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Saturday, February 23, 2019

Twenty years ago today, my hometown burned.

I had moved to Miami the year before and there is, let me tell you, something surreal about watching on television from a continent away as places you’ve been and streets you know are smashed and burned.

The Los Angeles riots happened because justice did not. They happened because a predominately white jury in the far-flung suburb of Simi Valley looked at video of four white cops bludgeoning a black drunk driving suspect, Rodney G. King, so viciously that even Chief of Police Daryl F. Gates said it made him sick — and yet, pronounced them not guilty of any crime.

To acknowledge this is not to lionize the rioters. You do not lionize 54 deaths and a billion dollars in property damage. You do not lionize what almost killed Reginald Denny, beaten nearly to death for the “crime” of being in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong color skin.

But one need not lionize the rioters’ method of expression to empathize with the message they expressed. Namely, a certain frustration, a certain sickness at heart, a certain outrage at being betrayed by justice — again.

It is an experience far older than the L.A. riots — and as relevant as the shooting of Trayvon Martin. On the surface, perhaps, the two incidents have little in common: the then-27-year-old drunkard beaten so badly after a high-speed chase that his body and mind still bear the scars, and the unarmed 17-year-old boy shot to death by a neighborhood watchman who thought him suspicious because he was dawdling and looking around.

They are not dissimilar, however, in one telling aspect: delay. It took a ruinous riot and a new federal trial for Rodney King to receive anything approaching justice. It took 46 days, uncounted public demonstrations and the appointment of a special prosecutor for that process even to begin for Trayvon Martin. Historically, that has always been the problem when African Americans seek redress of grievances pregnant with racial overtones. Justice comes slowly, grudgingly, and grumblingly, when it comes at all.

I hear all these warnings not to “rush to judgment” in the Martin case, and it is sage advice. Yet I find myself wondering: when is the last time I saw anyone who is not black look at one of those episodes where the justice system failed African-American people — look at Trayvon, look at Jena, La., look at Tulia, Texas, look at Amadou Diallo, look at Abner Louima — and say, unprompted and unambiguously, that thus and so happened because of race. Outside of the most far-left liberals, they seldom do. Even when it is as obvious as a cockroach on white satin, it is something most cannot bring themselves to admit.

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12 responses to “Remembering When L.A. Burned”

  1. 1AmericanHoney27 says:

    In my opinion Mr. Leonard Pitts Jr is somewhat biased in his article of LA Burning. In his article he cited several sad situations of the past But only ones in which persons of color were wronged. Do you honestly feel as tho these travisties never happen to other races…by Blacks. To write an article of this nature reguardless of it’s anniversary only brings back sad memories & surely pours salt in old wounds. Is it possible that this article was written in hopes of sending a subliminal message? Please be careful that your words don’t incite rioting in the streets instead of sending the message that we (as a people) need to come together to stop these injustices we (as a people) face today. In your article I didn’t see mention of the young mother in Texas gunned down & her 3 day old son kidnapped.. I could bring up more instances but why it won’t change history. I would much rather have read an article that wasn’t so one sided with possible solutions before the next mess happens.
    Thank You for listening & please Have a Blessed Day.

  2. howa4x says:

    I’m a liberal/progressive but have to wonder why it is only when whites kill or beat an unarmed black person that there is moral outrage. In any city today we see the carnage of black on black killing at an all time high. This does not in any way condone the injustice done to King/Martin, rather a question to why we are not overly concerned with that issue? The streets of urban America have become a killing ground where the innocent and not so innocent are gunning each other down over drug turf issues, insults, what another family member did, revenge, and the list goes on. Most of the media ignore it unless it involves an innocent older person or child getting caught in the cross fire. The NY times will write apeice about how gangs control areas of Caracas but say very little about our urban violence, or a series about how there are 90k gang members in LA, and what strategies are there to deal with it. More money is going to prisons than schools. We pay 30,000/yr on a prisioner but 6,000 on a student. Is something wrong here?
    Rioting only burns down the communities that black people live in and it chases the small shop owers away, and with that a way to start getting people employed, especially youth. Maybe we have to legalize all drugs to take the profit out of the trade, and set up more rehab. Maybe we should sentence youthful offenders to finish High school under a court order, or set up something akin to a Kibbutz where skill building can happen instead of sending them to prison. We need radical solutions since what we have tried isn’t working ,just making the problem worse. The media has to stop sensationalizing everything to get head lines and start drilling down to what the problem really is, since they have become an obstacle to solutions, instead of a forum for the real ideas to flourish. Be a leader in consences building instead of a bioling pot of contraversey

