These were not my streets. I didn’t grow up here and I didn’t have any family here. I didn’t know where my friends were. There was no group of people I could go to and stand with to move in a specific direction.
I felt a sense of hopelessness and helplessness. There was no hope because the very system that was supposed to protect us, hurt us and then denied us justice.
I drove from my home in South Central Los Angeles to pick up my girlfriend, who was a student at UCLA. The trip back usually took us twenty to thirty minutes, but this day, it took an hour and a half.
The freeways were blocked off and the streets were crowded with people leaving work early, trying to make it home to their families, or just trying to get to a safe place. A lot of people, both Black and white were afraid and confused.
Early television reports were disorganized and based on the same knee-jerk reactions to the eruptions of violence as the average citizen.
As an emerging media professional, I was sick to my stomach to see the misinformation the television stations were delivering.
Newscasters actually provided the information necessary for many of the opportunistic looters as they reported on location that stores were being burned and looted and that no police officers were on the scene or even being engaged.
It struck me as odd, indeed when I learned that Darryl Gates gave the order for all officers to withdraw from South Central. I immediately thought back to the planned war the brothers in the street had spoken of.
I watched the news and marveled seeing older Mexican-Americans running down the street with sofas on their backs, being identified as “Bloods” and “Crips” by the television stations.
I also marveled at the fact that when I spoke to my relatives and friends across the nation, no one knew that any location outside of South Central Los Angeles was burning. In my book, The Whirlwind or The Storm, Chuck D describes his thoughts upon seeing that Blacks were rioting and protesting within the confines of their own community.
I was stricken with wonder after the riots when I walked through the community and saw entire blocks burned to the ground and in some, there would be one lone building. The building would be a restaurant, or a church or some other business that was Black owned.
Some years later, I had the opportunity to meet and befriend Henry “Kee Kee” Watson, one member of the group now known as the LA Four. I had heard the stories of what a monster he was supposed to be, but I had heard those stories about too many Black men (including myself) and found them to be far less than true, so I left my opinion open. What I found is a good and average man who was married with children, doing the best he could to provide for his family.
When the Riots erupted, Watson was not on any mission to maim or harm anyone. His intent was to go back to the area he grew up in, and be with his friends and family during an emotionally tense time. His subsequent arrest and trial were far beyond where he was thinking on April 29, 1992.
I heard his story and was inspired to write a book, but I knew that there was more there. Rioting has a rich history in this and every nation.
My new book examines the history of riots in America, before presenting the voices of citizens from all walks of life on their experiences and perspectives on rioting in America.
Each presentation is different. Some are actually essays. Some are interviews where the interviewee speaks with no editorializing. But every perspective is different and certainly compelling, as is always the case with major events such as riots.
Their voices, just as riots, are the voices of the people.
Darryl James is an award-winning author of the powerful retrospective on the LA Riots, “The Whirlwind or the Storm,” available on Amazon.com as an eBook for Kindle or PCs and as a paperback book. James’ stage play, “Love In A Day,” opened in Los Angeles in 2011and runs through June of 2012. View previous installments of this column at www.bridgecolumn.proboards36.com. Reach James at email@example.com.