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