Skip to content

The masses speak (Again)


Curiously, the intervals between Los Angeles’ major civil uprisings clock in at 27 years (from the 1965 Watts upheaval to the debacle of 1992) and 28 years (between ‘92 and our current unrest) respectively. Whether these numbers are mere coincidence or have deeper significance remains to be seen.

A lifetime activist, photographer Louis Carr took a break from his usual involvement due to the COVID-19 pandemic and quarantine. With the public display of the George Floyd death and the fallout afterwards, he was compelled to don his protective mask and, with a group of like-minded friends, drove to the Fairfax District’s Pan Pacific Park for a scheduled demonstration May 30.

Arriving just prior to noon, they listened to speeches by actor/activist Kendrick Sampson and others. Afterwards however, things steadily crept downhill.

For the next two hours this peaceful protest devolved into anarchy, led by a largely White crowd dressed head to toe in black. This transpired in front of two police lines; the first manned by officers, their badges and name tags clearly visible, the second anonymous with the exception of identifiers designating their unit as that of the elite “Metro” Division.

Carr witnessed two Black women praying in the midst of this turmoil before being “gutted” with a policeman’s baton, apparently in an effort to move them. The carnage continued until 4 p.m., as the crowd broke windows at the Trader Joe’s, and spray painted “BLM” (for Black Lives Matter) across the buildings despite the protests of actual Black Lives Matter members in the area.

Carr himself sustained three baton strikes as he murmured to himself, “This country hates Black people.”

These matters were replicated in scores of locales across the country.

Reviewing these and other events, retired LAPD Sergeant Cheryl Dorsey simultaneously experienced regret as a Black mother of four adult males, and revulsion for witnessing televised behavior which “…violated everything we’re taught and trained to do.”

She pragmatically stated the result brings joy to both sides of the preverbal “fence,” with their own personal agendas. Those of a certain mindset who hide under the banner “to protect and serve,” will use these events as an excuse to “…get in a little (night) stick time.”

Conversely, anarchists and others will seize upon the opportunity to plunder and engage in antisocial behaviors.

Retired and living out of state, former LAPD Captain Byford “Peter” Whittingham finds these current events predictable, as a sign of continued institutional racism.

“The culture is the same (as it was in 1992),” he said.

He sees “…no real sincerity within the LAPD hierarchy,” to implement corrective measures to address these deficiencies.

Blacks who attain positions of leadership are hamstrung by the inevitable accusations of “playing the race card.”

The answer, he suggests, may lie with those who traditionally hold the reigns of authority. Simply put, he seeks out “…courage within the non-Black leadership to acknowledge racism exists.”

Both sides suffer under the unwritten maxims drilled into every recruit from the time they arrive at police academies, i.e., the push to “get their stories straight” in writing after incident reports.

As long as we properly articulate the reasons for our actions, we have nothing to worry about.”

History of riots in Los Angeles

Los Angeles has certainly witnessed its share of riots. The history of civil uprisings in the City of Angels may be traced back to the Zoot Suit Riots of 1943 when U.S. Servicemen, on-leave from duty,  assaulted young Latino men in East LA adorned in their fashionable attire.

In 1965, the Watts Riots erupted at 120th Street and Avalon Boulevard after a confrontational CHP stop of a Black motorist suspected of reckless driving. After five days of unrest, 34 persons were dead  and about $40 million in property damage had been inflicted primarily in South Los Angeles.

In 1992, riots broke out at the intersection of Florence and Normandie avenues in South Los Angeles following the acquittal of four LAPD officers who were captured on videotape beating motorist Rodney King following a traffic stop in the Lake View Terrace portion of the city. Six days of unrest saw more than 50 people die and an estimated $1 billion in property damage.

This week, parts of the city were ravaged and razed once again. Only this time, it was not because of a local event but, rather, reaction to the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minn. at the hands of former officer Derek Chauvin who was captured on video with his knee on Floyd’s neck, resulting in the man’s suffocation.

What is different about the latest local uprising is that, while Floyd was Black, the race riots are not taking place in South Los Angeles. They are occurring in communities miles away from South LA, and largely perpetrated by persons who don’t look anything like the residents of the inner city.

Exclusive of the Zoot Suit Riots, each protest began in anger over police violence against Black men. Similar to the East LA event, however, the perpetrators where White men in [customary] positions of authority acting in the belief that they had the power to inflict punishment with impunity against persons of color.

“We keep telling ourselves that somehow technology or training will end police misconduct,” said Jody David Armour, a law professor at USC. “But in this case, we saw that in Minnesota, the police department did a lot of that stuff.  And still we are here.”

Why the difference? Since the birth of the Black Lives Matter movement in 2014, there have been a procession of hashtags on social media worldwide that have brought increased attention to police brutality against African-Americans. This has touched points of Europe, parts of Asia, portions of Africa and places in South America in a way not witnessed in past American social uprisings.

By virtue of the “instant news cycle,” more young White persons have adopted the rallying cries of the Black community (e.g. “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot,” “I Can’t Breathe,” “Say His Name”) and are writing a new chapter of the Civil Rights Movement in a heightened demand for equal justice under the law.

OW Managing Editor Merdies Hayes contributed to this story