I'm not aware of any incidents inside the city, but they did get pretty close. A Big 5 Sporting Goods at San Vicente and Wilshire got broken into -- that's in Los Angeles, but right across the street from Beverly Hills. I recall that there were more-major incidents at Pico and La Cienega and at Pico and Fairfax, which are a little further away.

My strongest memory of those days was going to visit a coworker's wife at Cedars Sinai and walking through totally deserted streets in the middle of the day. The entrances to the Beverly Center were blocked by police cars. It was quite eerie.
posted by Slothrup at 7:12 AM on April 26, 2012


Wow that's an interesting map, Shutterbun. I've never seen anything like that. I lived on the edge of Silverlake, close to Koreatown. I remember seeing burning embers falling in my yard and on the roof of my house, and wondering if my neighborhood would catch fire.

I don't want to be argumentative, but I'm not sure I can agree that George Holliday made some kind of "sacrifice" in all of this. If he endured a lot of trouble as a result of selling his videotape to a local news channel for $500, the subsequently endured a lot of hardship as a result of it, that's not a sacrifice. That's "an act of opportunism that ended up costing him."

I'm not sure that's a fair assessment. Do you know the circumstances of how the video was made? Holliday had just received a video camera as a birthday gift. He set it up and went out on his balcony to use it for the first time, and saw police lights in the distance. He started taping and we know what he caught. He took it to KTLA mostly since he was horrified at what he saw. Once it became a legal matter, his camera was subpoenaed and he never got it back. Holliday lived in hiding for years and was unable to work. That is more than a "lot of trouble," that's life-destroying trouble.

The oddest thing about the video is that Holliday tried to reassert his copyright as the original author, and sued KTLA and other media distributors for defrauding him out of the true value of the video. This was mostly an effort to recover some money to compensate for his years of seclusion. The court made an astonishing ruling: the video had been seen so many times on broadcast media that it was now in the public domain. That was unprecedented, and clearly wrong.
posted by charlie don't surf at 7:14 AM on April 26, 2012 [7 favorites]


Obviously a huge difference between the LA riots and the VIESHA riots. No one got hurt and actually they didn't do much damage to business that I saw, just the lamp posts and I think some traffic signals. That's the only riot I've ever seen in person though.
I don't want to be argumentative, but I'm not sure I can agree that George Holliday made some kind of "sacrifice" in all of this. If he endured a lot of trouble as a result of selling his videotape to a local news channel for $500, the subsequently endured a lot of hardship as a result of it, that's not a sacrifice. That's "an act of opportunism that ended up costing him."
Right, just opportunism. He couldn't possibly have been horrified by what he saw.
posted by delmoi at 7:16 AM on April 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm almost certain that one of the major contributing factors to the riots was the temperature. It was unusually warm that week.
posted by Slothrup at 7:18 AM on April 26, 2012




At the time I was living in the beach community of El Segundo, which according to ShutterBun's map didn't have any actual violence, but the proximity to violence happening due east of us felt very close at the time. Nearly every shop, restaurant, etc in our area closed their doors just in case.

The riots were the first step for me is getting out of L.A. The subsequent concerns over the O.J. Simpson verdict, and the wildfires, and the flooding of the LA "river", and then the 1994 Northridge earthquake all within the following 2 years sealed it, and I have not returned since.
posted by terrapin at 7:26 AM on April 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


The court made an astonishing ruling: the video had been seen so many times on broadcast media that it was now in the public domain.

Well, it wasn't entirely unprecedented. The "fair use doctrine" covering works of "significant importance for public debate" was apparently enough to allow Geraldo Rivera to air the Zapruder film unauthorized back in the 70's. And Zapruder was, let's face it, a far more shrewd businessman than Holliday. He got his money up front, placed severe restrictions on where and how the images could be used, and was fortunate that Time/Life voluntarily gave the rights back to him some years later.

Holliday, who really didn't know what he had on his hands, ended up signing away the rights to the video immediately. KTLA was allowed to "share" the video with its affiliates, and at a certain point, other stations were allowed to employ "fair use." (and of course, once it becomes evidence in a trial (as both the Zapruder film and the so-called "Wall of Fire" Scientology document did, it gets REALLY hard to assert copyright)

I'm not saying he didn't get screwed, or that the ordeal cost him, or that his initial motives were otherwise than genuine. If he knew how much the whole ordeal would have cost him, would he still have sold his tape to the news purely out of being horrified by what he saw?

