“Cuz that’s fake LA right there, bought and sold. It ain’t my LA.” – José Laredo
When you think of Los Angeles, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? Most people will think of Hollywood and all the things that come with it; Beverly Hills 90210, Keeping up with the Kardashians, award ceremonies for doing not a lot and all those actors and actresses nestled nicely up in their gated communities up in the hills. Oh, and what about those Malibu Barbies with their California beach glow, blonde hair and volleyball skills? Yeah, because living in LA is like living in a commercial, right?
The reality of what LA is like, is nothing akin to the lies and misconceptions we’re fed by the media or TV. Not everyone is a movie star, TV producer or swimwear model. The people who live on those streets, as well as those who visit, tell a different story. And it’s not a story of romance and glamour, but more a story of social oppression, injustice and poverty for those at the bottom.
You don’t have to stray far from Hollywood to see it. In fact, the very centre of Hollywood is an example. If you’re planning a trip to LA, it’s going to include something there and you’ll probably envisage a town of vast proportions, a playground for the rich and famous where you can live like a star for a week or two. At least that’s what I thought. I’m sorry to be the one to tell you, but you’ll be sorely disappointed. The reality is a crowded, filthy street that stinks of piss and take-out combined with harassing salespeople wanting to take you into a scabby looking truck up to supposed celebrity houses. This is in addition to the failed actors dressed up as different stars, pushing for a photo and assaulting you if you don’t pay them their extortionate $10 tip.
Not worth the trouble if you ask me.
In 1965 and 1992, riots shook, burned and devastated the city. The years preceding the 92′ riots were ones of increasing tension between the gangs and police. A growing mistrust and hatred of law enforcement sparked mass intolerance and significant violence in the 80’s and 90’s. In 1991 alone, gang membership trebled and homicide rates were at an all time high of over 1000 deaths. The final straw came on the 29th April 1992 when an all white jury acquitted four police officers who had been filmed excessively beating a black man named Rodney King. In the five days that followed, havoc ran through the city sending it into complete disarray. A state of emergency was declared as officers and riot police were unable to contain the hundreds of people that fought, burnt and demolished everything in their path.
“I was studying at Cal State Long Beach when the 1992 riots happened. I was the photo editor for the school newspaper. Some of the photo students went out to take pictures. It was the scariest time. I was living in an apartment and the rioters were burning stores and moving down the street close to where I was. I didn’t go out and take photos. It wasn’t safe. It felt like there were no rules.”
This account comes from a photographer who lived in LA during the 1992 riots. I feel it captures the fear that runs through the mind of every person who lived in the city through those days. The riots turned Los Angeles from la-la land to a living hell, characterised by its endless burning and thick black sky; a scene of apocalyptic proportions.
I’ve been reading a book about the 92′ riots called ‘All Involved’ by Ryan Gattis. I’ve had the privilege of listening to Gattis talk about how he came to write his novel and the troubles he had to go to in order to produce it. He tells us about going to see gang leaders in Lynwood, being threatened with his life, all while trying to hold on to his tiny apartment in Downtown LA. A lot of what he has written is relevant as to why Angelenos chose to riot and to show their side of the story and the way they want to tell it.
Through my own experiences in the city, things seem to have improved today. There are nowhere near as many homicides and the streets feel just that little bit safer. But, you mustn’t be lead into a false sense of security as all this is liable to change, just as it did all those years ago. The problems haven’t been solved, nor will they ever be. Gattis raises an important question in his novel and that is “Is history inclined to repeat itself?”. The answer is unknown but what we can deduce is that it’s been over 23 years since the events of April 92′ and for some it’s been 23 years too long. Do we need to be reminded by conflict? I write this not a week after the 13th November attacks on the French capital of Paris where over 130 people lost their lives because of terrorist activity and extreme violence. And with heightened levels of security all over the world, this never ending circle of violence shows no signs of slowing. And from what I can see, it’s up to not just the people of Los Angeles, or Paris, but the people of this world to decide.