I was 14 years old when the verdict came down that the four cops who had beaten Rodney King on live television had been pronounced not guilty. I wasn’t a news nerd just yet, but that didn’t keep me from being glued to the news footage of rioting in L.A. that night.
I don’t think I was terrified when I saw the footage, so much as in awe. Morbid I know, but maybe it was just because I was safely sitting in my house in Hacienda Heights at the time, 30 miles away from the chaos.
I remember someone, possibly my sister?, saying that someone was going down into L.A. to secure my dad’s dental office (I think), which was on Melrose at the time. It was far from south LA, but the violence did spread into downtown, so there was no telling where rioters would end up. I said I wanted to go, and was dismissed as crazy.
I didn’t get to go and see the ravaged city for myself until much, much later. Although, some of it did make its way to me. My father helped one of his friends, who owned a couple 7-Elevens in LA, by storing some of the surviving inventory of his store in our backyard storage unit — mostly 40-ounce bottles of beer with scorched labels.
The next morning, on my way to school, I got my mom to stop at a liquor store so I could pick up a piece of history. However, the LA Times was sold out, so I bought a copy of USA Today. Possibly, if I’d bought a copy of the LAT, I would have kept the entire issue, not just the first two pages, but them’s the breaks.
I remember storing these pages in my journal. My journals were spiral notebooks that are long gone, but somehow, someway, I managed to hang on to these newspaper pages through high school, college, marriage and kids.
These days, things are not so black and white, so to speak. Racial tensions have eased between blacks and Asians, but have heightened between blacks and Hispanics, and all that has spread beyond south LA into the high desert and Inland Empire. We have a black president up for reelection in the same year two young, unarmed black men were gunned down by police and someone who wanted to be a cop, in two states that boast of diverse populations but were also home to America’s most staggering racial riots.
Well, at least Rodney King didn’t die. That’s progress, right?