REMEMBERING ONE OF AMERICA’S LARGEST RACIAL UPRISINGS FROM A PERSONAL STANDPOINT
I’ll get right to the point:
I was living (figuratively speaking) pretty far away from the infamous flash point of Florence Ave. and Normandie Ave. in Santa Monica, CA the day those verdicts in the first Rodney King trial in Simi Valley came down, setting those bigoted policemen free despite that tape showing the most obvious incriminating evidence of all time.
Though I was never brutalized like Rodney, as a African-American male in his mid-20s I could certainly relate to being racially profiled, being stopped by the Santa Monica police a number of times; there are two instances of this that stand out in my mind:
* I was getting some food from Campos, a Mexican place two blocks from my house whose food I grew up on, loved, and still love to this day.
As I was walking out with my order a policeman, out of the blue, stopped me and began to ask me questions, saying that I “fit the description” of someone they were looking for.
If it wasn’t for another guy walking across the street that yelled out, “That’s not him!” I would have most likely been arrested for something I had no knowledge of.
* One day in July of 1997, a month after my 30th birthday, I had left my house to get a newspaper when a plain clothes policeman stopped me when I was literally across the street from my home, exiting his car.
“Get your hands up!” he said, putting me in handcuffs.
Thankfully I was able to convince the cop to let me into my house so I can show him my ID, proving that I wasn’t a stalker.
To the cop’s credit, he apologized, but that did nothing to ease my irritation.
Being that I lived in the Pico Neighborhood, Santa Monica’s inner city for all intents and purposes, I knew deep down that being a young black man in that area, I was both a target and would be suspect for anything that went down.
The irony in all this? Santa Monica had an African-American police chief in those days, James Butts, who’s now the mayor of Inglewood.
TV news footage of that fateful day at Florence and Normandie, courtesy of YouTube
I remember the day everything went down on Florence and Normandie quite well;
My mother and I were watching it all go down live on the local TV news. I specifically recall seeing a van ram into the front bars of a store, breaking the bars and leaving that store ripe for the looters, which we likewise saw.
I believe I saw Reginald Denny get smashed by that brick as well.
The other memory I have of that uprising – I’m making it a point to not call it a riot anymore – was the next couple of mornings as I was leaving the house to go to work; though no fires or looting happened in Santa Monica or the Westside, I could smell the smoke drifting from the many fires in the rest of L.A.
I was a physical education assistant teacher at a couple of elementary schools at that time, and the kids at both places, most of them white, were quite upset not only with what was going down, but also with the cause of it as being the liberal town that Santa Monica was and is, pretty much everyone felt that those four cops who beat Rodney got off scott-free.
At one of those schools there were a couple of African-American kids, both 4th graders, who lived in what was then called South Central L.A. (they were able to attend the Santa Monica school because their mothers worked in the town and were able to acquire permits) and were subsequently adjacent to all the chaos if not in the middle of it.
I knew that those two youngsters would be at least a little stressed and traumatized, so I made it a point to ask them if they were OK.
Things went more or less back to normal in Santa Monica and the Westside after the so-called “riots” ended, but you know what?
Rodney King’s famous “Can’t we all get along?” speech, courtesy of YouTube.
After 25 years, I think everyone – at least every one of color, especially Blacks and Latinos – would say that nothing has changed as far as young African-American men getting profiled, targeted, and killed by the police across America.
If you don’t believe me, ask the families of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Freddie Gray, and the many other young men who are no longer with us.
And ask the black folks who live in places like Baltimore and Ferguson, MO, if things are better.
To be honest, particularly under the still relatively new leadership of our President-Whose-Name-I-Will-Not-Mention, I’m surprised that “riots” like what happened in L.A. in 1992 don’t happen twice or three times a year.
And the worst part of all of this?
Considering the polarizing climate in these United States, racial and otherwise, I honestly find it difficult to see any light at the end of this pick black tunnel.
At least for the foreseeable future.
As Malcolm X once said, it’s going to take God himself to solve this dilemma.
Which I wholeheartedly agree with.