Anyway, that's a bit of a derail, and I don't want to harp on it too much. He played an important part in the whole saga, for better or worse.
posted by ShutterBun at 7:37 AM on April 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


Fun fact: the series finale of The Cosby Show aired during the riots.
posted by Renoroc at 7:54 AM on April 26, 2012


I'm not saying he didn't get screwed, or that the ordeal cost him, or that his initial motives were otherwise than genuine. If he knew how much the whole ordeal would have cost him, would he still have sold his tape to the news purely out of being horrified by what he saw?
Well, he could probably have shopped it around and gotten a licensing deal, rather then signing away his IP.
posted by delmoi at 8:00 AM on April 26, 2012


"LA riots" is a misleading label for this event. There were race riots across the whole country and old-fashioned TV was more than a sufficient medium to spread the message.

I don't know about riots - or, at least, whatever demonstrations there were were wildly different in tone.

I was a senior in college in '92, and Al Sharpton held some kind of rally-in-solidarity in New York a few days later - something in Times Square, I think. I also remember some kind of march just before it, something leading uptown up Broadway (I saw it on my way to a class).

But during Sharpton's rally, the rest of the city got really paranoid that Something Might Happen, and I think it may have lead to something happening. I was at my on-campus job that afternoon, where I was meant to stay until 4 pm - but there'd already been some rumors flying around that there were shootings at the Sharpton rally and a mob on the Brooklyn Bridge throwing rocks at cars, so everyone was tense. We got a call at about 2 that the whole of NYU was shutting down for everyone's safety, and we all had to pack up the office and everyone had to go home. I had another gig then -- an internship at New York Press, where I usually went after this work gig - so I went there early. They were able to confirm most of the rumors were indeed just rumors -- but also confirmed that Sharpton's rally was indeed going to march back down Broadway that evening. I stuck around until 5, as was my usual plan, then started back to my dorm.

The NYP office was also on Broadway, as was my dorm; I had a ten-block walk. Usually, at 5 pm on Friday, that bit of Broadway is packed with cars and people; it's lined with shops and restaurants, and lots of NYU students congregate there after classes too. But that night, nearly every one of those shops had plywood nailed over the doors, or had shopkeepers outside hurriedly shuttering things up; there were no cars on the street, and I was one of maybe fifteen people I saw during that walk. It was the creepiest walk home I ever had. When I got to my dorm, the security staff mentioned that if I wanted to get dinner, I'd better go now, becuase within the hour they would be locking down the dorm from the inside. Instead, I went directly up to my room, locked the door and sat inside with all the lights off, totally and thoroughly freaked out.

...Ultimately nothing much happened. I heard and saw a loud crowd of people marching down the street outside at about 7:30, heard a lot of chanting of slogans; but that was it. My roommate was spending the night at a friends' house, and she heard that the "mob" had knocked over a couple of garbage cans and started a fire in one, and then someone tried to loot a Gap, but that was it. I've always wondered if people would have even gone that far if the city hadn't completely freaked out like that.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:11 AM on April 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


I was arrested twice in San Francisco in the weeks after this while participating in demonstrations. Arrests that resulted in lawsuits against the SFPD for violating our civil rights. Which we won. Hard to believe that was 20 years ago.
posted by gingerbeer at 8:55 AM on April 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


The U.S. still venerates the Boston Tea Party, which was basically just a riot.
After receiving a report that Governor Hutchinson had again refused to let the ships leave, Adams announced that "This meeting can do nothing further to save the country." According to a popular story, Adams's statement was a prearranged signal for the "tea party" to begin. However, this claim did not appear in print until nearly a century after the event, in a biography of Adams written by his great-grandson, who apparently misinterpreted the evidence.[58] According to eyewitness accounts, people did not leave the meeting until ten or fifteen minutes after Adams's alleged "signal", and Adams in fact tried to stop people from leaving because the meeting was not yet over.[59]

While Samuel Adams tried to reassert control of the meeting, people poured out of the Old South Meeting House headed out to prepare to take action. In some cases, this involved donning what may have been elaborately prepared Mohawk costumes.[60] While disguising their individual faces was imperative, because of the illegality of their protest, dressing as Mohawk warriors was a very specific and symbolic choice. As with the rattlesnake on the Gadsden Flag, and the use of the Bald Eagle as the national symbol, this was the specific assumption of something American over traditional European symbolism.[61] It showed that the Sons of Liberty identified with America, over their official status as subjects of Great Britain.[62]

...

