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Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Hell Reigned in Los Angeles (April 29, 1992)

We all saw the tapes:
peace officers beating,
maybe even taunting
this crumpled mound
of humanity.

We knew this
wasn’t supposed
to happen
in our system,
we knew justice
would be served.

The verdict that afternoon
was Not Guilty,
and Los Angeles
awoke
to the most visceral,
public episode of
mass cognitive dissonance
it had never dared to dream.

The verdict meant
the system was broken,
and anger was righteous,
the fires were unapologetic,
and every drop of blood
spilled was red.

The city broke
free of its moorings,
rocketing to places
uncharted,
and the reaction
was frightening,
mesmerizing
and unprecedented.

The institution entrusted
with providing justice
was tampered and rigged,
and the resulting chaos
rained Hell
in Los Angeles.

For three days,
anarchy,
stray bullets whizzed
like lethal mosquitoes,
and there were
so many fires raging
that water pressure
in the city
reduced firehoses
to water pistols.

I remember
driving home from work
crouched down
almost eye-level
with the dash board
because the violence
was so random.

The flashpoint
eventually lost its flame,
and the TV stations
stopped covering
the lawlessness.

Even two decades later,
I still remember
looking at the police
as they stood by
watching the rioters,
and being scared
knowing that the cops too
were nervous, powerless
and very, very
outnumbered.

(Written for #OpenLinkNight at dversepoets.com , the Internet's Premiere Poetry website- come join us!)

43 comments:

  1. those are moments of great weakness when things like this happen in a city and you know that even the police is powerless...frightening to think that things like this can happen anytime and anywhere in the world...well told..

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    1. Thanks, yes the lesson for me was how fragile the social order is, and that it stays in place through volition only.

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  2. It's happening everywhere it seems. London last summer. Is it like a sickness that goes away to wreak havoc elsewhere?

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    1. I agree, but that's mostly because faith in the institutions is everywhere. That year (1992) the slogan was "No Justice, No Peace," and it's only fermented with age.

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  3. A lesson in history, told in images, feelings, fear, outrage, and truth. Awesome sharing here, Buddah! ~ j

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    1. Thanks Joseph. The fear was palpable - glad it came through.

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  4. ...and all the blood shed was red... so true. Powerful reminder.

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    1. Thanks Mark. Yes, so much of the consciousness was about race, and rightfully so. Still, the bloodshed left no one race unscathed.

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  5. This is powerful stuff, Mosk. I remember these times well, and Vegas is not so far from LA, so it all seemed very, very real. You have brought it to life in full color, though. Wonderful.

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    1. Yes, the reverberations were out to Vegas. It was pretty real there too. Thanks, de.

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  6. I remember that very well, Mosk, and you've totally captured that out of control feeling. Awesome work, as usual.

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    1. Thanks Zouxzoux. There was so much more in the original draft, but it got way too detailed. There are finally starting to be documentaries on this time, so I try to scour them - still trying to understand.

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  7. You brought it all back. The image of you crouching while driving will really stick with me.

    I like the name of your blog, kinda like reverse psychology.

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    1. Yes, driving down Alondra Boulevard was never the same after that. Thanks. but it isn't reverse psychology. Usually Poetry (capital P) is too distant and indecipherable for me and I hate that stuff. I like poetry (small p) or whatever you'd call what it is I write.

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  8. You know Buddah, all of law and order is just in place as long as people play the game. It doesn't take much reason to tip that fragile balance into anarchy and bloodbaths. The LA riots were a symptom of a system that was so corrupt and thought itself above the law. The trouble is, nothing's changed. The Trayvon Martin shooting has shown that. Sure they finally arrested the guy but, I think that was a case of, find some reason to do it or, see the LA riots repeated all over again. The UK riots was the same thing, an excuse for young, bored thugs to do their own thing and taunt the police with it all because they could.
    As human beings, we're not civilised at all. All it would need is a bit of chaos at the right time for society 'rules' to be non existent.
    Sad eh.
    This is powerful, because it's all so real.

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    1. Thanks Daydreamertoo. The Trayvon Martin case fascinates me because now we have instant hyper mass-telecommunications, so everything gets seen (and judged) immediately. Tho I like it better now, the injustice of the system is exposed just that much quicker. It'll have to get worse before it gets better I fear.

