I wasn’t sure whether to write about this or not. Los Angeles has changed so much in the last 20 years in a lot of ways for the better but still the events of 20 years ago have had their effects. If you are wondering what I’m talking about, it’s the riots after the Rodney King verdict. There some things that I remember indelibly and others that are gone with the mist. Part of that may be that four years later I had a head injury from a car accident and some things are just gone such as I can’t remember how I got to work that morning.
The troubles had started the night, Wednesday, April 29, 1992, before at the intersection of Normandie and Florence and I worked at an Worker’s Comp insurance company at Normandie and Wilshire north of there. I went to work the next morning and my car was in the shop in Monterey Park but I don’t remember if I got a ride with my friend Helen or if I took the bus. I remember being at work and we had windows all the way around the building and we were up on the 11th floor and could see a long distance.
We went from window to window watching fires start all around us because we were smack in the middle of Korea Town where a lot of the rage was being expressed. A friend at the desk next to me was in tears and we couldn’t figure out why she had even come because the night before her son and nephew had been dragged from their car down in South Central and had been beaten for no reason. She said she had come to work because she didn’t know what else to do. We kept hugging her for lack of anything else we could do.
Our boss kept calling the home office in San Francisco to see if they would allow us to go home and they kept saying, “No, keep working”. The decision was finally made for him by the LAPD and in totally stupid fashion they told everybody on Wilshire at the same time.
We were assigned people to ride home with if we didn’t have a car. I got stuck with an idiot. M was a nice guy but totally without common sense. He insisted we were going to drive through Chinatown because he wanted to see what was happening there instead of going straight home.
We got out on to Wilshire and straight into unmoving traffic because of the LAPD’s order to evacuate all buildings at the same time. It was one of the most surreal scenes I think I’ve ever been a part of. On our left the men on heavy machinery kept working on digging the Red Line subway and on our right, they were breaking the windows of the Big 5 and running out with arms full of guns and ammo and yelling their heads off.
I wasn’t scared until that fool driving started yelling at the looters. He was Asian and they wouldn’t have cared if he was Korean or not at that point. Luckily traffic suddenly started to move or it might have been really bad. We could see fires and smoke in every direction and I just wanted out of there. So I was yelling at M. He was totally mystified about why I was mad at him but he got going because he’d never seen me angry before and I was pissed.
We finally got to my car dealer in Monterey Park I was grateful to be out of the car. I got mine and drove north to Pasadena under the mistaken impression it wouldn’t spread to Pasadena. It did. Some fools burned the market that night at the end of my street because it was managed by Koreans who were very nice people.
At that time the Korean community tended to be not liked by a lot of people. I know that we really didn’t like shopping in the neighborhood around work. The little store in our building was run by a Korean lady who would follow you around her store sure that you were going to rob her and very rude if you did want to buy anything. It was bad if you were white and she was really bad about it is you were African American and unfortunately her behaviour was typical of a lot of business people in the area at the time. It isn’t that way now. That much has changed. Koreatown was the focus too because they were perceived to have money and that that money did not go back out of the community.
When I got home I turned the news on and the radio. That night they burned that market just a few blocks west and then there were rumours that the Circuit City just south was being looted and burned. It wasn’t but there was no way to find out either way and I certainly wasn’t going to drive around and find out.
We were told not to come in to work the next day and that was the night of our Beltane ritual. We spent most of the ritual on healing the city. We made a poster of our handprints reaching out with healing and drew pictures on it of what was happening and added our wishes for peace. I had friends that had had to be rescued over on the west side so we were wishing safety and healing as hard as we possibly could because that was about all we could do at the time.
The weekend came and things finally calmed down. Saturday the Marines came to reinforce the National Guard. Sunday it finally stopped.
I’m not denying there was legitimate anger but the rioters mostly hurt their own neighborhoods. The news coverage showed people going into stores and coming out with luxury items. I didn’t blame the people getting baby formula and diapers or food but when you start taking things you can’t afford without saving for them, no.
If I can’t afford something I save for it or I don’t get it. I don’t have credit cards. I pay cash which is why it’s taking so long to fix my car but I’ll get there. Maybe that’s being self righteous but that was the way I was raised, You can’t afford it you don’t get it and don’t yearn for what you don’t have.
