RSS

Monthly Archives: April 2017

Rebuilding South (Central) L.A.: Everybody Let Go

Unrest Fist

Courtesy: Smithsonian Channel

 Long live Tupac Shakur:

 

 

Two things from the above video out of a lot of things. First, I agree with Tupac that America will either live or die by its stereotypes and how it handles its own ignorance, which it often ignores. The election of President Obama proves it’s hard for anyone to tell others to ‘get over it’ when they have a problem doing it themselves.

Second – and I will possibly be mercilessly slaughtered on this – I disagree with Pac in that there was NO unity during the Unrest among us. Let me explain.

As the Unrest grew and folks were venting out their frustrations due not only to the Rodney King trial verdict, but the pent up feelings from the Latasha Harlins case. It had been believed among everyone in the community that perhaps a guilty plea of the four officers involved of brutality in the King trial would be a ‘trade-off’ of sorts since Ms. Harlins’s killer only received probation. It was the hope, at least.

When everything exploded and ‘everybody let go’, nothing was spared: Korean swap meets, grocery stores owned by corporations which didn’t belong in the hood and caught in the middle of all this? Black owned businesses as mentioned in the last entry. Although the residents had no intent of setting these businesses ablaze or looting from stores that served the neighborhood, they were nothing more than sacrificial lambs in the war against residents and those who profited from the community yet gave nothing back.

Trust me, I know why folks were ticked off (a kinder way of stating how they really felt) and justifiably so. However, as a strategy of gaining attention to the larger society, what does it mean when we burn down our own stores (although not the property) claiming some sort of unity has been achieved? When we set out after the Unrest to ‘do for self’ we failed to do just that. While the Watts rebellion resulted in gaining services to the community which were long ignored, the subsequent burnings in other cities afterwards only served as an advantage towards the dominant society in planning laws to benefit their side, using propaganda to elect ‘law and order’ politicians and taking away programs that could have helped our communities. After all this time, we see the results don’t we? Even as Pac spills truth from his lips, has it really all changed twenty years later? Will it ever change? I don’t have the answer – but you do reading this. It’s always been up to you.

You know, as I was watching these videos and reading these past articles, a thought came to me. Say a man or woman who decided to ‘do for self’ and establish a business in the community and provided great service for years suddenly was faced with the prospect of discovering their business raided, materials taken, everything gone in a sudden rash of anger or charred debris. Perhaps that person lived to hear and watch both Malcolm and King or even follow the philosophies of DuBois and Washington and trusted in the community to support their business. Now that’s all gone. How can we build a community within ourselves when we’re so busy constantly destroying it? Not so much by the actions of pillaging our own shops and stores during the Unrest, but the constant refusal to support each other after the fires had died down? The Mom and Pop store on 92nd and Broadway was lauded as a great achievement. Another great achievement was the fact brothers decided to take over deserted storefronts and operated shop there. Yet, for all the talk, all the rhetoric of ‘doing for self’, we didn’t do it. So what was and still is the point of insisting ‘Blacks need to….” Or “Blacks should……” when there are businesses already in operation and no one takes a bother to show up? What does that say?

This hurts to say, but the South Los Angeles I grew up in for most of my life is dead. It has been dead for years. True, it was never a thriving community like Beverly Hills or the Westside and there is no problem for the private sector to build an LA Live rather to invest in Rebuild L.A. As a commercial and retail region, we lived off the dying Newberry and Thrifty retail and drug stores. Once they were first sold off by Korean merchants, then burned in the fires, it was never the same again. I remember when Sears was present in a local neighborhood, where although businesses continued to flee after Watts, a few stayed and remained. I also remembered the clothing stores, the religious bookstores, the liquor stores which I have to say had NO place in our community and if there was a ‘silver lining’ to the Unrest, was that the desire to have these places in our area was nil. Today, there are far less of them now than they were in 1992. Perhaps their mission some would say has been accomplished due to the numbers of men and women under the alcoholic influence. I wouldn’t deny that at all.

