Thursday, May 31, 2012

Electric Relaxation: In An 80's State of Mind

This year, I’ve already bought more CD’s than I did last year. It feels weird yet it symbolized my budget cutting/dissatisfaction with 2011 music.  But all the CD’s I bought now are at least 25 years old or older. Consider this my lesson for only downloading singles and having no idea of how they sound in context.

In the last two months, I’ve bought 6 CD’s. All of them between $6-10. 

•Prince’s entire output with the Revolution (1999, Purple Rain, Around the World in A Day and Parade)
•U2’s “The Joshua Tree”
•Guns N’ Roses “Appetite for Destruction”

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Russell, James and Kawhi: Leaders of the New SoCal School of Hoops

Even though the Lakers are home, the Western Conference Finals is still a personal thrill for me. Three of Southern California’s finest are on display and not only am I proud of them, I’ve been able to watch them grow since I’ve been back home in 2006. All three are a great example of hard work, dedication and perseverance. As folks try to decry the state of L.A. hoops on a national level, I'd like to remind them that guys are still finding ways to succeed at college and the NBA.

My first year in the Los Angeles media, one of the first high school games I saw was Artesia vs. Mater Dei. The top 2 teams in the country with two of the best players in the state – James Harden (Artesia) and Taylor King (Mater Dei).

King had been a household name since he committed to UCLA in 8th grade while Harden, then clean-shaven, was a rising recruit who committed to Arizona State after a stellar summer showing and because his old HS coach and point guard were there.

In a standing room only gym in Orange County, I watched both guys rise to incredible levels. I was most impressed by Harden, who showed the smooth skills, scorer’s touch and steady play that would define him. As he, Malik Story and his mates led Artesia to a comeback victory, I knew he’d be a star. It wasn’t that he was unstoppable, it was his maturity and calm to go along with his game that spoke volumes.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Rock the Bells 2012 - WOW!

So who wants to go??

Seriously. I screamed in my car when I saw this lineup. I howled when I kept reading. And yo!!! This looks like the best lineup in RTB history. Let me break it down.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

From Spider Man to Avengers: How The Movie Game Has Changed

Last weekend, I finally saw Avengers, the movie I've wanted to see the most since Inception two years ago (for the record, I'm equally hyped for Dark Knight Rises). Saying I enjoyed it would be an understatement. I loved every bit of it!

It's proof that comic book guys need to be involved with comic book movies and Joss Whedon, the master behind Buffy the Vampire Slayer/Firefly, created a movie that had genuine emotion, great characters, insane action and somehow made The Hulk intriguing. After two so-so movies, folks realized the best way to make The Hulk work for a movie is to make him look good in a team.

Was it the greatest superhero movie ever? No. But will it be one of the best? Absolutely. It lived up to the hype and in 2 weeks, it's already made history with Barry Bonds numbers at the box office.

- Highest debut 3-day weekend gross ($207 million)
- Highest 2nd weekend gross ($103 million to Avatar's $75 mil)
- Fastest movie to make $300 and $350 million
- $1 billion worldwide in 19 days (only Avatar was faster)
- Somehow made Disney recover from that flop of a movie called "John Carter". How do they keep winning? Being smart, that's how.

That 2nd weekend total is almost as much as Spider-Man made 10 years ago - the movie that forever changed the box office and movie game.

May 3, 2002.  I remember my best friend and I being excited to see it but at the time, the only superhero movies in recent years that succeeded were Blade and X-Men. I was a fan of the Spider-Man cartoon on FOX Kids back in the day and I figured why not watch Peter Parker go at it.

Little did I know the excitement for that movie would carry it to unbelievable heights. $115 million made in that first weekend. I had been reading box office numbers throughout high school and I remember in 2001 being blown away that Rush Hour 2 and The Mummy Returns made close to $70 mil in their opening weekends. A non-sequel movie making $100 mil in 3 days?? That was unheard of.

I still remember the Time Magazine at my doctor's office with the cover "The Spider-Man Rules" - it was a new era for blockbusters and suddenly the mythical $100M weekend barrier was a reality. The game changed and now it wasn't about how much you grossed longterm, but how fast you could get to $100M.

Eventually movies would be released on Wednesdays to capitalize on public frenzy. You wouldn't just see 3-day totals but 5-day totals. Thats when records would be breaking like crazy like the movie industry was on steroids. Take 2004 for instance - Shrek 2, Spider-Man 2, Harry Potter: Prisoner of Azkaban and Passion of the Christ all had $100M+ over a 5-day opening weekend.

