The view forward, as of today, June 2, 2020, changes day by day. I’ve got no idea what will happen in the next few hours, let alone the next few days. I know that this post is not the one I started yesterday, and may well be irrelevant by the time you read it. The rearview mirror. though. . . .but, like anything else we do now, you need to read the disclaimer:
I am a white woman, over 70. I am not a sociologist, historian, physician, statistician, public health official, nor do I claim expertise in any particular segment of knowledge. I am, and always have been, intellectually curious and as a result I know a little bit about a lot of things. I try to stay with verifiable facts, but I readily admit that each and every one of us is an editor; our brains are selective in what they see, and register, and remember. Those memories may be influenced by biases formed by our experiences, even if we may not recognize it, so we each see the world through a unique perspective. All that being said, my memory of 1967 is pretty clear.
I was a 22 year old, newly married, graduate of Michigan State. We were living in Lansing while my husband finished his MA in journalism. It was late July and we were at a party at the home of one of our friends’ parents, in an affluent suburb of Detroit. I don’t remember much about the house, but it must have been on a large piece of property because the party was going on at the bottom of a hill. I think there was water nearby. As we ran up the hill towards the house, a line of five or six men, in full riot gear, stood to meet us. I remember the men with long guns; my husband remembers details of their tactical gear. I’m not sure what others there would remember. I know we were escorted back to the house and told to stay put. We did.
We knew there were riots in Detroit, but they had never seemed to be relevant to our 20-something selves. Why would they? Because we were not affected. Our cause, if we had one at all, was the Vietnam war. Being drafted did affect us. We didn’t notice that in the great cities of the midwest, industrial jobs paying decent wages were disappearing, and white flight to the suburbs was in full swing. The result: a lower city tax base, impacting education, housing, social services, the burden falling disproportionately on those who could not flee. How tragic is it that we are talking today about fair employment, good educations, and decent living accommodations?
In 1992, we were living in Los Angeles, with one high school aged daughter at home. The riots broke out when four white policemen were acquitted in the beating of a black man, Rodney King, at the end of a police chase. It was documented on videotape by a civilian,
The Rage and the Destruction
It Grew and Spread.
Crowds gathered, overwhelming police. White drivers were pulled from their cars and beaten. A large part of the conflagration focused on Koreatown. Tensions between the Korean-American and African American communities had been building for years, with robbery, violence and death. The National Guard was called in, as were federal troops.
Dusk to dawn curfews were imposed. Helicopters hovered overhead. Our neighborhood was untouched, as were some affluent white communities closer to the main action. Even though many of us drove through burned out areas while driving our children to school, I don’t remember any serious talk about any underlying reasons. People shook their heads at the verdict, decried the violence, and on the whole, ignored the rage. In public discourse, sociologists tended to perceive the riots as a backlash to Korean and Latino immigrants moving into black neighborhoods, the economically minded reiterated economic disparity from market changes and a nationwide recession, and resulting high unemployment. Still others spoke of inadequate treatment in education, social and financial services, and of course, documented police brutality. Politicians called for police reform, deplored racism or decried anarchy, and called for greater enforcement of the law against the rioters.I remember a lot of opinions, but not much listening to any that didn’t coincide with their particular worldview.
I’m still in Los Angeles in 2020. We’ve got a pandemic where those with the least resources and low paying jobs are “essential workers”, required to come in contact with people, bringing the virus back to their community, which suffers the greatest proportion of illness and death. Poor schools. Underfunded social services. Documented police brutality. Calls for reform. Calls for severe prosecution. And we have riots. Curfews. Copters. The National Guard. Possibly federal troops. It’s all way too familiar.
And yet, it’s different. We are all now being stoked by outrage, by the instant gratification of media, both social and mainstream that coincide with, and encourage our own biases and principles. We listen even less to those whose perceptions differ from our own.
Calls for action rush out immediately to those inclined to hear them. The President uses military tactics to clear peaceful protesters from a public park, for a cynical photo-op, co-opting the symbols of a religion he does not follow. He subtly, and not so subtly, endorses civilian violence. Peaceful protests are hijacked by looters, and probably by others with their own agendas. Far right wing? Far left wing? Foreign powers? Who knows? But maybe someone. I know Los Angeles pretty well now, and I know that there aren’t a lot of loose stones and bricks ready to throw at police officers in the Fairfax district, or at Rodeo Drive, or in Santa Monica, in the neighborhood I served as an Associate Pastor. Angry mobs don’t come prepared with bolt cutters, or with tools to pry ATMS from the wall. I watched local news as their on the street reporters broadcast scenes of apparently organized theft. I also saw many of the people who had come out to exercise their right to peaceful protest try to stop those who were perverting their message.
I support Americans’ rights to lawfully assemble and peacefully express their views, whether or not they coincide with mine. I condemn looting, especially when it is organized, cynical, and makes mockery of that basic right. It’s theft, plain and simple. I have been friends for many years with a now retired senior LAPD officer, and I respect and support him and his colleagues. I am conscious of the many difficulties and dangers they face as they do their best to protect and serve.
On Monday, June 1 I saw thousands of regular Angelenos of all colors, come voluntarily to clean up the aftermath. I support them most of all
I’ve scanned through the cable channels, and the national newscasts. I’ve seen little of the protestors trying to protect stores, which they did, confronting the disrupters, which they did, and voluntarily cleaning up the detritus left by anger, manipulation, and wanton destruction. Like I said, we all edit to fit our own narrative. I’m sure I have, too. For me, maybe, just maybe, there is some hope. And maybe, just maybe, this will help us address underlying issues. Maybe, just maybe, it will give everyone, on all sides, a chance to talk, an opportunity seldom taken to listen, to gain some insight into another’s view. Maybe, just maybe, we will begin to heal, and BE AMERICANS, with a goal of liberty, and justice, for ALL.
Maybe, just maybe, this will be my last riot.