Whether or not Samuel Adams helped plan the Boston Tea Party is disputed, but he immediately worked to publicize and defend it.[65] He argued that the Tea Party was not the act of a lawless mob, but was instead a principled protest and the only remaining option the people had to defend their constitutional rights.[66]
As it says, whether Adams planned the riot is disputed, but someone clearly planned the "riot" if the crowd already had elaborate "indian" constumes. Sam Adams was basically a well-bred gang leader. He came from the right family but hung out with the wrong crowd. If the "Adams family" wanted something to happen on the street, Sam was the one to make it happen.

So, basically, the "Tea Party" was organized street violence against the threat posed to the big merchant of Boston by the Tea act... the exact opposite of a riot.
posted by ennui.bz at 8:55 AM on April 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


I lived in West Las Vegas during the riots. I was 14. I remember being really afraid at first; in the opening hours horrible adults in my parent's life called to tell us that our family would probably be under attack, being the only white family on the block.

After seeing everything on TV that was going on in LA, I was confused and more afraid when my mom said we weren't going anywhere. We would stay put. I waited at night for people to break into my house and beat me like I saw on the news. But that never happened. For the first day or so it was this strange delayed destruction. I wasn't allowed to leave without a parent, and there was a curfew in our area, but when I was out, it seemed like everything that was happening around us was cleared away before I could see the rioting in action. It felt surreal- contrasting the fires and beatings I was seeing on the TV with the calm aftermath just outside my house.

Our local station had a nightly tally of property damage. The bank right by my house was burned. A few stores down the street were looted. But I went to school and came home every day, and while my high school was filled with "this gang is driving here to do x" gossip, by the weekend it was obvious that we were all still alive and still living in the same place, and everything was just more destroyed in the neighborhood than it had been previously, and boarded up.

I wanted to go on a date with my new boyfriend that Saturday. My parents told me no, so I snuck out that night to meet him at the nearby Burger King. No one even acknowledged me. I remember feeling really insignificant in the middle of something horrible and historical, and it wasn't that I longed to be apart of it, just that it was the first time I'd ever felt that being a kid meant I would not ever understand the full significance.
posted by haplesschild at 8:57 AM on April 26, 2012


I lived in LA at the time, in Los Feliz, and I worked in Santa Monica. I commuted on Pico because the freeway traffic was always awful. My roommate called and said I should not come home because of gun fire in the neighborhood--she and her boyfriend were hunkered down in the bathroom.

A friend at work offered me a place to stay--she lived south of LA and we hopped on the 405 just in time for the idiots who were throwing chunks of concrete onto the freeway from overpasses--we didn't get hit, but it was scary. National Guard vehicles were in a convoy on the northbound side of the freeway.

My work was great (Peter Norton Computing). We had a number of folks who lived in or near So. Central and they were put up in a Santa Monica Hotel for the duration. We were all let off on paid leave as well until we felt safe to return.

In the aftermath, I was speaking to one of my coworkers and she was genuinely confused at the Black on Korean violence "...aren't they both minorities?" kind of unbelievable.

It was horrifying to watch what happened to Rodney King--the fact that it was captured on video was key. It was also horrifying to watch what happened to Reginald Denny. Then to see the National Guard arrayed throughout the city--looking like a military state. The Korean shop keeper who stood on top of his store with a rifle---and we all were asking, "where are the police?" "Where are the firefighters?"
posted by agatha_magatha at 8:59 AM on April 26, 2012


I was arrested twice in San Francisco in the weeks after this while participating in demonstrations. Arrests that resulted in lawsuits against the SFPD for violating our civil rights. Which we won. Hard to believe that was 20 years ago.
It doesn't seem surprising to me given the fact you actually won the lawsuit though, today? Who knows.