I bet honestly that Spider-Man's success led to the growth of sequels being in demand. Now that movie studios realized opening weekends would be golden, rush out the sequels and capitalize on folks making history.  Need proof?

- Of the 21 movies that opened with $100+ million weekends (in 3 days, not 5), all but 3 of them aren't sequels (Spider-Man, Hunger Games and Avengers). If you expand that list of greatest openings, you have to go all the way to No. 34 - Passion of the Christ - to find another non-sequel.

It's a possible theory. The film industry is losing major coin so why not bank on proven entities (sequels) instead of pray for a new movie to strike gold. Another product of the Spider-Man Rules, I think.

The game has changed to the point where movies make more in one day than some films do all weekend or during the whole run. The last Harry Potter movie made $91 million in one day. More than the Avengers' best day ($80.8 million). More than only 26 movies grossed in their weekend. 

If you look at the highest grossing movie weekends now? Of the top 15, all but two has been released since 2007. We're going to keep seeing movies cross $100 million in 3 days like guys used to hit 40-50 home runs in the late 90's-mid 00's. Shoot, I didn't even know the last Indiana Jones flick crossed $100 million.

I know what you're thinking. What about Avatar? It "only grossed" $77 million in 3-days ($137 million in 5 days) then followed that up with 75.6 the second weekend ($146.5 million total - they actually INCREASED money over the 2nd weekend). Course it held steady and shattered nearly every record on the way to being the highest grossing film of all-time. Ridiculous.

And just to show you I'm not biased to 5-day records, the Dark Knight was technically the first $200M movie. But like baseball records with steroids, I kinda give it an asterisk. Nevertheless, I remember the craziness and excitement of that weekend. After all the hype and the sad death of Heath Ledger, it made $238.6 million. Harry Potter's last film made $226 million over its first 5 days. But still I figured $200 million over 3 days wasn't possible, even with rising ticket prices. Boy, was I wrong.

Now you have two movies this year that could smash box office records. The Avengers is on record-breaking watch and when Dark Knight Rises comes out on July 20, it might shatter those fresh records. It's amazing how things have changed in 10 years. Attribute it to higher ticket prices, greater demand for sequels or whatever but what Spider-Man started, Avengers has taken to a whole another level.

(Final tidbit - Spider-Man still has the 13th highest weekend of all time. The Babe Ruth/Josh Gibson of this game is still looming large to remind people who originated this new big money era.)

I'm just glad to be a part of both sides of history. And I'll look forward to sharing my thoughts on Dark Knight Rises in two months. The Avengers was incredibly good and it continues the trend of making great action movies with solid acting/storytelling. We know what we're getting from Christopher Nolan so just sit back and enjoy this new frontier we keep embarking on, one blockbuster at a time.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Thank you MCA - Rest in Beats, Bass and Power.

“MC - For what I am and do. The A is for Adam and the lyrics”

It doesn’t seem fair that we keep losing hip hop pioneers. Last year, we had to say goodbye to Heavy D. Last week, we had to do the same for MCA, the deeper voice member of the Beastie Boys.

For me, it was always tough to tell who was who just by listening to them. But it helped remind me that Mike D, Ad-Rock and MCA were a group. A band of brothers united in having a good time and representing New York. And as groups began to fade from the landscape, they reminded me what it used to be.

Besides Licensed to Ill being the smash we all know (1st hip hop album to go #1), the Beastie Boys were one of the first hip hop acts to grow up. We know how they started – the frat boy vibe of Licensed to Ill is still required listening at colleges it seems – but we remember them as far beyond that. I remember MCA saying these words on “Sure Shot,”released at the height of gangsta rap in 1994.

“I wanna say a little something that’s long overdue. The disrespecting women has got to be through. To all the mothers and sisters and the wives and friends. I wanna offer my love and respect to the end.”

That was a grown up line at a time when Death Row was talking about “Ain’t No Fun, if the Homies Can’t Have None” and not too soon after Apache dropped “Gangsta B---h.” Looking back at it now, it showed off the conscious of MCA and the group and how they were always evolving.

By the time I first got exposed to a new Beasties song in high school, it was “Intergalactic” and I loved it. It sounded futuristic, the video was a trip and everybody was quoting it. Then I started listening to KROQ and soon I got put on to all the classics from Licensed to Ill and Ill Communication, not to mention “So What’Cha Want.”