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  9. dang...i remember this as well...was a world away from you but...still one of those moments that just underscores how 20 years later the system has only broken more....

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    1. Yes, I'm not sure how well the riots were covered outside CA, but you know its bad when President Bush called for a general curfew and ordered the National Guard in. Hell, it was hell!

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    2. I can relate to living in a city occupied by National Guard to keep order as it was here after Katrina. It's very, very scary.

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  10. La riots... so sad... all this for justice... just to come to realization that the system is only getting worse

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    1. Is the system worse, or are the people operating the system more cynical and corrupt? I still believe in the system, but I have serious doubts about the integrity of the players.

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  11. Wow! Powerful piece, Mosk! We like to think the system works most of the time -- though we know nothing, and no one, is perfect. Still, it's frightening when things break down so violently, the world seems to go haywire. Nice capture of a sad piece of history.

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    1. Thanks - it went crazy haywire. I like your term "sad history."

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  12. Favorite line: "Every drop of blood spilled was red."
    And nice connection with "water pistols."
    I'm never sure if any good came out of those riots.

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    1. Thanks - the blood gave everything loss a tragic continuity.

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  13. What a memory...I too have seen rioters up close, and an unfolding of a revolution to topple a dictator. There is a pulse and energy that is different...like anything can happen. But this was so long ago and I have forgotten now how fragile peace can be ~

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    1. Yes, I'll never forget it. The energy is random and chaotic.

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  14. I sometimes wonder how much corruption, unfairness and cruelty people will put up with, then blow into open flame over one instance of something they've seen probably at first hand, all their lives--it's as you say, a flashpoint is reached--people just simply can't take any more--and when the system breaks down, there's no protection for anyone. Just hoping we don't see a replay in Florida.

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    1. I hope we can have civility *and* justice in FLA.

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  15. Wow. I could feel the anxiety as I read this. Even though I was on the other side of the country, I remember those riots. No matter what starts them, it seems that no one is spared. Very frightening and all too easy to imagine happening any time, any place.

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    1. Thanks, yes it could happen anytime, anywhere. All it needs is the "right" combination of elements.

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  16. i cannot imagine, although you made me imagine with your words here, a little bit of what it must have been like.

    and strangely, just tonight i was watching a show about the 60s... history just repeating itself over and over and over.

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    1. I didn't do it justice, but thanks.

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  17. I remember this: you wrote it so much better than the newspapers of the time. I hope and pray that attitudes have changed, but fear otherwise.

    http://vivinfrance.wordpress.com/2012/05/02/a-rather-early-six-word-saturday/

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    1. Thanks - I had 20 years to practice up for it.

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  18. Very well written piece ... it is always good to remember. What I find most interesting too is that 'safety' is often the most important thing that we need.

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    1. Thank you - I never underestimate the need for safety!

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  19. You recall those crazy days so vividly and with such authenticity. This was a miscarriage of justice, and people were reacting to that verdict as much as to a police force that had been outnof control for some time. I am just glad that you made it thru in one piece! Excellent write.

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  20. Me too! Thanks for your kind words.

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  21. When I was a child living at home in suburbia, a riot broke out downtown and I still remember being able to see the smoke curling up into the sky to the south, even from miles away. The scene you describe is much more immediate, and quite chilling.

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  22. Yes, it was a real madhouse feeling. My favorite memory is driving the 2nd night of the riots to my then-girlfriend and passing the old Tower Records store on Beach Boulevard. Usually it was it was open and lit up 'til midnight every night of the year except Christmas. It was eerily dark. Spooky, indeed.

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  23. Wow. Very powerful. I remember so much, from that first night especially. I was pregnant with my first child, and we were living in Long Beach, right off Long Beach Blvd. There was a furniture store about 1/2 a block away that went up in flames and a DMV. Craziness. My husband and I just huddled in our little town home and prayed that we would be kept safe. The next morning there were ashes all over everything. It was eerie, like some sort of apocalypse had occurred and we were among the few survivors.

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    1. Thanks, Really? Long Beach? (I used to date someone who lived on Appleton, just off Bixby Park.) You sounded like you were in the thick of it. I was just outside the hot spots (no pun intended), but it was scary nonetheless. I remember it because I was on top of the world: I had just defended my Master's Degree thesis successfully and was making a few minor changes to my paper the night it all went down.

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