Remembering When LA Burned With Rage: 25 Years Later
Awful - There Was No Other Word
I would have just finished my second year at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada when the LA Riots erupted.
Some background: I'd spent most of my life in small towns until I went to university, and even then, each town I spent time in was smallish. Cold Lake had a population of just about 12,000; Edmonton's population was just over 615,000 - nowhere near the 3.2 million that Los Angeles, California boasted at the time. I couldn't conceptualize what it would remotely even be like to be a part of such a large city, let alone a city held in the grip of terror as a result of a devastating verdict.
I wasn't even totally sure who Rodney King was, though I knew what had happened to him was bad enough that I felt sick about it. I never thought twice about someone's color, ever; my belief was that if someone was acting like an ass, they should be called on it, and it had nothing to do with skin color, belief or anything else. If you were a jerk, you deserved to be called one, and in my view, that was about who you are as a person - not anything to do with your skin color, your faith or who you were attracted to.
It was awful. Police struggled to maintain control over the United States' second largest city. 60 people were killed. I remember feeling as though people had so much rage about the verdict that no one was sure what to do with it. In retrospect, it seems to me that people needed someone to blame for what happened, so a protest against the Los Angeles Police Department - at least, that's what my memory recalls - exploded into something far worse.
Many Asian stores had been targeted, and I couldn't figure out what the store owners would have done to inspire such violence. There had been some good to come from the violence that bloomed during the roughly weeklong unrest; Reginald Denny, a white truck driver who was severely beaten, was rescued by two black men who ensured he got to hospital safely and that his truck was returned to his work address, and Fidel Lopez, a Guatemalan worker who was also severely beaten and robbed, was rescued by Rev. Bennie Newton, who basically told rioters that they would have to kill him if they were to kill Lopez. The latter two forged a close bond until Newton died in 1993.
But with over a billion in damage and families devastated, how can anyone think that the LA Riots were anything but terrible?
LA - Engulfed In Flame
We Need To Remember
With any act of unspeakable violence, we need to remember.
Some have spoken out about news media marking the historical occasion, believing that it would be better for all concerned if the event was left alone for the history books. The danger of leaving history behind us without anything to commemorate significant events is that we may repeat what has happened in the past.
Racism continues. Hatred continues.
Look around. There's genocide in the Sudan. There are people who continue to celebrate the Holocaust as a positive event. Kids are beaten savagely simply because they are "different."
We need to remember history because it serves as a stark reminder of where we came from and too often, we end up in situations which mirrors ones we supposedly "learned from."
On April 29, 1992, cops were acquitted of savagely beating Rodney King, kicking off what was probably one of the worst examples of racial violence where police were actually caught demonstrating the significant prejudice they had often been accused of. It was one week - a moment, really, in the larger view of the world - that completely changed how so many of us viewed how we treated each other and how we saw each other.
So what lessons can we take from this?
How do we grow?
I would very much like to leave my kids - and theirs - a world that we can truly be proud of. I'm not saying that there's nothing to be proud of here - certainly, we have grown much in the two millennia that we've occupied this planet - but when it comes to how we ultimately treat each other, we have a lot to learn.
Perhaps that is what the LA Riots have to teach us, and that's a starting point.