Perhaps it was the battle between blue and red that caused the death of the community in which I lived in, with drive-by shootings becoming more and more common and dominated the top of the evening newscasts as more families suffered tragedy and heartbreak. Personally, I’ve lost friends and former students to the senseless violence surrounding our streets. For those of you who haven’t experienced this, the pain is deep and so, so real. You have NO idea how it feels and while you may think it’s not a ‘big deal’, I beg to differ. These young men and women could have contributed in some way to improving their lives, their families and possibly the neighborhood circle in which they came from. However, that’s a chapter that will remain unopened for eternity….

As for the young men and women still caught up into believing their ‘set’ is the all and end all of their existence, my heart goes out to them. They really don’t learn until they lose someone close to them or they fortunately happen to live a long life to understand what life means to them. Everyone wants to blame hip hop music for the cultivating the mindset of violence, but for those of us who grew up in the Southside and places like it, the words “everybody gotta die sometime” wasn’t mentioned in a rap song by 2Pac, Ice Cube or NWA. They were uttered back in the 1970’s, long before the music genre became a force in the community. They were spoken from the lips by these same young men and women who didn’t believe they had a life to live and respect for other’s lives, especially our own…is important.

So I say all this to disagree with Pac only in that our unity was stripped years ago, long before ‘No Justice, No Peace’ back in 1992. For example:

Crack destroyed our bodies and our minds. Without sensible, intelligent minds, it’s difficult to solve the ills of our community such as owning property and really building our stores. It can be argued alcohol did it first as mentioned before, but crack was definitely the killing blow. Not only the usage, but the profiteering of the product continues the great chasm in our communities. Death, corruption, all of those things you’ve seen on television or the movies is very, very real with no end in sight. The White Plague killing us off one at a time.

The availability of high-powered weapons on the streets. I challenge anyone to do a study of the number of drive-by shootings in the last thirty years or so and tell all of us what type of guns were used. I would wager that in that study, you will see rifles used for wars in other countries. South Los Angeles is not at war with anyone, but you can’t tell by the number of lives taken. I’ll let experienced voices than myself debate where these weapons appeared from and why. I’m sure there will be a plethora of truth in these debates.

All the other reasons have been touched on all these series of posts, but read through each entry in this series and if you find there’s something that should have been touched on, you write it and I’ll post it. Deal?

As far as ‘everybody let go’ from Pac’s “I Wonder if Heaven Got A Ghetto”, let me say that the title of the song is no different than our ancestors believing the only true freedom they’ll have – is death. Maybe I’m wrong, I’ll gladly accept that. However, growing up in South Los Angeles and listing all the examples mentioned…. Places like Vermont Knolls, Marlton Square in the Crenshaw-Baldwin Hills area and several other places deeply affected will be back. The question is, how soon? As long as outside interests sit on empty pockets of land and continue to profit from it, rebuilding South Los Angeles continues to be an indefinite task resulting in broken promises, stalled efforts and total indifference. At least L.A. Live will continue to flourish.

This is not the end of the story. Within the next month, local and national media will offer ‘their side’ of the narrative, just as the video clips on this site showed all of us from the Unrest itself. There will be an attempt to rewrite history, to favor the specifics on the Unrest on the side of those who don’t know, don’t want to show, don’t care about what happens in the hood. Expect it. It’s going to happen. When it does, perhaps we’ll delve deeper into what Pac prophesied to understand the main reason why ‘everybody let go.” Because in our sad history, chances are there will be The Fire Next Time and this time….it may blaze out of control.

Here’s Pac’s ‘I Wonder if Heaven Got a Ghetto’ for your listening (dis) pleasure. Enjoy.

 

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on April 30, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

Rebuilding South (Central) L.A.: Was It All Worth It?

Unrest Totals 2

Totals of the Unrest. Courtesy: Smithsonian Channel

Unrest Totals

To begin, I write this from a biased perspective but I don’t apologize for the words I’m about to write. It’s also the first of two parts. So big, I need room to explain it all.It’s a month away from the 20th anniversary of what I believe was the beginning of the end of South Central Los Angeles as we knew it.