Anyway, Monday I went to work and ended up getting sent home again for 2 days because the guys working on the Red Line had cut through the gas and phone lines underground. I was kind of glad to drive back home because it was such a depressing drive in to work with all the burned out buildings around work and on the way to work. It took a long time before it came back to life.
I can understand the anger that caused the riot but I can’t understand the inhumanity of beating people like Reginald Denny who was beaten almost to death for being in the wrong place or the wrong time or the beating of my work friend’s family. Some bad cops were to blame and that was where the blame should have stayed, especially since during the riots the police holed up in their stations and refused to come out. But the rest should never have happened and South Central has finally got stores moving back in. For years grocery stores wouldn’t rebuild because they got burned and they didn’t want it to happen again.
Los Angeles is a lot more integrated now that in was 20 years ago. The neighborhood where it started that was mostly African American is now 50% Latino and LA according to the Los Angeles Times reported that according to census data we are the most integrated city In the US and that’s a good things for all of us. I think for the most part as Rodney King pled on TV, we have all learned to get along.
One night not too long ago I sat on our couch in our living room and counted the languages of the people coming by. That evening I heard French, Russian, Hebrew, Armenian, Spanish, English, Hindi and Punjabi and a couple I couldn’t identify plus added accents from all over. That is one of the things I love about LA. We can learn and we do live all mixed up together and for the most part we get along.
So many things lately have come up between my sister and I that I’m realizing we were really raised by 2 different sets of parents in the same body. She is 10 years younger than me and I was the eldest until my little brother came along a year and a half later and then my sister eight years later. We were raised in different houses and in different neighborhoods because we moved when she was 9 months old and I was 10.
For some reason they did different things with her and said different things to her. My parents and grandparents had a wealth of old sayings and games that they did with my brother and I but not with her and I know May Day was probably one of them.
My dad showed me how to make my first daisy chain and I remember him plopping it on my head and saying, “Crown me mother, for I am Queen of the May!” and forever after if I got too big for my britches he’d say that to me and I never heard him say it to my sister.
I also have no idea where he got the phrase but it always reduced me to giggles and brought me down to earth.
It was just my misfortune to have to ride the bus in the presence of three of the most negative people I have ever heard. They acted like they knew each other so they must ride the same bus together every morning. They probably get on off the Red line because that is the only stop before I get on.
I hope I don’t know any of the people they were tearing down. They tore down the people they worked with. People they met in line and any celebrity they didn’t think had the right to be a celebrity including the future king and queen of the UK.
They talked about how much they hated their jobs and all of them were going to “play hooky” some time this week and skip work. As someone who was laid off four years ago and still hasn’t got a permanent job that just made me boil.
Then the man started talking about how rude and awful people were in line at Costco. He’d gotten in line with just ice cream and had evidently bulled his way to the front of the line saying he only had one item and the last guy in front of him who had a full cart wouldn’t let him cut and told him to wait his turn. The man telling the story is one of those nasty little Napoleon types and about that time I recognized him as one of the nastier attorneys I had to deal with when I was a Worker’s Comp Hearing Rep. I knew right then I would have done the same thing as the man with the full cart.
This attorney is the kind of person who automatically things you are going to be nasty so he is first. And then he had the gall to end is story with a version of what goes around comes around and all I could think was but it did, you had to wait your turn.
Have you ever stood in the April wood and called the new year in?
While the phantoms of three thousand years fly as the dead leaves spin?
There’s a snap in the grass behind your feet and a tap upon your shoulder.
And the thin wind crawls along your neck it’s just the old gods getting older.
And the kestral drops like a fall of shot and the red cloud hanging high
come a Beltane.
Have you ever loved a lover of the old elastic truth?
And doted on the daughter in the ministry of youth?
Thrust your head between the breasts of the fertile innocent.
And taken up the cause of love, for the sake of argument.
Or while the kisses drop like a fall of shot from soft lips in the rain
come a Beltane.
Happy old new year to you and yours.
The sun’s up for one more day, to be sure.
Play it out gladly, for your card’s marked again.
Have you walked around your parks and towns so knife-edged orderly?
While the fires are burned on the hills upturned in far-off wild country.
And felt the chill on your window-sill as the green man comes around.
With his walking cane of sweet hazel brings it crashing down.
Sends your knuckles white as the thin stick bites. Well, it’s just your groaning pains.
Come a Beltane. Come a Beltane.
Come a Beltane. Come a Beltane.
Come a Beltane. Come a Beltane.
Come a Beltane. Come a Beltane.