Monday, April 9, 2012

"L.A. Just Won't Be Boxed In" --Race in L.A. Mag, April 2012

WHILE PURSUING, the selection of candy and magazines by the checkout counter at Bristol Farms, I happened to stumble upon an issue of Los Angeles Magazine with a cover that relates to many of our class discussions on the diversity of L.A., as well as our specific discussion of the riot and how race plays into Los Angeles identity, or identity in general. Obviously, from the cover picture, it's easy to see why this cover stands out, but what I should mention is that in addition to this particular cover, there were a few other covers on the same magazine issue, but with different people and writing; "I am Latino. I am White. I am L.A. or I am Korean. I am White. I Am L.A." to name a few. Below this, the cover reads, "20 years after the riots, the city has a different complexion. So what does race mean anymore? Everything." Inside, the issue features a series of different essays on the subject of "Race in L.A., 20 years after [the riots.]

The introduction reads, "Ours is a city of many voices and cultures, of disparate backgrounds and conflicting interests. Twenty years ago this month, those fault lines ruptured. Whether you call it an uprising, a riot, or a civil unrest, what happened on April 29, 1992, changed Los Angeles and the people in it, prompting Rodney King to famously ask, "Can we all get along?" We still want the answer to be yes. But it's complicated."

From there, there are eight essays by people of different races who were alive during the riots, serving as a sort of "where are they now?" series of portraits. The people who were interviewed and wrote these short essays provide commentary and stories that are thought-provoking and powerful, and made me feel downright embarrassed, if not overwhelmingly angered at the Los Angeles police force, who seemed to at the time turn a blind eye to what was going on in terms of violence and looting, especially when it came to people of other races. It reminded me of the article we read on the zoot suit riots and our corresponding class discussion-- why didn't the police do anything? More importantly, why did they go so far as to feed into the violence, not only turning a blind eye and ignoring what was going on around them, but directly participating by brutalizing innocent people? Obviously, we have learned that Los Angeles used to be a very dangerous place, but to read these accounts from "survivors" or "veterans" so to speak during the time made the 1992 riot and the racial inequality much more real and personal.

Below are of the most powerful excerpts from the different profiles in this issue of Los Angeles magazine:

"On Venice Boulevard about 50 looters had smashed into a Kim's TV warehouse. As we were taking merchandise from the looters, two carloads of men with rifles arrived across the street and began shooting. I yelled for help to a police car down the street, but it kept going. And then I was hit--on my thigh and my ankle. Blood was coming out of me like a faucet. Because of the barricades, it took five hours to reach Hollywood Presbyterian. In the hospital I was upset. Korean Americans had paid their taxes but received no protection from the U.S. government in the rioting. In Korea the country is the parent. It takes care of you. But in Los Angeles in 1992, our parent, the U.S., did not protect us. We had to do it ourselves."-- In-Ha Cho, the Survivor

"In 1985, I got a job working as an LAPD operator. Typically I get at least 100 calls a shift, but I don't think the light ever went out that day- a few hundred calls just to me, at 6am to 6pm. Calls were, "my house is on fire," "I've heard someone is going to blow up this building," "this group is on the way down from the north to start a revolution." I'd grown up in Leimert Park in the 1970s. I used to ride my bike everywhere. There were Irish households, Japanese families, a Chinese-owned grocery store called the Blue Star. Everybody got along...When I called my dad, he said, "They burned the Blue Star down." The black-owned barbershop next door was gone. All the buildings I remember growing up with--gone." --Rhonda Mitchell, the 911 Operator

"At Newton station I was shocked by the guys I worked with, guys with zero respect for people we policed, guys who have since been retired or fired. I'd apologize to someone on the street or offer help, and another officer would say, 'Why do you talk to them like that? These aren't your friends or neighbors. These are just Newtonites.'" -Commander Andrew Smith, The Cop

"We had a brand-new constituent services center there, the first achievement I had as a new city council member. That business core--all 22 structures--was completely destroyed. It seemed clear to me that Los Angeles was broken." --L.A. County Supervisor, Mark Ridley-Thomas, the Politician.

"Blood was shooting ten inches out of Denny's mouth...I saw an LAPD cruiser coming toward us, so I climbed onto the hood of the truck, figuring if they saw me, we'd get help. Well, two officers looked straight at me and kept going. [When] I went home, I stood outside my grocery store, and it was on fire. People were running and robbing--it was a free-for-all. I'm thinking, 'This is Los Angeles. This cannot be happening.'" --Titus Murphy, the Good Samaritan.

Besides these profiles, each which uniquely paint a slightly different view of the riots, although a unified one that is equally violent and terrifying, my other favorite part of this race feature is the article entitled "Check One Please," which shows pictures of different people who have extremely diverse racial profiles. Just an example, one young man has a mother who is "Irish-Scottish-Welsh" and a father who is "African American-French Creole," and another woman has a mother who is Amerasian-Japanese and a father who is Danish. These people then provide short accounts on what it was like growing up in Los Angeles being such a unique and diverse mixture of races, and the article says "Born into mixed-race families the year the city burned, these young Angelenos are proof that L.A. just won't be boxed in."

"L.A. just won't be boxed in." I love that because it's refreshingly true. People always want to fit others into certain categories or "boxes" in order to better understand them and feel familiar with who they are, to feel like they have everything all "figured out," but the truth is that, race aside, people are too unique to be defined in such limited terms.

If you haven't already, I highly recommend picking up a copy of this issue of L.A. mag and reading at least a few of these articles, as they are in combination about twenty pages long. (I would offer to lend my copy, but as someone who aspires to write for a print magazine, I support people buying their own print copies instead of borrowing or reading them online!) Many of the articles are not only interesting, but relate directly to some of our readings--"Of Cholos and Surfers" comes to mind because many of them have to do with identity, as well as the zoot suit riot readings because of racial issues and police brutality, and of course, obviously the videos of the riots.

-- Caroline Queen

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