For my money, Paul’s Boutique is my favorite Beasties album. License to Ill has the party joints with rock guitars (The New Style/No Sleep Til Brooklyn are my faves). “Sure Shot” of Ill Communication is probably my favorite Beasties song while “Sabotage” is my favorite video (and has an ill bass line from MCA). But as a fan of hip-hop, Paul’s Boutique is beyond amazing and virtually impossible to make again.

It’s one of the Holy Trinity of sampling – the others being Public Enemy’s “It Takes a Nation of Millions….” and De La Soul “3 Feet High and Rising. It’s an incredible collage of obscure and known samples and it schooled me to a lot of music. Not to mention the Beasties were left for dead after leaving Def Jam and found inspiration out here in L.A. at Capitol Records with the Dust Brothers.

I later read in the 33 1/3 series book on the album that MCA took the move the hardest, which prompted a lot of introspection and led to him going off on “A Year and a Day.” Thanks to sampling laws, albums like that will never be created again without paying hefty fines.

Just like that album is underrated, I feel like the Beasties are underrated by modern hip hop folks because they picked up their instruments again and went more rock in 1991 (even though their punk background reminds you that punk/New-Wave kids were some of hip hop’s biggest supporters back in the day). Hip hop radio may have abandoned them but they never abandoned them.

Even when you hear newer joints like “Ch-Check It Out” or “Triple Trouble” from 2003 or “Too Many Rappers” from 2009, they still rapped like a true group. They made you dig for obscure records to check their samples. They had fun and continued to be inspired.

MCA was at the forefront of their visual/political evolution. He shot several of their videos and helped them be involved in the Tibetan Freedom movement. He loved hoops so much that he later shot a documentary on the 2006 Elite 24 Hoops game, released in 2008. And in 1998, he said these words about America's involvement in the Middle East that are sadly prophetic of the 2000's and today.

The Beastie Boys will be remembered as pioneers – the first White hip hop group to make an impact and influenced rappers Black and White to have fun. As my friend Evan said, they seemed to always be ahead of the game and watch folks catch up to them.

I’ll always love how visual they were. They had the coolest videos and “Sabotage” will keep inspiring people for generations. Last week, I had the pleasure of seeing an exhibit at the MOCA downtown – an Audiovisual exhibit curated by none other than Mike D. A reminder they not only made you listen, they made you watch and appreciate others who shared in their vision.

As I continue to dig into their albums, I’ll be digging into more artists they sampled.
I’ll play “Howlin for Judy” and think of that flute sample for Sure Shot. “Big Sur Suite” for that bassline in “Pass the Mic”. Jimmy Smith’s “Root Down” for the Beasties’ ode of the same name.

I’ll keep schooling folks on how incredible Paul’s Boutique is as one of the most underrated classics of the last 25 years. They kept it true to the old school while they stayed relevant in the new.

I’ll miss MCA and his “beard like a billy goat” but he was a big help in showing that one should strive for excellence, creativity and growing as you age. His loss is sad for music, hip-hop and visual artists altogether.

Friday, May 4, 2012

LA Riots 20: The Aftermath (Part 5)

Part 1: The Prologue

“Los Angeles, you broke my heart. And I’m not sure I’ll ever love you again”

These are the words of LA Times reporter George Ramos on the front page of their May 4, 1992 edition. When he passed away last year, seeing his words stuck with me because he was a native son. An East L.A. kid who grew up to be a reporter. And for one of the darkest periods in L.A. history, he was stern, honest and ashamed.

After five days of chaos, here was the final report. 53 or 54 people were dead. Over 4,000 were injured. 12,000 people were arrested (but more than a third were later released due to lack of clear evidence). Over $1 billion in property damages. And a city shaken and scarred for the next few years.

There was a lot of soul searching to be done. The deadliest U.S. riot in the 20th century and the most costly in U.S. history. Parts of Los Angeles laid smoldering and people from all communities called for peace. There were rallies in Koreatown and all over South Central. President George Bush and Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton took time out from their campaigns to visit the riot torn areas.

A bright spot that emerged was a gang truce that had been discussed in the days prior to the Rodney King verdict. Bloods and Crips had been gathering under the leadership of Minister Louis Farrakhan and NFL Hall of Famer Jim Brown, who donated a large sum of his own money to make this work.

Nearly 300 gang members showed up at City Hall in Watts to sign the Gang Truce. They were all committed to stem the violence they had been causing over drugs, territory and senseless beef.

I remember hearing about this while watching a documentary a few years ago called Bastards of the Party. Former Blood member Cle Sloan (who you may remember from “Training Day”) showed how positive it was and how he renounced his lifestyle that led to so many deaths and lives altered.