Of course I don't really know, but it does seem like the government has a lot more latitude to trample over civil rights these days then in the past.
posted by delmoi at 9:13 AM on April 26, 2012


I was in Hollywood at the time. I watched the riot from the roof of my building, The Nirvana, which, located at the base of the Hollywood Hills, afforded us a rather spectacular panoramic view of a thousand buildings burning. We watched the fires travel north along Western and then turn west along Sunset and Hollywood, and then ... stop. It seemed like they might get to Hollywood, but they didn't, although looting did get here. Madonna's famous conical bra, on display at the Frederick's of Hollywood museum of underwear, was stolen, when is about as Hollywood as a crime can get.

Things hit bottom in Hollywood shortly afterward. There was an earthquake a few months after the riot, and it damaged a number of buildings beyond habitability. And so they were uninhabited by paying tenants, and then illegally re-inhabited by vagrants. Drug crimes skyrocketed. Yucca Street went from disaster to deadly, and had the highest murder rate in Los Angeles. I left during this time. I had had enough. I had already been beaten up in one riot, in Westwood months before the LA Riots, the night after the Rodney King tapes were shown, when a large group of youths from south central showed up in Westwood to see the debut of New Jack City -- far more than the theater could hold. They milled about in the streets until the cops showed up in riot gear and then, as though on cue, they rioted.

Hollywood, in particular, seemed like it was perched at the edge of an apocalypse then. I guess I didn't want to be around for the end. But it survived. It always does. And I'm back now, on Yucca, just a few blocks from when I lived then. It's still apocalypty, but not as bad as it was back then. Still, if I start seeing fires tomorrow, I won't be terribly surprised.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 9:22 AM on April 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


Here's a map of the riots I compiled, based on a map of structural damage attributed to the fire (source ) and a map of the different neighborhoods.

I was living in the San Fernando Valley and I don’t remember all those incidents up there. We were certainly on edge waiting to see what would happen though. I knew people who went to defend their business with guns. I worked in a warehouse and a guy came into work and started telling everyone how him and his friends had been looting the night before. He was fired on the spot. Lots of craziness was going on.

One crazy thing was that it started so fast no one knew what was happening. I was going to see Chris Whitley at the Palace in Hollywood, and had no clue about anything until the parking lot attendant started ranting "They’re burning shit down". We just said "OK, thanks crazy man" and went in. It seems like Mr. Whitley said something about it from the stage. Going out and driving home, realizing that anything could have been happening, was kind of unnerving.

Worse was my friend who went to see the Lakers that night. If you’ve ever done that you know that you just sit in traffic for a while trying to get out. That’s where there were, right in the middle of it, stuck in traffic, listening to the radio.

L.A. was really screwed up, tense, and scary back then, probably has something to do with why I still don’t like it.
posted by bongo_x at 9:29 AM on April 26, 2012


One crazy thing was that it started so fast no one knew what was happening.

Yeah, same here. I went to see that horrible Chevy Chase-in-the-invisible-man movie at the Egyptian, came out, went to a comic book store on Highland, and was told by the comic book guy "You might want to go home. They're attacking people in the streets downtown."

Went next door to a bar with a large teevee and watched them repeat helicopter footage of Reginald Denny being beaten, which had happened moments before. And that was it. It was on.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 9:33 AM on April 26, 2012


I've been in three riots, including this one.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:35 AM on April 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


One crazy thing was that it started so fast no one knew what was happening.

Yes, that's exactly it. Everything is fine and then suddenly it’s not. There’s almost no transition from civil to not-civil. One minute you’re having a good time. The next minute, you’re an extra in a Mad Max sequel.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:37 AM on April 26, 2012


Living and working near the center of the San Fernando Valley, it was almost all 'something that you saw on TV' except for seeing on my drive to work, on Roscoe Blvd. just south of the 'Black Neighborhood' referred to as Sepulveda (there's a long story about naming suburbs in that area I won't go into), in a mini-mall, I saw one store vandalized - a car stereo store. Next door, a mom-and-pop mini-market and liquor store was closed but surprisingly unharmed, as was a donut shop where cops usually hung out. No police presence that morning - they were probably busy elsewhere. But the Great L.A. Riots were no more in my neighborhood than the 1965 Watts Riots that occurred during summer vacation while I was growing up in an all-white neighborhood in another part of The Valley. Have they done a "then and now" with that almost-47-year-ago bit of history?
posted by oneswellfoop at 10:02 AM on April 26, 2012


and we all were asking, "where are the police?"

Daryl Gates deliberately held the police back and let the city burn, just to show everyone what kind of power he had, and that if the public opposed the police, there would be consequences.

