Pots Boil Over

Store on fire in South Central Los Angeles

Last night, the National Geographic Channel aired #LA92. It should be required viewing.

It was a documentary on the LA riots, and while many of us, who were children in 1992, thought the riots were only (or largely) due to the beating of Rodney King and the subsequent acquittal of the officers, the film talks about how tensions had been simmering for years. It was a pot ready to boil over.

Some of the reasons that had nothing to do with King were the de facto segregation that penned Black folks into South Central, and then there was the limited economic mobility and the rise of drugs and gangs. People were tired of being treated like they were a problem.

Combine crack + crime + poverty, and it will always equal problems.

So when Soon Ja Du shot Latasha Harlins in the back of the head over a $2 bottle of orange juice (for which Harlins had the money in hand in pay), something snapped, but there was still mostly calm. People were upset, but they trusted the justice system. The growing tension between the Korean immigrants and Black residents came to a head when Joyce Karlin, the judge in the case, sentenced Du to community service and a fine after being convicted. But there was still mostly calm in South Central.

Then came the trial of King’s officers. And all four were acquitted. And the people of South Central just couldn’t take it anymore. There would be no more calm. As Martin Luther King said, “A riot is the language of the unheard,” and they would be unheard no more.

The people of South Central set the city ablaze, and ultimately caused over a billion dollars in damages, which makes the South Central uprising the most costly civil disobedience in American history, four times over. Stores were looted, destroyed, and burned. Cars were toppled. People were beaten. Windows were broken. All the rage was pouring out into the streets.

And, of course, there are those who wonder why it happened, but the reasons were always there. Harlins’ death and the King cops’ acquittal were lightning rods, but it was always going to happen between the conditions in South Central were ripe for rebellion.

At some point, disappointment becomes disillusionment and disillusionment becomes rage.

There are so many people at fault for what happened in 1992, but those people are the ones who created the conditions, not the ones who finally demanded they be seen. Living in a cage will drive anyone or anything mad.

I remember when the media made a joke out of Rodney King’s plea, “Can we all get along?” (You can tell they used him as a pawn to quell the violence… It didn’t work.) King’s words became a silly catchphrase that we repeated on the playground, but the truth is, we never will because we never did.

Don’t be fooled, the LA Riots can happen again because the conditions haven’t changed. The root of rebellion is still in the soil.