Even in the ashes of my city, there was hope. And it’s something that I was very glad to find out about because rival gangs were side-by-side helping to clean up their mess and their communities. It lasted for several years before it ended due to outside influences, including the LAPD.

Three of the L.A. Four, including Damian Williams (light blue shirt)

Meanwhile, Damian “Football” Williams and three others were charged with beating Reginald Denny (Williams and others had also beaten Fidel Lopez and others). Williams received the stiffest penalty because of video evidence showing him assaulting Denny with the brick. Convicted of misdemeanor assault and mayhem, he was sentenced to 10 years but released in 1997 for good behavior.

Henry Watson, one of the attackers, spent 17 months in jail - credited as time served during his arraignment/trial – and publicly apologized to Denny and now has a successful limousine business.

Williams was sent back to prison for life for a murder of a drug dealer. But this past week, he gave an exclusive interview to commentator/critic (and former LA Sentinel colleague) Jasmyne A. Cannick that I found very informative and enlightening. He appears to be a changed man and also shed a lot of light on the times back then and today.

The LAPD and Chief Daryl Gates were investigated for flaws in handling the riots and after initially bristling when asked to step down by Mayor Tom Bradley (who stepped down himself in 1993 after 20 years) , Gates stepped down in July 1992. His detached attitude in the early moments of the riots combined with his gruff attitude towards the mayor and City Council, those he came into contact with and his paramilitary tactics made the news something of joy to folks.

Willie Williams (Ed. Note - Williams died in 2016)
Replacing him was Philadelphia Police Commissioner Willie Williams, the first Black chief in LAPD history. Things looked rosy in that regard but despite the LAPD being under heavy watch and demand for change, the culture there didn’t change overnight.

The O.J. Simpson Trial was a reminder that bad apples on the force still existed – Mark Fuhrman anyone? – and some feel that Simpson being found not guilty was a bit of payback for the King trial. I believe it’s a great theory and I’ll also give Johnnie Cochran and his team credit for arguing a great case masterfully.

It wasn’t until Officer Rafael Perez, a member of the CRASH Unit at the Rampart Division, was arrested for stealing cocaine in 1998, that the dark culture inside parts of the department would be revealed at deeper levels. Yet there remains optimism under a new era and current Chief Charlie Beck has made some excellent observations here (for my part, I believe he and the most recent Chief William Bratton have been excellent in repairing relationships)

Federal charges of civil rights violations were brought upon Sergeant Stacey Koon and Officer Laurence Powell. On April 17, 1993, nearly a year after the city erupted, Koon and Powell were found guilty and were sentenced to 30 months in federal prison. Timothy Wind was soon fired after the riots and Theodore Briseno never found police work again after testifying against the other three.

Rodney King was awarded $3.8 million in a civil suit. I don’t need to discuss his post-riot life in more detail since we already know. Soon Ja Du, the Korean shop owner who killed LaTasha Harlins, now lives in the San Fernando Valley and her liquor store was burned during the riots.

Above and below, this is Numero Uno Market. It stands now where Empire Liquor, the site of LaTasha Harlins' murder, once stood before it was burned during the riots. It also represents the changing demographics in South Los Angeles from Black to Latino. (Photos by Evan Barnes) 

South Central L.A., where most of the riots happened, went a name change in 2003 and is now officially referred to as South Los Angeles to change the stigma around it. It's still hard for me to get used to and as I saw in college, people still called it South Central. It doesn't matter what you call it, honestly. Us natives know what to expect being around there

Many Koreans growing up in L.A. refer to the riots as Sa-i-gu (translated means 4-2-9). For them, the events shook them to their core at first. They came to L.A. seeking dreams and a chance to make their lives. They never knew that because they got liquor licenses and building permits more readily than Black citizens, they’d be targets. Some dealt with PTSD afterwards.

But perhaps the biggest impact of the riots? The slow, but swift exodus of the Black population with a housing boom over the next few years in Antelope Valley (North), Riverside County (East) and other densely populated areas.

My godmother (and several folks from my church) was among those who moved to Antelope Valley. She told me that as people moved out of the area and repairs were slow, it became more gang infested (some areas didn't follow the Gang Truce). I remember years of making that long 2-hour drive up the 14 Freeway to visit her and loved how nice (and HUGE) her house looked.