    This is America’s challange. It is in all our interests to solve it.

    • joyscarbo says:

      The better question is that why doesn’t anyone really care about black on black violence, excepto to talk about it and make more disparaging remarks and commentary on a race of people. First of all, most crime- violent or otherwise- generally happens within one’s own race. So black on black crime? Yeah. White on white crime? Etc… Actually, whites committ MORE crimes but they don’t do the same kinda time that blacks and hispanics do. The US incarcerates MORE people than anywhere else in the world! For every 100,000 people in the US, more than 748 of those people are in prison. We have more people in prison than Russia. The greatest concentration of prisoners is in the south: Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Georgia, Tennessee, South Carolina and North Carolina. All of these prisons are predominantly full of black men for drug crimes. Whites are there for violent crimes. Hispanics are therefor drug crimes. Whites take up about 60%…but serve far less time. Blacks and Hispanics are in prison have the longest time t0 serve…for their drug crimes.

      In Pensacola Florida right now….a 17 year old black young man committed 2 armed robberies. The young man did hurt anyone. Of course, he was tried and convicted to 80 years in prison!! YES! A 17 YEAR OLD WITH AN 80 YEAR SENTENCE!!!! Is the law allowing the punishment to fit the crime??? NOOOO WAAAAYYY!!

      Don’t start demonizing black kids when many of their charges are for some pot, or small amounts of crack. White guys with powdered coke got no time. Black guys with crack were sent up the river for a very long time!!! Justice is metered out depending on where you come from and what color your skin is.

      Now George Zimmerman is a hispanic who was fed up. Trayvon just happend to be in the way when Georges smokestack blew!!!!!

      Whhhhhyyy……whyy can’t we all just get…you know, why can’t we get along??………..

    • ” I’m a liberal/progressive but have to wonder why it is only when whites kill or beat an unarmed black person that there is moral outrage. In any city today we see the carnage of black on black killing at an all time high. ”

      The answer to your question is real simple, I’m surprised that you didn’t figure it out yourself (kind of makes me suspect that you don’t really want an answer). When people are killed in Black on Black violence, and your right there is an awful lot of it, Race IS NOT a factor.
      When people are killed in White on Black violence, Race USUALLY IS a factor. That’s where your moral outrage kicks in.

  3. Bunny says:

    Didn’t these people destroy their own property and businesses ?

    • 1AmericanHoney27 says:

      Bunny if memory serves me correctly not only some of their own possessions & businesses but those of innocent people as well. Lives were lost because of what few did also. I fear this columnist is of a narrow mind & that publication’s as such may do more harm than good… In no way should these travisties be swept under the rug, never to be spoken of, but that a complete presentation be written to show that each race has in it’s time been wronged. Then & only then we as a people can stand together to make this world a better place.

      • I’d hate to believe that only black people can get some understanding from this article. Is there some kind of barrier that prevents you from seeing past racism? This article wasn’t about property nor was it about businesses, in the authors own words it was about;

        ” They happened because a predominately white jury in the far-flung suburb of Simi Valley looked at video of four white cops bludgeoning a black drunk driving suspect, Rodney G. King, so viciously that even Chief of Police Daryl F. Gates said it made him sick — and yet, pronounced them not guilty of any crime. “

