Wednesday, July 6, 2011

No More Bricks. Stand Your Ground.

Where were you the day the OJ Simpson verdicts were handed down?

I followed the OJ Simpson trial and the verdict was a complete shock.  In my opinion, all the evidence was there but I wasn't on the jury.  I didn't have the final say as to guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. The discussion the next morning at work threw me for a loop.  Co-workers were passionately divided along color lines.  Black employees were genuinely happy he was exonerated.  After the Rodney King trials they felt it was about time a black man got a break in Los Angeles.  I never saw it coming - or did I?

The 1992 Rodney King trials and riots.  I lived through these times in downtown Los Angeles.  I witnessed it and was a part of the madness.  This awful time was one of the reasons I moved from LA.  I'm a Southern California native.  My older sister and I used to drive down Florence past Normandie (the now infamous crossroads) to go to the Laker games in Inglewood.  We know the backstreets of the city better than the major freeway systems and we drove them without hesitation.  We loved our town.  My sister still does.  Not me, it's changed.  It's simply an old acquaintance now.

When the officers who beat Rodney King were acquitted of their crimes, the city felt like a quiet, ticking time bomb.  Everyone, black and white, Latino and Asian knew it was a nasty and wrong verdict.  Those cops should not have beaten Rodney and they got away with it.  There were calls from all over the black community to remain calm.  I remember their verdicts were announced in the middle of the day.  I drove home from work, turned on the evening news, and then it started - the live broadcast at Florence and Normandie.  No one knew what to expect when we saw that truck pull into the intersection...Oh my God. 

For those of you who aren't familiar with LA, it's one huge urban sprawl.  One city creeps into another without any notable change.  It all looks the same.  Grey, smoggy, graffiti riddled cities, interspersed with palm trees, car dealerships, overhead wires, and mini malls.  The riots had been mostly contained to the Florence and Normandie intersection but by the next afternoon, they started to spread throughout the greater metropolitan area.  I worked at my father's business in east central and by noon, there were a constant stream of firetrucks, ambulances, and police cars speeding past our offices on Atlantic Avenue.  We were sent home for the day and told to be very careful.  I chose the Freeway versus driving through Compton.  My normal 30 minute drive took me 3 1/2 hours that day.  I sat in bumper to bumper traffic on the 710 Freeway and watched angry kids throwing bricks and rocks down at the cars ahead of me from the overhead bridges.

By the time I got home to Long Beach, I was exhausted.  My ex-husband and I took our neighbor out to dinner and when we had finished the city had been placed on curfew.  Our little neighborhood where we'd always felt safe had suddenly become terrifying.  The auto parts store was being looted, the 7-Eleven around the corner had it's windows broken out, and the family owned Korean liquor store across the street was boarded up.  Our dear Mr. Lee was sitting on his roof protecting his business with a shotgun.  In a heartbeat, it had all changed.  To Hell with the curfew.  Jeff, my ex-husband, and I left that night for my parents' place.  We didn't stop at red lights.  There were no police on the roads.  Just cars full of angry kids looking to hurt someone or destroy something.

I live in Colorado now.  I realize that there is no way to escape racism.  There's a form of it everywhere, reverse or otherwise, but I thought I could run away from it.  I thought if I could go to the middle of the country, I might never have to see the face of angry young man, black or white, Latino or Asian throw a brick over a bridge ever again.  Wrong.  The other day I was hanging out with some friends and a huge brick was thrown.  The word "Nigger" was carelessly tossed over a bridge.  My stomach recoiled and I wanted to run.  I'm not going to run anymore.  It's time to get out the car and look that angry young man in the face.  

Warning:  Disturbing video from the 1992 riots

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