I was at home watching live TV coverage of the demonstration at Parker Center (police HQ for you non-Angelenos). I was actually putting on my coat and shoes to go join the demonstration when I saw it turn violent and they started smashing up a security booth in the parking lot. I decided this was too dangerous and volatile to go anywhere near. That was the start of the riot.

Almost everyone was stuck at home since most workplaces were closed. There was nothing to do but watch TV. I saw everything, from Reginald Denny to the shopkeepers shooting from their rooftops. I have hours of old VHS tapes of the coverage.

I got stuck at home with no food in the fridge. I tried to grab some food at the corner Korean market just as all these stores started locking down. My corner store was locked and the metal gates were down, but the owner saw me and knew I was a regular customer (even though I dressed like a reprobate Punk) so he let me in. I could only grab a few things, I was stuck at home and didn't go out again until the National Guard was deployed in my neighborhood. I saw they had a local burger joint surrounded and it was open for business. I was starving so I went in. They literally had soldiers on picket duty surrounding the building to protect it. As I wolfed down the first meal I had eaten in more than a day, suddenly a latino kid came running burst into the restaurant with a Guardsman in full military gear chasing after him. The kid jumped over the counter, followed by the Guardsman, and out the back door. I kept thinking, what are they going to do to him, try to shoot him? The Guard and local Marines were deployed with their combat rifles but no bullets. Arrest him? There were hundreds, if not thousands of people arrested, some were held in warehouses and open parking lots with barbed wire around them.

Well crap this is giving me a PTSD moment. And I didn't even talk about my involvement in the trial. I lost everything, my job, my home, my girlfriend, my car, all on account of that stupid video. I hoped it was worth everything I sacrificed, but obviously it was not.
posted by charlie don't surf at 10:03 AM on April 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


PTSD moment, I hear you.
I was in 5th grade at the time. My family lived (still lives) at Pico and Doheny, and I went to school in Brentwood. Wednesday, I came home from school and was watching what was apparently the beginning of the riots-mostly helicopter news shots of Florence/Normandie area and reporters freaking out. No one really knew what was going on yet and my parents sent us to school on Thursday because they're teachers and needed to be there for all of the other kids whose parents sent them to school.
We had a TV in our classroom. I remember learning the word "deploy" because the newscasters were explaining that the National Guard was being deployed and my terrified 5th grade butt wanted to know why they were leaving [because I heard it as the prefix "de-"]. My parents picked my brother and I up from school. Early. And we drove through the city back to our home watching the National Guard deploy. In my memories, there were totally tanks on the streets. That's not true, but totally how I remember it. There were curfews, though, which my 5th grade mind found funny. Curfews! For grown-ups!
Pico and Doheny seemed far enough away, but Pico/Fairfax, Pico/La Cienega, Crescent Heights...plenty of burned out stuff. Closest gas station to my parents house ran out of gas. And by the end of the day, my brother and I were playing a game of who could recognize the news-company by the color of the helicopter. The smoke continued to come closer and I saw real fear in my parents eyes for the first time. Ever.
Not long after, I remember our family going to look at home sales in the San Fernando Valley. But my parents decided to stay put and remodel the kitchen instead.
At the time, it was juts terrifying. That the social order could be so disrupted. To have so little control over my own safety.
Later on it became a fundamental teaching moment in my own life. Not: you will never be safe. Instead: shit can go down anywhere, even near your HOME. So, go, do, explore. No where is safe. Including home.
It was liberating, kind of.
posted by atomicstone at 10:34 AM on April 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


I grew up in Altadena; it was my senior year of high school, and in what was a pretty regular trend for me, everything started while I was at my job at the public library. (There was a gang fight/riot at my high school that year, with police helicopters and everything. Where was I? At the library.)

As I remember it: I knew the verdict was coming, and I think as I was leaving school -- I only had a couple of classes -- I heard that kids were talking about a march into downtown Pasadena. But I went to work. I had an after-school performance art (!) class at another high school after work, and since there wasn't any TV or radio at the library, I just got on the bus like normal. Then the bus driver said that his was the last bus heading that way. (The route ended up in downtown LA, eventually.) And I was all, um why? That was the first I heard of actual rioting.