What it led to ultimately was a changing demographic in Los Angeles. Similar to the 1970’s when Whites fled urban areas, predominantly Black areas became Mexican as more immigrants came into the areas. The Black community became spread out and eventually the power in numbers lessened. However, social programs soon followed out that way and gangs started making their way to new territories.

You can see the new demographic trend at many high schools in the L.A. Unified School District where 20-30 years ago, most schools were predominantly Black or White and now, all but a handful are mostly Latino. It's reflected in South Los Angeles' demographics going from nearly 48 percent Black and 50 percent Latino in 2000 to 38 and 60, respectively in 2010.

It's also affected high school sports as I've seen firsthand and my friend Ronnie Flores reported for ESPN. Basketball and football teams that were among the most dominant in the state (and sometimes the nation) slowly saw their talent pool move to other areas. Those schools struggle now to stay competitive and second-tier schools that were competitive are now shells of their former selves from 5-10 years ago.

As for me, it’s hard to watch the footage and think that this happened in my city. My Los Angeles. It feels like a world ago and I saw a collective anger that I doubt still exists in that capacity here.

I used to think for so long that the anger of the riots was justified. Like Rev. Jesse Jackson and Rep. Maxine Waters (a freshmen Congresswoman in 1992) said, it was the outrage of so much frustration and being treated like prisoners in their own community. It was a response against Reaganomics – removing social programs and defunding outreach effort –, the LAPD, and hopelessness around them.

But as I relived the footage, my heart sank. Businesses in our community were ruined. Lives were uprooted that didn’t need to be. I looked on it with sadness and the defiance I’ve carried for over a decade melted away to a point. I understand why Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Ice-T and others made music that reflected the anger and frustration of so many. I know why “Boyz N The Hood” and “Menace II Society” were so vivid and captivating in preaching the truth about growing up in South Central.

Yet I can’t sit down and accept that we burned our city down. We burned up lives. We burned up our strongholds that have been shaken and (in some cases) still aren’t where it used to be. I drove down Crenshaw Boulevard for the better part of four years (2006-2010) and all I could think of what was it used to be – a thriving epicenter of Black Los Angeles. Just like Central Avenue. 

I watched those videos of angry and saddened shop owners. I watched the looting. I felt the same way I felt when I heard about the few who did that in the aftermath of the Oscar Grant trial. What does looting have to do with anger? Why didn’t we go out to Simi Valley and Beverly Hills to cause ruckus? I know people targeted police cars but why not send a bigger message to them?

But I also can’t just be mad at those 5 days without knowing what caused it. It wasn’t because of Rodney King or LaTasha Harlins. It was decades of injustice and second-class treatment. It was people who felt like their voice was silenced and they needed to speak up the only way they felt how.

It’s a moment that forever impacted my city. 20 years has gone so fast and this excellent gallery via the Daily Beast shows how some areas have been repaired and others haven't. As I think about how affected the Black/Korean communities in addition to L.A., I feel optimistic about the future yet always mindful to never forget the past. This series has taught me so much and I hope it has for anybody who reads it.

(Update - Both the LA Times and LA Daily News (my current employer) have done a great job looking back at the LA Riots for the 25th anniversary. Links have been provided)

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

LA Riots 20: All Hell Breaks Loose (Part 4)

Part 1: The Prologue

April 29, 1992. Sublime asked the question “There was a riot on the streets, tell me where were you?” I was at Rancho Cienega Park in Los Angeles, practicing with my T-Ball team. Mom dropped my sister and I off and instead of usually sticking around, she went to do some shopping. She came back and picked us up to go home.

On our way home, we drove down Crenshaw Boulevard like usual. Mom told me recently that she noticed people acting crazy and asking people to honk down the street. She thought it was a celebration – she didn’t notice any looting or any criminal activity – and she honked back and waved at people. I vaguely remember this as I was probably tired but I think I waved at people too, the nice kid I was.

Only when we got home did we figure out why Crenshaw was going nuts. We heard the news of the verdict and that Los Angeles was erupting in flames with rampant looting. Consider me in shock and awe.

A few blocks away (1.5 miles to be exact) from my elementary school, the epicenter of the riots was heating up on Florence and Normandie. Crowds gathered between 5 and 6 p.m. and two dozen officers actually retreated from the scene. Similar crowds gathered downtown at Parker Center, LAPD headquarters. By 6:45 p.m., folks at Florence and Normandie started throwing things at cars and looting.

