Collective Anger - Blood in the Air
I lived through two riots in Los Angeles and I haven't forgotten the torn-open-chest-fear atmosphere, something I'd like to call a stench but it had no odor. Both were race riots, and once they were in motion they felt like time bombs that had been plainly sticking out of our couches for years.
The riot in Watts occurred when I was still an impressionable young man. From the TV pictures it looked like the entire city was going to disappear in looters, flames and belligerent cops. Later, I wondered why the blacks were terrorizing and burning down their own neighborhood. Why weren't they marching toward Beverly Hills?
I was working at a bank in the Mid-Wilshire district during the second riot (following the verdict of the policemen who bludgeoned Rodney King).
The bank let its staff out early, directly after the verdict. The stultifying presence of uncertainty permeated the Los Angeles area like a thick layer of smoke from a firestorm.
The evidence against the cops was, well, overwhelming. Somehow, they got the idea that because Rodney King didn't act like a corpse, it was okay to keep battering him with night sticks.
On my drive home, I glanced over at another car and saw a black passenger staring at me in a menacing way. I could see the top of a baseball bat. The look in his eyes was murderous. I felt both alarmed and angry.
I had aways been a sympathizer with the dilemma of blacks, and I didn't feel like I deserved a brow beating because some jury in Ventura County decided to go gentle with the cops on trial.
Hell, I knew what it was like to be poor -- I had lived my entire existence pinching pennies. Maybe I didn't know about their level of discrimination, but I had never participated in bigotry -- even having grown up in the Lily-white ex-John Birch community of Glendale.
I had black friends, and I'd never received negative treatment from a black -- male or female. I didn't even think of blacks as blacks. I thought of them as Americans. Why they wanted to differentiate themselves by being called Afro-Americans puzzled me.
Shit, after nearly two hundred years they didn't have any affiliation with Africa -- not any more than myself -- so why the distinction?
On certain days during certain events, logic and good tidings, don't mean a damn. When the smell of blood is in the water, the sharks go into a frenzy.
On television (via an overhead news helicopter) I watched several black men pull Reginald Denny from his truck and smash his head open with a brick. This was live TV viewing. Denny hadn't done anything. He just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and wore the wrong color of skin.
The black men who attacked him just wanted a white man's blood to be spilled -- any white man. At this focal point the smell of blood in the water was too intoxicating. Not that it justified the attempted homicide but how many blacks throughout our history had been lynched for no greater reason?
It was pure madness, pure insanity The sense of outrage on the part of the blacks was over the limit, or so we would like to think.
But, something happens to people when they see their fellows going wild, throwing caution to the wind, committing crimes large and small. It's electrical. The feeling moves from one human being to the next at the speed of light. Something instinctive, primitive takes over, and all the religious and moral upbringing instilled into the human mind turns into a puff of vapor.
If you happen to be on the angry side of the fence, the idea is to smash windows, start fires, cause your perceived enemy to bleed.
If you happen to be on the defensive side of the fence, you feel a mixture of fear and loathing.
On days like the two I described, blacks pushed back their civil rights advances by years. Across the nation millions of whites watched black youths running out of stores, with their arms full of boom boxes and clothing. They watched them assaulting white people with the determination of psychos.
Nowadays, we feel a bit more secure seeing these terrors occurring in other parts of the world -- usually between Muslims and anyone else.
In a weird way, 9/11 and all that has followed has kind of solidified and ameliorated the divisions between blacks and whites in this nation (not that I'm claiming them to be hunky dorey).
In today's world we seem to have an outside enemy that somehow binds black and white. People often do not stop to think that the World Trade Center towers were filled with people from all over the world. The hit on the towers was a hit on the entire globe. Yeah, we squandered the good will, the sympathy, but for a few days the tragedy in New York brought the entire world a little closer together.
Sane people do not enjoy watching horror (large or small) on their news broadcasts. Now, the experts tell us that the greatest threat facing us is from lone individuals or small, home-grown groups with a terrorist bent. I don't doubt it for a second. Yet, for all of its massive horror, if 9/11 spelled the end of racial riots in our streets, it would have served an unknowing purpose toward solidarity. And if you have ever been in or near a scene of home-grown carnage, with the smell of blood thick in your nostrils, you'll understand my point.