I went to the school where I had art class, and it was entirely empty. Not just normal after-school mostly empty, but entirely fucking deserted. Nobody from my art class, not even my sister and boyfriend who were both in it with me. Then mom pulled up in her Subaru wagon, told me to get in the car RIGHT NOW, and we went home. Everything else after that was being at home, watching things on TV. Stuff on fire. Helicopters. Etc., etc.

A while ago I went into my big box of diaries and dug out the volume from that spring. I'm thinking about taking another look, because it seems like the memories that have stuck in my head are different in some ways from what I wrote down. (IIRC, not that much about the riots, actually; lots more about teenage clique/relationship drama.)
posted by epersonae at 11:18 AM on April 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


Now you'll notice in the police report, they say the rioters "moved to a business district", and police "responded with tear gas". They actually have the causality backwards.

But what was bizarre was that, after the riots the "story" that was reported in the press was completely contrary to what everyone who was there actually saw happening. It certainly had an impact on how cynical I am.


I've been at multiple riots in the last few years in Oakland (all Oscar Grant or Occupy related) and every single time, this is exactly what I've seen. The police show up armed to the teeth and either provoke, escalate, or outright attack the crowd at which point a couple of people react by throwing things and smashing windows.

Every single time, the media reports that police had to be sent in to stop vandalism and violence. My friend said once after the Oscar Grant thing, "It's only violence when people throw the tear gas canisters back."

In my experience, all "riots" are really police riots.
posted by bradbane at 11:24 AM on April 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


"We had riots too!" So typically Atlanta.....
posted by thelonius at 11:34 AM on April 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


In my experience, all "riots" are really police riots.
That was my experience with the one "riot" I mentioned up-thread seemed more like a party then an expression of anger. There's a video on youtube of kids knocking down a traffic sign while singing the school fight song.

But unless you consider the initial incident with Rodney King, I don't really think the LA Riots count as a 'police riot'.

I wonder what the experience was of people who actually partook in the riots themselves. All we hear about is Korean store owners or whatever. Do they think they accomplished anything? Were the police better behaved afterwords, or worse? Daryl Gates ended up resigning about a year after the riots (having started as chief in).
Gates finally resigned on June 28, 1992, and was replaced by Willie L. Williams.[12] A second commission, the Webster Commission, headed by former FBI and CIA Director William H. Webster, was formed in the wake of the riots. Its report, released on October 21, 1992, was generally considered to be scathingly critical of the department (as well as other government agencies) and was especially critical of Gates' management of it.[1][13]
The LAPD under Gates was pretty authoritarian and acted with impunity.
posted by delmoi at 11:48 AM on April 26, 2012


At the time, I was working at an art gallery in Santa Monica, and even though nothing was going on in SM, they told us to stay at home until things calm down. The whole city was nervous, and people didn't know how far it would spread or how long it would last.

I was living near Barrington/Wilshire with three other roommates who were UCLA students. Two of them were black. Everybody was hanging out in the living room, watching the riots on TV. The black guys got into an argument as to how long the riot would last - one of them maintained that this is just the beginning and it would spread all over the country. At one point he turned to the two of us white guys and wanted to know if we thought so too. It was an awkward. He clearly thought this was some kind of a revolutionary situation, based on systemic police abuse of minority communities, the police being likened to an occupying army - he wasn't supportive of the looting or attacks against motorists, but saw it as spillover effects. And we were pretty vocally lefty and in sympathy with the idea that the police were an occupying force - this was something we all spoke about and there was a kind of common understanding.

Now he turns to us and asks, in effect almost as if he's hoping we're in on the "revolution" - it was very awkward to disagree and not have it be misunderstood as agreeing with a lot of the TV analysis by commentators many of whom saw it as simply senseless riots by thieves robbers and looters. I answered by pointing out that there's history as a guide - the Watts riots, and how ultimately that died down, and the question was what was going to come after that, if there were any positive changes going to happen or another toothless commission set up to calm the waters and then everything gets forgotten. He was pretty disappointed by the three of us being skeptical that the "revolution" was about to take over the country - in his view we were an example of what's wrong with the populace insufficiently motivated to change. Of course, he didn't exactly join the rioting in the street either.

