It was twenty years ago today, about 4:00 pm … I was awoken with a hospital orderly barking: ” You have to get up! It’s time for your crutch training. You have ten minutes, man – I gotta get out here!”
The day was April 29, 1992, otherwise known as Day 1 of the Rodney King Riots. For me, the day had dual meaning. Not only was the city of Los Angeles set ablaze – that Wednesday I had cancer surgery in Glendale, California, directly adjacent to Los Angeles. Fortunately the Fibrosarcoma in my leg was successfully excised, and later that day I was on my way … after my abbreviated crutch training of course. Living in path of the impending wrath, my orderly had one foot out the door.
The riots started in South Central Los Angeles (which is now politically incorrect to say) and marched north on Normandie Ave. to Koreatown in Mid-Wilshire. Koreatown was chosen because Korean shop owners in South L.A. had a reputation of overcharging the locals, especial the black community. So to focus on Koreatown was natural.
As it turned out, my surgery happened on a perfect day. I worked in Koreatown, on Normandie and Wilshire – the apex of the fury. The mob burned out my local gas station, my sandwich shop, my dry cleaners and numerous other stores I patronized on a regular basis, often daily. While I felt for these shop owners … I did not condone, by any means, their actions – but I held no contempt towards the demonstrators either.
The acquittal verdicts returned in favor of the police accused in the of beating Rodney King, was not only no justice for the black community … it was a slap in the face to those, who twenty-seven years earlier in this very city, had changed the course of civil rights in the United States. To these pioneers and their children, now grown – how much had really changed? Maybe on the surface, for appearances it had. But truly, in some people’s hearts, in their souls, obviously for it hadn’t. That was evident in that courtroom in Simi Valley.
Now we come to today April 29, 2012, exactly twenty years after the Rodney King uprising and almost fifty years since its predecessor, the Watt’s Riots … I ask you what’s changed.
If it were 2009, I would say a lot. After all a year earlier we had elected the nation’s first black president. We had turned the corner … or many thought, me included. But just as the awakening from the dormant state of the “seven-year Cicada” … so was the awakening of the racism that laid dormant in the souls of many Americans.
And joining in the chorus of hatred from the mouths of these racists has been bigotry, misogyny and homophobia. In my life I have never seen such divide in this country. The phrase “black and white” has extrapolated far past race to virtually every aspect of society. There is no grey area, no compromise. The Occupy Movement has brought to attention to the economic disparity between the 1% and the rest of us, the 99%. The presidential campaign of 2012 has shown the true lack of unity we have in this country. Social issue disagreement; decades dormant, if not assumed dead – has now taken center stage in the national dialogue with the introduction of “right-wing” Draconian legislative proposals. And tragically tied to this dialogue, is the assault on civil rights long thought of as being fundamental and untouchable.
Again, I ask; “20 years later … and has anything changed?”
We can pass laws and we can repeal laws. On the surface, things change – or they appear to. But down deep, in our hearts and our souls … I hope we know we still have a lot of work to do.
But what is it going to take for us to actually do it?
I can found on Twitter at @clayforsberg