The LA Riots: 20 Years Later

A Native Angeleno Remembers

I was 14 years old when the riots broke out in Los Angeles and I remember vividly the events that occurred before, during and after the unrest. It’s difficult to swallow the fact that 20 years has flown by in a blink as the memories of the events still seem so close. I was asked to share my memories of the events that occurred – here is my story:
The riots began at my bus stop at the intersection of Florence and Normandie Avenues, so I lived in the midst of the event. I remember getting off the bus there and seeing a small bonfire in the streets. Within hours both Normandie and Vermont were set ablaze.
What I remember most vividly is the rain of ashes that covered our front porch, lawn and neighborhood. I also remember my mother and father taking me for a drive when things settled and seeing businesses that I had frequented my entire life burned to the ground. I also remember feeling both afraid, but safe – there was a sense of unity and solidarity in my neighborhood that I hadn’t experienced before (or since). The armed guard stood solidly on the main streets to keep us contained and controlled. We had a curfew set by the police. We were all in this situation together.
The events made palpable what I was already raised to believe: Black people in the U.S. are often perceived in a way that doesn’t favor us, doesn’t give us a fair chance. We are confronted daily with others’ preconceived notions that inform how they choose to (or not to) interact with us. We can’t deal with the police like people of other races – in fact a police presence only heightens fear rather than guarantee safety.

My mother lived through the Watts riots so the LA riots was history repeating itself. When people feel pushed up against a wall they have no choice but to fight back. The only difference is that we live in a time where people want to dilute race and make it a non-issue, as if it has no bearing on how people treat each other. That in and of itself can cause people to riot because their experiences are swept under a rug instead of being acknowledged and dealt with.

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