Tag Archives: Pico Rivera

Riot Act

29 Apr

This weekend I’ve been watching many of the documentaries about the LA riots in 1992. I remember the riots, we watched everything unfold on the afternoon news programs and in our government class at school the next day. I was a newly minted adult having just turned 18 the month before and the only thing I really had my mind on was deciding which school I was headed off to on the other side of summer.

Geographically we weren’t that far away from where this was all happening. Pico Rivera was just suburban enough to make this all look like something that was happening somewhere else but heading up to the hills around town after school you could see the smoke off in the distance and there was some attempted looting a few days in to the unrest at the Town Center in Montebello. We were aware of the videotaped beating and the trial, discussed this in class but never really did a deep dive on racial tensions. We had entire sections on Civil Rights era action in the 1960’s but weren’t really taught that this was still such a prevalent problem. The focus at the time all seemed to be on the gang wars and the drug epidemic.

My father worked as a Sheriff most of my life, he spent a lot of that time working in South Central. Stationed primarily in Lynwood, Compton, Watts and Willowbrook he left us each morning to try his best to keep peace and make it home to his kids each night. He wouldn’t tell us much about his days on patrol, we were fed tidbits when he would come home with a used car he had spotted while on duty or our dog Lynn a beagle he said he found wandering across Imperial Highway. When the riot happened Dad was the on campus officer for Lynwood High School. We never thought to ask why a high school needed a full time armed Sheriff on site, had we asked we are sure he never would have told us. When we saw what was starting to happen we knew not to expect Dad to be home that night. I don’t remember exactly when he came home, I do remember him calling us to make sure we were ok. My brother was off at UCSB so it was just my sister and I left at the house but we had family just on the other corner and we were quite capable teenagers.

As an adult looking back at this footage it still seems like it was something that didn’t happen in my beloved Los Angeles. But it did happen, months later when we were making our way through the streets to drop me off at the UCLA dorms we passed through areas that had boarded up burnt out buildings, some were never rebuilt and even now driving through Compton (right next door to me now!) there are entire sections of the city that never recovered. Even if the shopping centers didn’t burn they were just frozen in time, the signs look like they’re from the 80’s and there are very few national chains. There are some shiny new developments though, new centers and parks that have sprung up and a train that connects the area to downtown where you can get to the Westside or in to the Valley. There’s still so much more progress to be made though – the same issues that brought about the unrest in 92 are still happening today. With cameras in our pockets able to capture and quickly spread injustices maybe all of these protests are helping to vent this anger so it doesn’t boil over in this city.

In a way I’m glad I was a bit sheltered from what was really going on. It wasn’t bad where my only concern was which Smiths shirt I was going to wear the next day to school or when Middle Earth the long gone record store in Downey was going to get the latest issue of the NME in stock.

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