"Oh, make me wanna holler
The way they do my life
Make me wanna holler
The way they do my life
This ain't livin',
This ain't livin'
No, no baby, this ain't livin'
No, no, no. . "
~ Marvin Gaye's "Inner City Blues"
No, I wasn't there when it happened. On April 29, 1992, I was finishing up my finals and preparing to graduate from college. Those images that kept playing on television with my familiar hometown neighborhoods all ablaze didn't even seem real.
But they were.
I grew up right off of Crenshaw Boulevard. When I came home after graduation I couldn't believe my eyes. All of the corner stores and businesses that we used to ride our beach cruisers and dirt bikes to as kids were nothing but ashes and rubble. The spots where we faithfully bought our now'n'laters and jolly ranchers were gone. And now? The city was quiet and eerie. It was crazy.
That day people were mad. They had all watched that video of Rodney King being clubbed in the street like rabid dog on the loose. Then they heard that verdict and lost it. All impulse control flew out of the window or rather flew through the window in the form of molotov cocktails and high speed bricks.
And no, I wasn't there, but still. This was happening in my hometown and I remember it well. I was all the way in Alabama, but as a student at a historically black college I saw my fellow students reacting. Those collegiate outbursts didn't involve violence or fire, but they were filled with enough frustration and rage to holler.
And see, I wasn't there in Los Angeles when all of this went down. So I can't fully comment on what the exact tipping point was. But when I came to my own neighborhood and saw how desolate it was all I can say is this: I damn sure didn't feel vindicated. Not one bit.
I just felt sad.
It's been twenty years since that happened and sometimes I'm not sure how much has changed. I turn on the television, hear the big story in the news and see angry people aligning mostly by race and a few by principle and way too many so indifferent that they don't align at all. And sure our president's name is Barack and he's married to a sister from the Southside of Chi-town named Michelle, but still. On a far too regular basis we are still asking that same question:
"Can't we all just get along?"
Although technically Rodney King's actual quote in the aftermath of the L.A. Riots of 1992 was:
"People, I just want to say this, can we all get along?"
Dang. I sure hope so.
Here we are some twenty years after the riots that burnt down inner city L.A. county neighborhoods like the one I grew up in. And one score and one day later here's what I know for sure: History loves to try to make a point. And if you don't get it the first time, it hits the repeat button until you do.
*first two images from the L.A. Times.
Now playing on my mental iPod. . . . a perfect song to capture how it felt to walk through my burnt down neighborhood.