Note: We understand there will be a variety of documentaries and special reports trying to recapture the voices, the anger, the rage that resulted in the Unrest of Los Angeles back on April 29, 1992. Our founder grew up in South Central Los Angeles at that time, so we hope you’ll allow him to have his say in a series of blog posts he shared six years ago.
How to survive South Central.
Let me begin by saying 2011 is the twentieth year since “Boyz N The Hood” was released. These articles as it relates to the area shown in the movie is by no means a cause to celebrate that landmark. Maybe it’s to test the statement Furious Styles prophesied about. We’ll get to that at a later date. I know the purpose of this is to explain from my heart why Rebuild L.A. wasn’t effective on the Southside, but the spirit of that effort moved to the downtown area. First, I would like to (re) introduce you to what South (Central) Los Angeles used to be growing up.
For those of us who lived through the drive-by years, the Civil Unrest and the Brown on Black crime, maybe we didn’t follow through with the playbook layed out by Ice Cube’s song for the soundtrack of “Boyz in the Hood”, but we don’t know whether to laugh or cry. The innocent neighborhood we all grew up in full of Hamburger Henri’s, roller skating rinks with arcades, and safe parks was a time we as kids could play Igit Digit Number Nine (if you remember, say it with me)
Igit Digit Number Nine
Going down Chicago Line
Hit the Train
Jump the Track
Do you want your money back?
(if I’m a Wall Street banker, I already know the answer to that!)
You said N O
And you are not ‘it’
However, communities like South Central Los Angeles, Harlem, Chicago and Detroit were in fact ‘it’. We didn’t know how much we had hit the train and jumped the track. But I digress for the moment.
In the 1980’s, something began to happen to our storefronts which surprised many residents overnight. Swap meets began appearing in buildings where Thifty drug stores, Woolworths and retail stores that we used to frequent. Suddenly, the appeal of these swap meets were the ‘it’ thing. You could buy the latest Air Jordans, that Lakers or Georgetown jacket, or jewelry for a good price. The older retail stores such as the National, small businesses like a gospel store and television repair shop had fewer and fewer patrons. In time, rental rates kept escalating and it was impossible for these shops to remain open….so they left. Slowly, our innocent neighborhood wasn’t being so memorable anymore.
To add to this, the Bloods and Crips, who had always been at odds in the community began to randomly shoot people in drive-bys. An Eye for an Eye had turned into a life for a life. This was nothing new for anyone living in the Southside at the time. It was disturbing to see both sets had turned from fist fighting, knife wielding to gun toting gangstas. It became customary to ‘smoke a fool’ for messing around with your set, your woman, or even for a reason you can’t recall. Of course, LAPD could have squashed this a long time ago before it got out of hand and like a cancer, rapidly spread throughout the country. For reasons they will never reveal, LAPD didn’t start to shut things down until an innocent bystander in Westwood was shot and killed. The code must be, as long as you’re killing yourselves on the Southside, that’s okay. Once you start venturing out on the Westside…..
Gang sweeps, crackdowns and although there was a song about it, the batter ram was in full effect. All of a sudden, South Central Los Angeles was on the map, for all the wrong reasons. At least they made a movie out of it……
Your favorite actors and comedians……in color on Colors!
With a movie like this, you could expect emotions running high especially among our youth. Sure enough, when this movie was released back in 1988, altercations at movie theaters erupted from those who could not control their passions to youngsters who wanted to cause trouble. Unfortunately, they did. While the movie generated $46,616,067 in domestic box office returns and $21,196,856 for rentals, (reference: wikipedia) the theme was merely the same as any other cop movie where the cops are the ones who know what’s right without identifying the root of why these gangs exists and their place in the community. It didn’t take long for the major networks like NBC and ABC to provide experts to explain all that for us. They told us what was wrong with our community in one hour that we could have explained to them in detail for twice that time. Alas, just breathe the words South Central and it was bound to be a ratings gold mine. All you needed to do if you’re a producer was invite a community leader, a gang member or two, a law enforcement officer, another community leader, a sociologist, a media representative and the list goes on and on without the input of anyone in the community who actually lived there.
Speaking of the community, there were parents who had a tough decision; should we leave the neighborhood so our child could have a future whether it’s happy or not…at least he/she will be alive or do we stay while our son or daughter becomes a statistic? No one knows the effect a drive-by has on a mother, father, family or friends until it actually happens.
Say you hear the news of a young man caught in the middle of gunfire after dropping off his girlfriend. Let’s say the date in question is Valentine’s Day (it was evening when it happened). Imagine being with a group of your friends gathered together shaking their heads, crying, not sure what to do next. Imagine the void that is filled when the same young man who used to play ball at your house or you coached as part of your team or just someone you knew who lived around the corner from you….isn’t part of this earth anymore. This incident is mentioned in my book The Depths of My Soul. The poem is ‘Remembrance’ and the day after I found out after church that morning, I cried. You think it’s easy to get over a loss like that? Especially when all this young man was to us, a friend, a son, a boyfriend and a good person? Ah, I will digress because in the coldness of cyberspace, you couldn’t imagine it. Somehow, I believe you just wouldn’t grasp the emotion, so we’ll move on.
Because of many incidents like the one I described, ‘Black Flight’ began with rental trucks appearing up and down the block. We knew why our friends were leaving, the handwriting was on the wall. More than anything, the loss of youth through death or relocation signaled the beginning of the end for the innocent place we all once knew.
The Lakers were winning with Showtime, the Dodgers were in the news too so the tensions of the city were watered down by the success of our sports teams. You know, it’s always the great unifier but I’ll say more about that in the future. I don’t want to spoil the argument now. One thing I will say is that when the Lakers and Dodgers were winning, how ironic that it took these teams to ‘unite’ the city when our circumstances were so far apart? The folks who lived in the Westside and the Valley (and parts unknown) could go back home and suffer no consequences that citizens on the Southside had to go through. You could go to a Lakers post-championship rally at the Forum in Inglewood one day, find yourself in an L.A. County morgue the next over some altercation. You need not be a gang banger or drug dealer to apply. You can be an innocent mother, son, or daughter ‘in the wrong place at the wrong time’. That is a phrase which has been repeated over and over again until your ears bleed. It continues as I write this.
I was a young man growing up in the Southside who constantly had to watch his back as a teacher’s aide in the area during this troubled decade and believe me, not only were there were few black males working in the school system at that time, I was one of them who didn’t wind up as a young toddler of two years old told me once, “my daddy’s in jail.”
What can you say after that?
Even when you try to make a difference, you’re the Sisyphus of your community, forever pushing that rock up the hill with no results.
Prophetic quote from Colors: “There’s always going to be gangs man, there’s always going to be fighting!”
Now if you’ll please stand and rise, let’s place our hands over our hearts and recite the following theme song…..
Yes, Law and Order fans (for those who didn’t know)…that’s Ice-T rapping…..
Remember that song we sang as kids again?
Igit Digit Number Nine….
Igit Digit…..was killed in a violent drive-by, film at 11.
So these were the ‘80’s. Stick around for Part Two….it’s a riot.
Charles L. Chatmon
President, Chatmon’s Books