Mostly what struck me, is how we were watching it all on TV, and it may as well be happening on another continent, even though if we took a ride of a few miles, we'd be in the thick of it; an odd feeling of isolation, with the TV as some kind of nerve perception center through which we experience life, rather than experience life directly. Shortly after that, I left to do a movie project in Europe, and I as soon as someone found out that I was in LA during the time of the riots, they'd have all sorts of questions about if I was scared and what not - I had to report that I saw it mostly on TV, just as most people in the rest of the world did... my being in LA at the time was of little/no personal consequence.
posted by VikingSword at 11:58 AM on April 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


KPCC also has a page of articles about the riots, and they've been running segments during the day.

atomicstone, I live not far from where you grew up. So strange to think about damage so close to my house.
posted by mogget at 12:09 PM on April 26, 2012


I was working at Universal Studios Hollywood, 20 years old and not having a place to sleep then. I remember the huge dump trucks they pulled up to the gates, the rumors swirling among workers that there were rioters "just over the hill, headed this way". For some reason, we stayed open then, and damn was it quiet. It was kinda creepy.

I spent the next 2 nights at a coworkers house, up in the Burbank hills. We could easily see the smoke from there. I still feel the crazy sadness I felt then.
posted by piearray at 12:59 PM on April 26, 2012


In my experience, all "riots" are really police riots.

None of the three riots I've been in were escalated by police. Rather, it was precisely the lack of visible presence that gave an already violently bad situation more fuel.

When Reginald Denny was beaten, there wasn't a cop anywhere in sight, despite the entire Florence/Normandie incident having been covered by television news helicopters for nearly an hour. In fact, the cops had already pulled back precisely to avoid confrontation.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 2:08 PM on April 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


I dunno, maybe it's an Oakland PD thing but at everyone one of these things I was at (I live downtown and went to photograph) it was basically a big party, then the cops show up dressed as stormtroopers and the atmosphere immediately changes and the whole thing escalates (usually when police fire tear gas as a way to disperse the non-rioting crowd). I've never seen anyone smash a window until after that happened, but regardless of the actual timeline it's always reported as "police responded to a violent crowd".

I don't doubt people riot in other circumstances I just tend to take the media reports with a big grain of salt. Some people have already mentioned the disconnect between watching it on TV and then seeing the flames off in the distance. The most surreal part of these things for me was watching this happen outside my front door and then turning on the news and seeing this completely different story being told.

I've never seen any accounts of the LA riots from people who were there so I wonder what they thought, especially now. There was a study done after the London riots where they interviewed rioters. Some of the actual interview audio/video is on Youtube.
posted by bradbane at 3:13 PM on April 26, 2012


Oooo, way back in 1992. Before they had color photography.
posted by telstar at 3:42 PM on April 26, 2012 [1 favorite]




I lived in the deep western San Fernando Valley. My dad worked in Koreatown and got to stay home, which was highly irregular, and one of my friends didn't come to my 7th birthday party because her mom was afraid to leave the house. This was the entire extent to which the riots affected me personally, but I do remember that the nightly news was terrifying to watch. My mom claims that I complained that there was smoke in the air at school, but I think she must have mixed up the riots with some wildfires or something; I'd think if things were so wild and crazy in the west valley that we could smell smoke at school they'd have told our parents to come get us and keep us home.
posted by town of cats at 8:12 PM on April 26, 2012


None of the three riots I've been in were escalated by police. Rather, it was precisely the lack of visible presence that gave an already violently bad situation more fuel.

When Reginald Denny was beaten, there wasn't a cop anywhere in sight
The police probably could have rescued that one guy, but how long would it have taken for them to reach him? He was rescued by nearby residents who had seen the coverage. They were probably a lot closer then the police.

That said though, these weren't anti-G20 hippies or bored college students. Some of the rioters were violent, some were armed, and the police themselves were the target of people's ire. I don't see how the police could have suppressed anything without a lot of violence and bloodshed.

Stuff like riot shields and tear gas really only let you do area denial anyway. You can protect certain streets or buildings, you can break up a mob but those techniques don't work against sporadic and random looting. The police were largely powerless to stop looting in last year's London riots, for example - because that wasn't an agglomeration of people but rather quick 'flashmobs' that looted and dispersed.
posted by delmoi at 2:22 AM on April 27, 2012


Just a reminder, the live re-tweeting of the events is starting to heat up. The verdicts were announced an hour or so ago, and violence is beginning to break out at Florence and Normandie.
https://twitter.com/#!/realtimelariots
posted by ShutterBun at 6:48 PM on April 29, 2012


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