Soon afterwards, the vicious beating of Reginald Denny took place. Simply because he was a White man at the wrong place, at the wrong time. He was beaten as viciously as King was – brick to the head, assaulted by a mob and nearly left for dead if not for a civilian who saw the news footage live and rushed out to save him. Not as widely known is the beating of Fidel Lopez, a Guatemalan immigrant in the same area. Lopez was beaten unconscious and spray-painted black by a mob that included some of Denny’s assailants.

Both Lopez and Denny were rescued by Black civilians. A reminder that not everybody’s mind was on vengeance and there were rays of hope in darkness. And how dark it was.

Day 1 (Wednesday, April 29): Fires and lawlessness sparked around the city at Florence/Normandie and various spots in South Central. Downtown, crowds were getting furious at Parker Center and took out their anger at various vehicles and spots, including the LA Times. Empire Liquor, where LaTasha Harlins was killed, was a target.  Mayor Tom Bradley called for a state of emergency, a night curfew and told reporters that he believed the situation was simmering.

He was wrong as during the night, fires kept popping up. My godmother lived near 39th and Western St. and she said the fires were coming so fast, they couldn’t believe it. The LA Fire Department reported at least 3 new fires were being reported per minute. It felt like the world was going to end, my Mom said.

The LAPD response was strange. In addition to the officers who ran away, they didn’t respond with the speed and power seen during Operation Hammer. Instead it appeared they let things unfold for a while before taking swift, organized action. Police Chief Daryl Gates drove to a fundraiser in Brentwood. They appeared as caught off guard (or detached in Gates’ case, esp since he and Mayor Bradley hadn’t spoken in a year.) as anybody and it only added to the chaos and fear around the city.

From left, Tom Bradley, California Gov. Pete Wilson and LAPD Chief Daryl Gates address reporters about bringing in the National Guard. I love this photo because the distance between Bradley and Gates is emblematic of how close they weren't in the year prior to the riots.  

It’s safe to assume nobody could’ve expected the response. So much so, that the National Guard had been called in by Governor Pete Wilson. The whole Harbor Freeway from downtown to Inglewood had exits closed off (6.6 miles)

Day 2 (April 30): Things began to heat up as due to the police response. From Inglewood to Compton to South Central to West LA to Pasadena, you could see more fires and widespread looting. Schools were closed, buses were closed, the Dodgers and Clippers had games cancelled.

Some of my friends today who lived on the Westside said they saw fires all the way over there. The National Guard wasn’t deployed until noon – delayed by not having ammunition – and by then, the city’s leaders finally had a plan of action.  By nightfall, 4,000 troops were in L.A. County with more to come and the U.S. military was on high alert.

School was closed for us. So we stayed home and at one point, Mom took us outside to the park. My sister thought it was snowing but in fact, it was ashes from the fire. By nightfall, sunset curfews were set all over South Central but also Long Beach, Inglewood, Culver City, Hawthorne, Hermosa Beach, Torrance, Carson and Pomona, to name a few.

Flights at LA International Airport were also being diverted due to smoke and some flights were cancelled.

Folks had to get used to seeing armed National Guardsmen walk around the city. Mom told me she saw them and got scared. My cousin in Carson remembered feeling the same way seeing them outside a grocery store. It reminded us that we were indeed in a warzone. In less than 36 hours, Los Angeles went from calm to an explosion that many felt would never end.

Korean shop owners who felt abandoned by the LAPD decided to take the law in their hands
After seeing their stores torched all around, they armed themselves and there’s incredible footage/pictures of them engaging in shootouts.  They became vigilantes while some tried to repair relations.  And honestly can you blame them? The Empire Liquor store where LaTasha Harlins was killed was the target of several firebombs before it was eventually burned down.

Mayor Tom Bradley went on The Arsenio Hall show that night to appeal to the people (Arsenio did the same here with Rev. Chip Murray).  Bill Cosby addressed the nation and Los Angeles in particular before the series finale of The Cosby Show, encouraging people to stop rioting and watch his show. I found that ironic that Cosby would use that platform, considering The Cosby Show fed mainstream America a safe, yet culturally proud version of middle-class Blackness.

“You had to get Rodney to stop me or else we would’ve torn this MF up” – Ice Cube.

By Day 3 (May 1), the National Guard was in full effect and Rodney King broke his silence. King had been under wraps since he was beaten 13 months prior and he recently admitted that he nearly put on a wig and ventured to areas erupting in riots. As he told the LA Times’ Kurt Streeter:

"I couldn't believe what I was seeing," he says. "Mayhem, people everywhere, pissed off, looting, burning. Gunshots. I turned back and went home. I looked at all of that and I thought to the way I was raised, with good morals from my mother, even though I didn't always follow them.