I was born, raised and proud to be from that area Of course, the L.A. City Council in 2003 (the same year the Voices of South Central was released) passed a resolution to name this community South Los Angeles. In my opinion, a name change will do no good if the conditions that led to that decision continue to persist. That being said, there were problems long before the Unrest of 1992 resulting from the not guilty verdict from the Rodney King trial. I am not proud, never will be, of my fellow citizens looting burned stores. There, I said it. However, I am equally not as proud in a justice system that failed the family of a fifteen year old girl who was gunned down and the indisputable evidence of a police beating that should have resulted in some form of punishment.

In both cases, physically or mentally, there was looting from all sides. The theft of physical items and the robbery of hopes. You may not see it that way, but then again, I warned you I was biased with this subject.

As a result of the anger, the fury and the manifestation of that, what happened in that week or eruption showed me truly what this country was all about. In some of my earlier poems, I knew the tough talk and hypocritical slow action of politicians didn’t amount to much, but when South Central erupted in flames, their fiery rhetoric came to life in the deployment of the National Guard. They came, they patrolled, they ‘kept’ the peace, and all that remained…..was this……….

Flash forward almost twenty years later……

Was this our revolution? Did we defeat our oppressors? If so, how? I’m still shaking my head figuring out how we won. Yes, the Koreans who owned swap meets are gone, if that was the goal, but….in our misguided anger, we burned our own shops, our own stores. We forced our brothas and sistahs out of a job, even the owners of certain stores had to post ‘Black Owned’ so they wouldn’t be targeted. Again, if this was our revolution, did we win? What did we gain? The result and painful answer after all these years has been a resounding no.

We were so anxious to claim victory over the dominant society that we lose focus on building a firm community in the long run. A revolution can’t be won in one protest, it has to be a succession of sustained discontent that evidently wins listeners to your side. The Civil Rights Movement which was a quiet revolution, succeeded. When we started burning Chicago, Newark, and Watts, a brief moment of satisfaction may have filled our hearts….but the opposition always has a counter offensive and in all of these cases, all it took was to simply take the financial structure they had and left residents to ‘fend’ for themselves.

The weeds have taken over the lots where we should have built our own stores and shops, keeping the money in our neighborhoods, but here’s the catch: we don’t own the land as written in the last article. The Los Angeles Times has two articles dealing with the owner of two of these burned out lots….

Vermont Knolls – Can the Vermont/Manchester Project Be Saved?

Vermont/Manchester in pictures

For example, Vermont Knolls as it is now called, should be ripe with storefronts as it once had, but again, when you don’t own land in your own community, you do not call the shots. Someone from the 619, 714, 818, or 909 calls them for you. If you’re fortunate, you may be able to own a small space between blocks. However, there’s just not enough….at least not enough as our community leaders and activists called for back in May 1992.

Gil Scott-Heron was correct when he said ‘The Revolution will not be televised’. Truth is, this revolution [in name only] was televised and we had lost without knowing the tremendous price we had to pay and still do to this day. It’s one thing when you’re in the moment using emotion instead of focusing on the bigger picture to declare you’re making changes. Those outside the area know long term planning is what wins the day. It’s the American way.

Back with perhaps the final chapter next time when ‘everybody let go’.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on April 28, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

Rebuilding South (Central) L.A.: The Reality of Rebuild

IMG_20160427_141102

I begin this entry by making a small confession: in my poem, ‘The Fire Still Burns’, I wrote the following ‘have you heard from Rebuild L.A.?’. Now the poem expresses frustration at the entire Unrest, including the hypocrisy from certain prominent individuals vowing to help rebuild the community and never did, but that line was aimed at the organization that began shortly after the fires had subsided and the National Guard left South Central. In a past entry, The Rebuilding of L.A. – Just Not What We Thought!, I share my feelings of the real Rebuild L.A. as it relates to the downtown sector and L.A. Live, built in a different area than the Southside.

To put the blame squarely at Rebuild L.A. would be erroneous. I have to admit upon doing research, the organization though short in their own goals, achieved a bit of success as Peter Uberroth, the chairman of Rebuild L.A. at the time hired businessman Bernard Kinsley who was a well respected Xerox executive and major fundraiser for the United Negro College Fund as a day to day operations chief. Along with other key hires, Rebuild L.A. secured almost 500 million in corporate commitments. It seemed as if the organization would hold to its commitment of rebuilding. If you lived in the Southside, you saw the signs; a new Albertson’s grocery store in the Baldwin Hills – Crenshaw Plaza, a reconstructed Shell gas station that also served as a training center for younger residents in the community, little by little, it seemed the organizers and politicians did good on their promise.

