race riots remembered

20 years ago I was on the Hollywood Freeway with my dad entering Downtown L.A. from the east. The freeway sinks from street level for a stretch and we saw the tops of palm trees at street-level on fire in  the dark city night. The usual drum of traffic with its sea of red taillights was diminished. It was eerie. Rows of palm trees were glowing like medieval torches resting against cold walls.

We exited near Spring St. onto unusually deserted streets and began turning towards the tall buildings since something did not seem right. We made one right turn and were soon approaching a wall of riot police steadily marching toward our car. We looked beyond us past the intersection and down the street to see bodies zig-zagging in the other direction. My dad quickly u-turned and cut another right to get away from both mobs. We saw some police had objects other than riot shields drawn. We zig-zagged back to my fathers home in East Hollywood. We were relatively unscathed there minus a crowd battering a Circuit City bay door less than a mile away.
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Two days later with the city allowed to move again on restricted curfew we emerged. My father, the bachelor, suggested Chinese takeout from our favorite spot on Sunset in Echo Park. Traffic flowed in the sunlight like normal minus the convoy of military Humvees we found ourselves trailing. The tank-like intruders in front of us promptly stopped just past the Pescado Mojado in the middle of the street. Soldiers in desert camo flew out staging their bodies on the market side of their vehicles. They braced long guns on their roofs aiming high to the roof of the tall brick building on the other side of the street. A few cracks rang out in the air. I never saw the beige bodies in front of us fire. My dad slammed my head toward the center console of the car and was pressed on top of me. We eventually moved and swerved our way to pick up BBQ pork and fried rice then rushed back home. I never had that BBQ pork again – I became a vegetarian shortly after that then had left L.A. by time I ate meat again.
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Driving up Western past the Hollywood Freeway – life seemed to have returned to normal. The National Guard was now present and I had no idea if we were still under evening curfew at that time. Four men in gear were patrolling the sidewalk. They stopped for the familiar bells walking toward them and ordered a colorful assortment of flavors from a paleta man. Full uniform with flack jackets, helmets, guns over slung on their backs and enjoying Latin popsicles with the smiles of children at play.
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This was what I experienced after the verdict was read that let four white police officers off after they had been videotaped beating a black man after he was pulled over. Korean business owners were targeted in black neighborhoods. Latin and white men were beat and hopefully saved when they were caught in the wrong place by an angry mob. People looted broken TVs and anything else ridiculous or valuable they could carry. A city fire truck was stolen at one point. Class and race tensions were at the surface for decades – this was how they played out after the verdict in my world.

4 Comment

  1. Wow, thanks for sharing that. Can’t say that I blame anyone for being pissed off about that. I still can’t watch that footage.

  2. Thanks for sharing your story! I’m going to add it to my facebook page “1992 Los Angeles Riots” and on my website http://www.losangelesriots.info I also would eventually leave Los Angeles for good in 1997.

  3. Thank you so much for sharing this, Kia. Interestingly, you reminded me of a book we studied in my children’s literature class: http://www.amazon.com/Smoky-Night-Eve-Bunting/dp/0152018840

    1. capta$$kicker says: Reply

      What a cool book. I’ll have to check it out. Thanks for letting me know about it.

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