"I said to myself, 'That is not who I am, all this hate. I am not that guy. This does not represent me or my family, killing people over this. No, sir, that is not the way I was raised by my mother.' I began to realize that I had to say something to the people, had to try to get them to stop."

With that, he said those five words that would never be forgotten.

It was an earnest cry and on this longer video, you hear his sporadic speech. See his ticks as he’s still feeling the effects of the beating. Yet even he didn’t know what to say. And really what could you say?

The mob mentality of April 29 and April 30 was both sad and angering. You felt the genuine anger but when you watch it deteriorate into lawlessness, violence and destruction, you forget your defiance and you start feeling sad. Sad that my city was on fire.

When school returned, my 2nd grade teacher asked all of us to write our thoughts down. Every single one of us did. I wrote about how the Thrifty drug store on Crenshaw Boulevard where I always had Ice Cream was destroyed. A classmate drew a picture where he and his sister were running from the flames.

This used to be a Thrifty Ice Cream store on Crenshaw Boulevard. I used to go here all the time as a kid. It burned down in 1992. I took this photo on April 30, 2012 just to show that it still stands as an empty building. There are quite a few on the 'Shaw like this and I'd see them driving to and from the Los Angeles Sentinel newspaper. (Photo by Evan Barnes)

I don’t remember if the school did anything like an assembly but I remember riding down Crenshaw for the coming months and seeing “Black Owned” in the front of businesses. That was a way to keep folks from burning them down. My friends often made jokes, often referring to this Living Colour skit with David Alan Grier/Jim Carrey

I didn’t realize it but there were similar protests around the country and instances of violence in Eugene (Oregon), Las Vegas and Tampa (Florida). The whole country was outraged and in an election year, you had President Bush and Governor Bill Clinton speaking up on the riots carefully but forcefully.

Musically, hip-hop seemed ready to make its voice even louder. Some blamed the music for the riots but for me, it warned people of its arrival and reflected the anger.

Ice Cube’s 3rd album “The Predator” became the first album to debut at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 and R&B Album charts when released in November 1992. It captured the anger perfectly with tracks like “Wicked”, the title track, "Who Got the Camera" “When Will They Shoot” and the track I’ve been quoting here, “We Had to Tear this MF Up.” Even Dr. Dre’s classic debut “The Chronic” had the song “The Day The N’z Took Over” where he, Daz, RBX and Snoop Dogg rapped their thoughts on April 29.

Two years before they blew up, punk band The Offspring jumped in with their song “LAPD” decrying police brutality. As I mentioned at the start, Sublime sang about being involved in the riots on their classic ode “April 29, 1992”. Rage Against the Machine no doubt channeled the anger into their classic debut as "Killing in the Name" could easily describe the angst many felt toward the LAPD.

Of course, Ice-T offered his two cents with his heavy metal band Body Count and their most infamous song “Cop Killer.”

Considering L.A. was calming down, “Cop Killer” was the most incendiary track since “F—k The Police” (Ice Cube’s Black Korea probably didn’t get much attention since it wasn’t a single.). It was the most radical of protest songs and people didn’t think about it like Talking Heads’ “Psycho Killer” or Eric Clapton’s tame cover of Bob Marley’s “I Shot the Sheriff”.

Police unions, President Bush, Vice-President Dan Quayle, Charlton Heston and folks around the country got upset and many threatened to boycott Time Warner for releasing Body Count’s album. Time Warner/Ice-T later removed the track from future pressings after a standoff.

(Not that I advocate murder, but too often people hear the range/offensive words without listening to the tone/intent. If someone in the inner city felt that the police were murdering innocent folks, it’s quite possible that somebody could feel the way Ice’s character felt in the song. Not justifying it but saying that rage existed and needed to be addressed so it could be channeled.)

The rioting technically continued until May 3 but the majority of it was done by May 1 before the National Guard, Marine Corps and LAPD finally had the city under control. Yet it was a scary time. My godmother could only pray as she watched it. Many were confused or angry at the destruction affecting us within instead of targeting more affluent areas or the police departments.

I’ll have more to say in Part 5 on my thoughts on it all, which have evolved even as I write this. But I’ll leave you with something Mom always told me about her reaction.

She drove us to church that Sunday, May 3. She remembers driving on the Santa Monica Freeway and seeing burned out buildings all over the place. Tears started streaming down her face. Ultimately, that’s the lasting image of those crazy days. Anger, fear, disappointment, disbelief, shock and sadness. 