However, a year later as described in the article written by Robert Reinhold for the New York Times in 1993, that promise was stalled. Rebuilding was being done, but the areas in which it occurred, will surprise you. [italics, the author]

In all, 1,118 buildings were checked, and 513 of them were found to have been repaired. Most of the restoration was to shops looted and burned in the riots, which caused $1 billion in damage. But while nearly half the destruction has been repaired in Koreatown and nearly two-thirds in Hollywood, less than a third has in the largely black and Hispanic South-Central area.

The hardest hit neighborhoods in need of rebuilding – in South Central – were not addressed. From my personal experience, I saw empty lots that used to have buildings sitting on top just sitting there, not used, deserted in contrast to the grocery stores, training centers that were rapidly being created. There are two major factors listed in the article which should catch everyone’s attention but I will post them here. [italics, the author]

Those who have rebuilt have tended to have deep personal or commercial roots in the neighborhoods, while the large numbers of absentee landlords appear to be waiting for signals of better economic times. In the South-Central area, less property is locally owned, there are both fewer people and fewer resources and banks generally have been less willing to lend there than in Koreatown or Hollywood.

A check of county property records suggests why. Like much of the South-Central section, many of the owners on the blocks are Iranians, Koreans and Chinese who have migrated here in large numbers in the last two decades and live in affluent suburban enclaves. For example, the owner of record of numerous burned-out buildings on Vermont Avenue and other main thoroughfares is Eli Sasson of 626 South Spring Street, an office building in downtown Los Angeles. Mr. Sasson did not return repeated telephone calls for comment on why his properties remain vacant lots.

The survey was conducted by visually checking all the addresses in the city that suffered more than 10 percent damage according to a compilation by the Department of Building and Safety after the riots.

Although I assume this is the case in any major inner-city, the owners of the properties that were burned down or damaged in South Central, did not belong to the residents themselves. Sad but true, South Central was a neighborhood that I and others like me could live in, but could not take advantage of owning most of its land or storefronts. This happened over years and years before the present day, and don’t be surprised if it continues a year for now. The system of fleecing off the pocketbooks of the poor is profitable and won’t end anytime soon. As a side note, Mr. Sasson’s story is very interesting as this L.A. Times article reveals. The pictures on this page were taken on or next to his property from this article.

The history of Rebuild L.A. and its unraveling can be found on this link, and I want to add that President Clinton had a hand in the rebuilding through the ‘Empowerment Zones’ that I heard quite a bit in that time. I have posted a link here and here  to help us all understand how they work. All I know from living there is the fact South Los Angeles is no different from when it used to be called South Central Los Angeles. The only thing that’s changed is the name, but not much else.

You see, from the author’s standpoint, unless the private sector which means businesses, banks, etc, is interested or enticed to rebuild an area, they’re not going to come in and revitalize the neighborhood. Local politicians can keep rolling out a bus through the neighborhood over and over again with the Urban League or any other organization that caters to the community, it won’t matter if a lack of money and commitment thereof doesn’t result in having the nice restaurants or movie theatres like L.A. Live or The Grove at Farmer’s Market. It just won’t happen and residents who have moved on from the Southside have long realized that. It is pretty ‘messed up’, but that is what it is.

The only true enclave for Black people to congregate in the city proper (and not in the Inland Empire) and hang out is the Leimert Park neighborhood bordered by View Park and Baldwin Hills, mostly upper middle class to mid middle class (from my estimation) and the Baldwin Hills – Crenshaw Plaza has been a mainstay for years. One can only assume now that Marlton Square is finally on the way to restoration, perhaps more shops and stores benefiting the African American community will be included. In the meantime, for the rest of the South Central Los Angeles I grew up in, Rebuild L.A. has been partly vindicated since the effort was made. Still, I can’t help but wonder if it was doomed from the start. It sounded good in principle, born of fire and fury, but like any other flame, it had lost its intensity. It had lost its spark. Rebuild L.A. in its original incarnation lasted five years, quietly fading into the back pages of the news.