  4. Tara says:

    I am right with you…and yet I offer that justice isn’t about “pay back” for past injustice. Nor is it about getting the pendulum to swing to the other side. As someone who came into this world in Brooklyn, NY and who for some unknown reason was “colour blind” most of my early life, I have been saddened to see that the very same people who are demanding justice aren’t at peace enough inside themselves to offer it. And that is all across the board of racial, cultural and religious “denominations”. I have been hated and even attacked just for being white. And when I was in interracial romantic relationships, the love between me and my partner did not get much support from either side of the racial line. What has greater potential of demonstrating profound equality and true humanity than a deeply loving relationship between two people? My experience was that it just triggered quite the opposite in too many people, despite our perseverance and despite my open heartedness. It broke my heart to see “black” friends suddenly withdraw because it wouldn’t be cool to hang out with a white person. And now, decades later, after a number of harsh experiences, both direct and witnessed, I find my self just pulling inside, praying and trying to make peace with the lack of peace until Something Greater in all of us is ready to come forth and get past the pain, the separation and the illusion. Blessing to all. May Truth and Peace prevail as soon as possible…

  5. rustacus21 says:

    1 of the things we must remind ourselves of very DISTINCTLY, as this article alludes to, is that we were emerging from 12 consecutive years of national ROT, complements of the Reagan/Bush administrations. We, as a nation, were still very much on edge, as a result. The prolific ‘profiling’ traditions of the nations downsized police forces, saw many incidents such as these, but an even greater tragedy was the inaction of the American voter, to NOT continue policies of the Clinton-Gore administration, which stalled & eventually discontinued economic revitalization efforts in that & other still-economically depressed areas of the nation, by his successors, who again, as conservatives traditionally have, re-route resources toward dead-end, wasteful policies such as pathological greed, war & welfare for the wealthy/corporations. Now that we have coherent, ‘somewhat’ responsive executive/legislative governance, it’s time we spend another several decades re-building the nation from the errors we instituted w/the conservative mad science experiments-gone awry, American voters cursed themselves w/. The microcosm’s of L.A. & Sanford remind us of the ‘illness’ our Democracy & society are still afflicted by. We are finding it harder, as time goes by, to ignore the ‘institutional’ injustice’ that’s responsible for the ‘criminalized’ & profile-oriented incarceration of over 1 million young men of color, the 80% likelihood of toxic waste/pollution & storage/discharge events in communities of color across the nation, the dismissal of corporate/white collar crime that continues disfiguring our society, by virtue of institutionally sanctioned greed/criminality & our societal obsession w/violence & war – ALL sapping our nation of precious human/material resources. These are ALL injustices we have, in the past, failed to deal w/. Now, in this election year, is the BEST time to consolidate voices & votes to rid ourselves of this (conservative) curse of ignorance & confusion…

  6. joyscarbo says:

    I get it….black people = bad people that white people don’t trust or like.

    White people and lots of powder cocaine = a party for the White People.

    unless you’re the black guy that you sold that drug to you,…now I”m a dealer and
    when I get arressted I won’t get shit for a deffense. And I’m the terrible guy trying to spread
    crack and rock and powder, damaging these pure white people.

    Go to prison black man!! Never mind your family. You’ve got 3rd strike- YOU”RE OUT!!!

    • 1AmericanHoney27 says:

      Joyscarbo…. Ever watch a movie called ” Boys in the Hood ” starring Lawrence Fishburn & Cuba Looking Jr. If not, please do for it will enlighten you immensely. Concerning your remark of 3rd strike your out.. ” Never mind your family “….. Evidently if this person was selling drugs then he wasn’t thinking of his family or he wouldn’t have been doing what he was doing that got himself into trouble. If it was his 3rd strike as you called it , Did he not learn anything the other two times. In the situation of dealers & buyers it has always been dealers punishment is harder in hopes of chopping off the scorpion head then the scorpion can’t sting again. Seems to me the dealer could afford to buy a good defense with all the $$$$ that floats in the drug world. In short, ” If ya can’t do the time then Don’t commit the crime.”

  7. keisha481 says:

    There is no away – not discussing issues that hurt and divide us will only allow the human emotions being driven by them to escalate. We must confront our personal shortcomings and those of a capitalist market system operating under an oligarchy.

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