*One more note. Here is a story from former LA Times editor Shelby Coffey, who recounts what he saw from downtown in 1992 at the Times offices.

Part 5: The Aftermath

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

LA Riots 20: The Christopher Commission and King Verdict (Part 3)

Part 1: The Prologue

By the time the Rodney King trial started on March 4, 1992, the world had seen what those four cops did to him. The world was watching movies like Do the Right Thing and Boyz N The Hood highlight the urban experience in grittier, harsher fashion than Blaxploitation films in the 1970’s.  They were listening to rappers like Ice Cube, Ice-T, Public Enemy and others decry police brutality and reflect the environment of Black communities around the country.

For the first time, people were questioning the LAPD’s harsh tactics and there was hope things could change. Before becoming Secretary of State under Bill Clinton, Warren Christopher was an attorney who spearheaded a commission to investigate the structure and operation of the LAPD. The Christopher Commission, similar to the McCone Commission after the Watts Riots, released its findings in the summer of 1991. A sampling follows:

“Los Angeles should have a Police Department whose Chief is accountable to civilian officials for the department’s performance and where ranking officers are responsible for the conduct of those they lead. The Police Commission needs new personnel, more resources and an enhanced commitment to carrying out its duties under the Charter. Ugly incidents will not diminish until ranking officers know they will be held responsible for what happens in their sector, whether or not they personally participate."

Of the approximately 1,800 officers that had allegations of excessive force, the Commission found that more than 1,400 had only 1 or 2 allegations. Yet 183 officers had four or more allegations of excessive force or improper tactics. 44 police officers from 1986 to 1990 had six or more allegations. Yet those officers were usually given positive performance evaluations.

What the Commission revealed was a culture of racism/bias/discriminatory practices. It revealed that the mostly White police department was encouraging this and it created tensions that showed what happened to Rodney King was not an anomaly.

The Commission called for plenty of reform, transparency and accountability as well for Chief Daryl Gates to step aside after his long-tenured service. Yet to nobody’s surprise, once Richard Riordan was elected mayor in 1993, the Christopher Commission’s ideas were either carried out slowly or eventually ignored by the late 1990’s.

Clockwise from top left, Stacey Koon, Laurence Powell, Timothy Wind and Theodore Briseno

Meanwhile, we still had a trial to watch. Four officers (Sgt. Stacey Koon and Officers Laurence Powell, Timothy Wind and Theodore Briseno) were charged with beating Rodney King and we figured it’d be a slam-dunk case right? Since everybody had seen the video and you had senators decrying the beating. But here’s where the justice system screwed up despite having a Black prosecutor.

1. The trial was moved to Simi Valley due to oversaturation of the media coverage swaying jurors. Need to know how lilywhite Simi Valley is? It’s home to the Ronald Reagan Museum – the president whose policies deeply affected the inner cities and poorer people.

2. On that note, the jurors ultimately selected? 10 White people, one Latino and one Asian-American. Remember that I’ve already pointed out the two worlds of Los Angeles and that many in the outside of South Central world blamed the South Central world for its problems. A homogenous jury did not bode well for that.

Factor that all in and it STILL is surprising that despite overwhelming evidence, 29 days of testimony and 55 witnesses, 3 of the officers (Koon, Wind and Briseno) were found not guilty and Laurence Powell was acquitted on a hung jury who deadlocked on one count of excessive force. Powell’s charge took up most of the seven days of deliberation as within six (!!!) hours, the jury was clear on the not guilty verdicts. 

*It should be noted that Briseno testified against the other three and Powell delivered the lion’s share of the blows. How the jury was confused about Powell’s role and not Briseno who admitted to stomping King but backed off and even restrained an officer is beyond me.

President George W. Bush was sickened by the verdict. LA Mayor Tom Bradley criticized the verdict saying it wouldn’t blind them to what the world saw. I had no idea what would happen after practice when the verdict was read. My 2nd grade classmates and I talked about Rodney King but I was more focused on playing my 1st season of T-Ball. 

Looking back, that verdict makes me angry. It defies all logic and common sense and there is nobody who could watch that tape and tell me Rodney King deserved that beating. One juror admitted she was pressured to acquit but refused to do so in Powell’s case. The two worlds of Los Angeles saw the same thing and some chose to see it differently than the majority of us.

Nobody in the city could’ve expected the hell and furious anger that was about to erupt in a frightening way. 

Part 4: All Hell Breaks Loose
Part 5: The Aftermath