But wait, you may ask, what happened to the stores that were ‘Black Owned’? You know, the ones with the signs with the afrocentric black, red, green and white text? Glad you asked, because while Rebuild L.A did their part to stay true to their name, the fire and rage of the residents who lived in the community also played a pivotal part – one that resonates as a sad chapter on not only the city’s history, but the Southside’s history as well.

More on that next time.
P.S. The irony to all this? Rebuild L.A. has a Twitter account. (Though I don’t think it’s actually them…..)

Charles L. Chatmon
Chatmon’s Books

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on April 28, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

Rebuilding South (Central) L.A.: Swept Away by the Media

On the days between April 30 – May 4, my parents’ house didn’t have any power. The refrigerator had spoiled food inside and our icebox had that smell which you knew, items had to be thrown out. There was no television watching, who constantly posted the same images after another of burned buildings, National Guard presence, and outrage from politicians. (1992 was an election year, didn’t you know?) So I was spared from all that. Although radio stations both AM and FM played music as if nothing had happened (I suspect to help calm the fears of the populace, not out of insensitivity), there was one station that continued to broadcast the real story in the community as it happened, not from the view of news anchors expressing indignation of fellow citizens by calling them, ‘savages’.

It was radio station KJLH, 102.3 with guests and community leaders urging calm, analyzing the next moves of police and public officials, explaining to us how we as residents can be more engaged in local affairs, and more. They played no music during the entire Unrest and while I sat under a blanket and flashlight one evening under a completely pitch black sky which shrouded over the entire house (I did mention we had no electricity right?), listening to the station helped me understand what people were feeling. However, to everyone else who had working power, they watched prominent people such as Edward James Olmos, who at the time was known for ‘Miami Vice’ and ‘Stand and Deliver’, appear on news stations as a guest. This is the first time I’ve watched these videos in their entirety and I can hear the sincere words in his voice as trying to ‘do something’ to help. In one of the clips, he makes an offer to help clean up the area which almost instantaneously turned into a sort of a movement in the city.

I’ll get to the ‘Clean Up South Central’ part later, but it wasn’t just Mr. Olmos who spoke out during the Unrest. Many celebrities (if news crews could find them) had a lot to say and took no time in expressing how they felt. In fact, the local and national news media, who are part of the reason I wrote The Voices of South Central (with poems written before the Unrest), chimed in with their ‘narratives’ and sensationalist titles. But you see how the influence of the media can frame the debate? Especially when it comes to the Unrest? Just digressing a little bit……

(Update 4/27/2017. Although we would love to show you the examples of the media coverage described, we have to inform you present videos covering the Unrest were too long for us to post. However, we suggest you search them online to draw your own conclusions.)

I decided not to air footage of the Reginald Denny beating because even after nineteen years, it’s hard to watch and the point of this piece would be taken away if I did that. Don’t worry because again, YouTube (and other sites) will be happy to accommodate your outrage or bloodlust depending on your view. But these were the sad beginnings of an unfortunate event that forever destroyed a community I was born and raised in after gang drive-bys, murders, and other sponsored plans caused a downward spiral that sent South Central to its deathbed.

News media is useful, it plays an important role in our society. We can love it when influential or prominent people are exposed, civil wrongs are righted through public opinion, and a monumental event takes hold. We sneer at it when it turns its cameras or pens at the killings in one area, displaying the same black faces as if it were the major crime whereas Savings and Loans crisis involving politicians and businessmen are treated in a light manner. In my view, both are criminals, only one section is dressed better than the other. Yet, it is news and it goes to whoever controls it. They can even promote the cleaning up of a certain neighborhood to make it feel the problems will fade away, like sweeping it under a rug. I’m sure the populace affected the most in the London Unrest will soon find out unfortunately as we did in South Central.

