There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered.
Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world. For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.
If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.
If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner.
It is better to lead from behind and to put others in front, especially when you celebrate victory when nice things occur. You take the front line when there is danger.
Let freedom reign. The sun never set on so glorious a human achievement. Only free men can negotiate; prisoners cannot enter into contracts.
There is no passion to be found playing small – in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.
Your freedom and mine cannot be separated. There is no such thing as part freedom
Rioters at the corner of Florence and Normandie on the first day of civil unrest.
It’s been more than seventeen years ago since 55 people died, 2,300 were injured and 10,000 businesses were destroyed in the Los Angeles riots. It’s hard to explain the 1992 riots that started on April 29 to people who are too young to remember. I can say that it was a convulsion of psychological energy; a revolution that changed the realities of a racist country into a more democratic country.
A year earlier the tension had risen as a man named Rodney King had tried to get away from the cops. When the police caught Mr. King, they beat him in a way that would have been illegal to beat a dog. A video turned in to LAPD shows what appears to be a group of police officers beating a man with nightsticks and kicking him as other officers look on. The images of Mr. King hazily trying to get away from the beating is burnt on my mind. Many thought it was a new day since the beating had been filmed with the newly invented home video camera. But it was the reality of nothing changing, even though there was film of the incident that caused things to truly explode. Even with the recording, the jury’s prejudices translated the event into a scary black man surrounded by a dozen frightened, “rightfully” baton-swinging and kicking keepers of the peace.
Officer Ted Briseno of the Los Angeles police reacts to his acquittal in the Rodney G. King assault case.
The verdict was like a declaration of war on the black community.
“If you got no recourse. You can’t go to the law. What are you gonna do? How do you articulate it,” a LA resident said to the media during the riots.
In one day, 2,000 fires were set in LA. An entire system of the ghetto apartheid that had been built over the black community, like a plantation or a reservation, was being burnt down. America was scared. And the improvements we have seen today have come from that fear. White America had to come to grips with the irrational ideas they held or face a civil war.
A Deeper Look
The fires were sending up the smoke signals of injustice “that black people felt in their bones.” But the riots were not just rage. The riots were the loss of hope.
To understand the riots, we have to remember that the black community in Los Angeles, and across the country, had been ravaged by the crack epidemic for a decade before the riots. An epidemic that reporters have linked to the American government getting monetary support for counter leftists in Latin America.
To understand the riots we have to remember that months before the Rodney King Verdict, a Korean grocer was given probation for shooting to death a 15-year-old African-American, Latasha Harlins, during an argument over an orange juice he thought she stole. To understand the riots you have to remember that police officers had been taped through the dispatchers referring to Black suspects as “gorillas in the mist.”
During the riots a women yelled, “They wonder why Black people gotta fucking chip on their god damn shoulder? I have three brothers and this (here) is my only son. I’ll be dammed if they beat up on mine. If they do, I’m not taking (the police) to court. I’m gonna put a hit out on them.” “Beat me up like you did Rodney King, mother fuckers, and I’ll kill every last one of you,” she screamed across the street to the police.
Najee Ali was a rioter in 1992. Ali said that African Americans had lost control of their own personal liberties and had no economic progress. Abuse from the police was now combined with not owning your own neighborhoods economy as non-black business owners both sold you your food and hated you.
It all added up to not being the victim this once.
“I was so angry. I wanted to continue. But I stopped after two days out of sheer, physical exhaustion,” said Ali in 2002.
The reason this all matters is that much of the same variables exist today that started the riots of ‘92. Unemployment in the LA, Long Beach and Santa Ana Metropolitan area was at 10.6 percent in March. Santa Ana has a large population of Latin American immigrants within Orange County. In Compton, unemployment is nearing 20 percent.
These statistics are approaching the levels that were around when the LA riots occurred. We can not ignore our segregationist realities. African Americans and Latin Americans today are overly represented in the unemployment line. Just like in 1992’s recession.
If we continue to refuse to learn from the past, we may find ourselves tearing apart the fabric of our nation and each other, again.