Friday, April 27, 2012

History poised to repeat?

I truly hope I'm wrong with the title of this post.  I get the feeling, though, we may have a 20-year flashback later this year:
For more than two weeks in the spring of 1992, L.A. Weekly photographer Ted Soqui put his life at risk as he drove from one ravaged neighborhood to another to document the fallout of the Los Angeles riots, also known as the Los Angeles Uprising. He spotted torched buildings by following plumes of smoke in the sky. "And there was no shortage of smoke," Soqui says, "dark smoke."
He rephotographed those sites 20 years later, standing in the very same locations where he'd stood in 1992. Soqui's before-and-after imagery gives silent testament to how much has changed - and how little.
The riots erupted after a police brutality trial in which a jury acquitted Los Angeles Police Department officers Stacey Koon, Theodore Briseno, Timothy Wind and Laurence Powell on charges of excessive use of force against Rodney King. The previous year, a videotape broadcast around the world had shown a belligerent King, pulled over after a wild chase in which he drove up to 80 mph on surface streets, fighting officers as they'd tried to pin him down - and the officers whacking him with their batons more than 50 times.
When the mostly white jury let the officers off at 3:15 p.m. on April 29, the first violence erupted at the intersection of Florence and Normandie avenues in South L.A. In a harrowing video seen by millions on TV, white trucker Reginald Denny was driving by in his big rig when he was yanked from its cab by a group of black men, then bashed in the head with a claw hammer, a brick and an oxygen tank, nearly killing him and leaving him with permanent brain damage.
Yet when Police Chief Daryl Gates got word of the growing violence, he refused to leave a police political fundraiser in Brentwood. LAPD was unprepared and lost control of the streets in South Los Angeles, Koreatown, Hollywood, Mid-City, Pico-Union and the Civic Center itself... 
 In 1992, there wasn't so much pre-verdict inflammatory rhetoric, either.  Just imagine what may happen if George Zimmerman is found not guilty by reason of self-defense.  So much vitriol -- and premature 'narrative' -- was poured quickly onto this case that I wonder if facts will matter in the end.  

I remember watching the scenes of National Guard and Marines patrolling L.A. in 1992, and thinking "what country is this??"  Given the intrusion of a variety of uniforms into everyday American experience since, I doubt the next generation will even bat an eye, should riots leads to military 'boots on the ground' all over the country.  I'm starting to think that for some in power, that result would be a feature, not a bug.

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