I respect Mr. Olmos and his passion for the community. At the time as I wrote in Tales From A Firestorm, an essay that will be shown in my upcoming book, Storm Over South Central, I was pumped full of anger and rage at the verdict and the destruction caused by the people in the area. It seemed whenever I took a step out my front lawn, there was a building on fire every five minutes. That being said, watching students from a nearby university clean up debris from burned down buildings may have felt to them as if they were ‘doing something’, anything to contribute, to help. While I understand nineteen years later what they attempted to do, there should be an admittance that after the last truckload with trash left, the problems in South Central still remain. Let me back up. Mr. Olmos on television said what he planned to do in one of the clips which attracted young people, civil leaders and concerned citizens to do the same. I have included these clips from the recent London Unrest to illustrate what I mean. If I have any footage from 1992, I will post them on the blog.

You see that? It’s a feel good moment, isn’t it? Nothing wrong with that except the same conditions that remained in London and again, in South Central are still there. The participants in the clean ups will return back to their neighborhoods believing they have done a good deed. For everyone else, they had to face burned down buildings, shops they could no longer go into, businesses that were Black Owned, gutted by fires or looting. These were the challenges the residents had to deal with, challenges that couldn’t be swept up or even ‘occupied’ these days. This is where Rebuild L.A comes in, and we’ll all find out they’re not the ones to blame for the lack of commitment to restore South Central and other affected places. In fact, they should be applauded, and this comes from someone like me who criticized them in one of my books. The next entry will deal with the basic fact that for urban communities, the private sector is not your boyfriend or girlfriend. Sorry to tell you. As you leave this page, here’s a message from Ice Cube. Have a nice day (or evening). Viewer discretion is advised………

Charles L. Chatmon
Chatmon’s Books

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on April 27, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

Rebuilding South (Central) L.A.: It’s A Riot

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.

This is Part Two of Rebuilding (South) L.A.

In case you forgot or didn’t care, July 12, 2011 marked the twentieth anniversary of this landmark film:

 

Boyz N The Hood. You remember that movie, right? Of course you did. Right in the middle of the Rodney King case and impending trial against the four police officers who beat him up, captured on video for all to see.

Yes, Copz N The Hood was just as dramatic, if not as unfortunate. All the while the community mourned over another death, that of Latasha Harlins. Thoughts and feelings about her murder and lawful devalue of this young lady’s life is posted from this past blog. The rage directed at Empire Liquors where this sad saga occured came in the form of a burned building after Judge Joyce Karlin‘s verdict. Clearly, the community was incensed not only of the shooting death of a young girl. That’s one thing. It was the fact the judge clearly did not have the wisdom of Solomon and based the area, climate and….her race….determined how much the life of a young girl like Latasha was valued.

Funny, Bessie in Native Son was treated as an afterthought more than Mary Dalton. Perhaps if Ms. Harlins wore a different skin…..oh never mind, that never makes a difference, does it?

So for the better part of a year, while the jury was assembled and witnesses began to mysteriously ‘vanish’ or ‘die off’, South Central, Los Angeles, and the world held their collective breaths for the trial which would determine the lives of four cops….in a city held where most cops lived. Simi Valley. Yes, there was a venue change from Los Angeles.

Before April 29, 1992, the former MetroMedia local station now sly as a Fox under a different name, had a reporter approach citizens at their front doors asking the simple question:

“Will you riot?”

To this day, I believe the seeds were already planted by the media. Even if it didn’t occur, the thought was out there. Somebody, someone, somewhere, was going to……..

April 29, 1992.
Verdict: Not Guilty.

The four officers celebrated, a community (among others) was incensed.

I worked as a teacher’s aide that day and I worked the late shift. However, when I saw trouble brewing at Florence and Normandie I politely asked my co-worker, the teacher that closed up with me if I could leave. She didn’t have to say a word. The nod was good enough.

April 29, 1992 was supposed to be a normal day. The Lakers were at the Forum in Inglewood to play the Portland Trailblazers in game three of the first round of the playoffs. My mother went to bible study, people were getting off work at approximately 5:00pm or close to it. It was supposed to be another normal day in the city of Los Angeles.

Not so.

LAPD confronted a few people, then went ghost afterwards. To this day, not a reasonable explanation can be found.

Angry citizens threw bottles, rocks, bricks, etc at passing vehicles. This is something not condoned by the author of this blog BUT….Not Guilty on live television will provoke the living demon in you.

Reginald Denny was taken out of his truck and beaten almost senseless. He was saved by four people not gripped in anger and madness.

