The next morning I awoke and ran back up to the roof of the Su Casa Apartments to see how the riots were progressing. I could see the fires making their way up La Brea, that long, straight artery connecting south Los Angeles to the heart of Hollywood.
I dressed and walked over to the cutting room. Nobody on the lot was working. The few people who did show up huddled together, talking about the riots. My editor was in his room like it was any other day, cutting away on The Looters, the news blaring from a clock radio on his workbench. I sat in a chair near the door and waited for him to need something. Eventually he turned down the radio and said, “This isn’t so bad. It’s no worse than Watts.”
“You remember the Watts riots?” I asked.
“They were only 25 years ago,” he laughed. “They weren’t any big deal. My friend and I drove down and watched for a little while, then we went surfing. This will all be over soon,” he said.
It didn’t seem like it was blowing over anytime soon. What had started the night before in one little pocket of L.A. blossomed like an oil slick, blackening more and more of the city. The news latched onto a single aspect of the protest — the people smashing store windows and taking what they wanted.
But the fires still raged, too, and as the morning passed the radio reported while the rough beast slouched toward Hollywood. Finally my boss said, “Let’s take off. They’re getting pretty close.” I ran back to the Su Casa and went straight to the roof. The mayhem was just blocks away now. I ran back down to my apartment, locked the door, and scrambled for a weapon. The best I could find was a T-square. Never send an art school kid into battle.
The looters turned off of La Brea and moved west down Sunset toward the Strip. They hit the Rockin’ Ralph’s grocery at that end of my street but didn’t bother coming down my block. When they got to the Guitar Center a few blocks down the road they were met by two guards with shotguns in front of the barricaded door. This was becoming a common sight throughout the city — armed shop owners guarding their doors. They were doing what the cops couldn’t. The citizens of Los Angeles were left to deal with the mess that the LAPD caused, and that was now being blamed on the citizens of Los Angeles.
The longer the riots went the stranger they grew. White people looted khakis from the Gap store on Melrose. President Bush squirted kerosene all over the situation with some tone deaf comments. The Bloods and the Crips called a truce. The National Guard rolled in, their heavy equipment adding a war zone vibe to the festivities.
Days passed and the collective appetite for destruction died down. We returned to work at Warner Hollywood, the roach coach announcing its arrival each morning with a honk of its “La Cucaracha” horn is if nothing had ever happened. The director dropped by and he and the editor huddled together, discussing whether we still had a movie or if the news of the last few days destroyed the marketing prospects of The Looters.
You probably told me and I have forgotten – you were working on “Looters” when it all went down. How effing freaky. How the hell you made me laugh while reliving that nightmare….. “Never send an art school kid into battle.” Genius.
And your point:
“This was becoming a common sight throughout the city — armed shop owners guarding their doors. They were doing what the cops couldn’t. The citizens of Los Angeles were left to deal with the mess that the LAPD caused, and that was now being blamed on the citizens of Los Angeles.”
I have never been able to fully describe so succinctly the collective outrage at the LAPD, and you nailed it. We did not cause this horrorshow, they threw a grenade in the middle of the city and blamed the people for being on fire. The rage in the air was as thick as the ash.