Denny

Image courtesy of the Smithsonian Channel

Later that evening after the Lakers game, traffic was diverted away from Manchester and even Florence. If you didn’t live in the community and you attended the game, would you want to go back there? The I-105 wasn’t built yet. The NBA’s reaction was to place the Lakers in Las Vegas for their final game of the season, while the Clippers also in the playoffs, played the Utah Jazz in the Anaheim Convention Center.

Days after the Unrest (not a revolution as Watts had been, according to community activists of the effects of the 1965 revolt), the National Guard was called in. The Fire Still Burns in my book, The Depths of My Soul hinted of the irony of these men in uniform who fought against a repressive regime a few months before in Kuwait in the Persian Gulf, now defending properties on American soil. On the days I happened to walk down the block, I saw Guardsmen with rifles in hand standing on street corners in the midst of burned down buildings surrounding them. One building left intact was the nearby post office, with our elected congresswoman asking for ‘100 Black Men’. I suppose the symbolism was fair, but when she told me directly to stand there at the post office until she returned, I waited…..and waited…..and waited…..until I had to tend to other matters at my parents house. That’s the thing about us as a race. We need symbols, not realizing that whosoever will, is good enough. Even if it were five black men, that would have been good enough because it would have drawn the ninety-five left our congresswoman suggested. The older I get and the further this experience with the Unrest moves away from me, I sometimes have to shake my head and wonder why things are so messed up in our communities. Maybe it’s because I know the answer.

Judging from the television shows it seems the locals wanted to make peace with the National Guard by singing church hymns on the parking lot of one of the ABC supermarkets (which isn’t there anymore) while having a barbecue with them. The organizations and college students who decided they would take their brooms in the streets and sweep up Los Angeles came and cleaned up debris from the burned buildings. In my anger, my rage, my resistance to anything from ‘the outside’ and these were people from outside the neighborhood, I didn’t want to participate with them. Tales From a Firestorm puts that into detail but I am inspired to write about this soon. It’s much easier to sweep trash from a sidewalk but it’s a lot harder to sweep away the conditions that led to the 1992 Unrest.

Don’t tell that to the National Guard who rolled their trucks into Nickerson Gardens in Watts along with LAPD sending a message to gangbangers who’s really in charge. According to all the conspiracy theories floating around like leaves from a tree in these days of the early 21st Century, they could have something there. After that brave act, the Guardsmen left.

While other communities like Hollywood had their share of ‘rioting’, South (Central) Los Angeles will always be identified as the ‘flashpoint’ of the Unrest due to the fact of Florence and Normandie and all that happened there. Let me bring up this one important point and hopefully make it stick: a field reporter from a local television station went to the neighborhood asking people “will you riot?” But Mayor Tom Bradley will always be blamed for initiating it with his speech here:

If he is to be held accountable for telling people to express their ‘feelings’, then shouldn’t the local reporter and staff who asked if people riot also be held accountable? Sidenote: I tried for years and I can’t find a clip of that segment ANYWHERE! Oh well, if you can’t see it, you can’t prove it, those doubters say………maybe one of my old VCR tapes has it, hmm……..but I digress.

Part three will come soon, ‘This is the age of aftermath’

But first, the following message is brought to you by Furious Styles…….

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on April 26, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

Rebuilding (South) L.A.: Innocence Lost, Swap Meets and Colors

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….

Wait.

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

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on April 24, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

African American Poetry Celebration

 

AC Bilbrew April

Our co-owner and president of Chatmon’s Books, Charles L. Chatmon will participate in the annual African American Poetry Celebration, April 15 at 1:00pm. He will read selections from the upcoming anthology Storm Over South Central. (#StormOverSC)

Inside the newly renovated AC Bilbrew Library, Charles will join a host of other esteemed local poets sharing their works with the audience. It’s free to attend and all are welcome to join in this community event.

The AC Bilbrew Library is located at 150 E. El Segundo Blvd, L.A., CA 90061. The L.A. County Library’s website is http://colapublib.org.

The African American Poetry Celebration is hosted by the Black Resource Center.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on April 4, 2017 in Uncategorized

 
 
%d bloggers like this: