by Nigel C. Gibson
Paper presented at the conference on 'The LA Riots, Twenty Years Later', Harvard, April 2012, Published at Truthout
1. Letter From a Friend
I asked a friend who lives in South Central to send me his thoughts about Los Angeles 20 years after the rebellion. The following is part of what he had to say:
Twenty years after the L.A. rebellion finds most of the Black community in a state of shock because conditions are not better and the conditions which created the rebellion have only become more invisible to the outside world. The strait jacket of economics confines us all. The rock bottom conditions of poverty are suffocating the voice of protest in South Central L.A. Even the name South Central was changed to South L.A. by the politicians in an attempt to forget in their view the "negative" impact of the revolt.
The rebellion did change the relationship between the cops and the Black / Brown community. They are not going to create another Rodney King situation. But the police use of deadly force has not ceased, just their attempt to cover up that relationship has taken on many different forms in an attempt to disrupt or derail any new form of organized rebellion which could be found in the L.A. rebellion. [No organization] has enlivened the imagination of the Black community like the gang truce movement of 1992, which allowed the youth to "cross the tracks" to shed their "skin" of "colors" that help bridge the communities as a whole. That gives the people a breath of freedom, for a moment in time that must be passed on to the youth of today to continue. The gang truce movement in Watts has long since ended, but not forgotten by those who felt the power of free movement until the LAPD, in the name of fighting "organized crime" used the same form of tactics to disrupt and destroy it as they did groups like the Black Panther Party of the 1960s ... Gang warfare which has helped to create many more sub-divided gangs ... leaves the community more divided than ever over colors.
Divide and rule is reinforced by economic hunger that creates battles over crumbs of a bankrupt drug trade that was booming during the late 1980s.
But the Rodney King beating and the murder of Latasha Harlins over a carton of orange juice sparked a rebellion that was about us all being criminalized.
The process of criminalization not only disenfranchises, but also dehumanizes individuals to the point that their oppression becomes invisible. A return to a Fanonian discourse seems appropriate to describe this invisibility and non-reciprocity and the criminalized mass of black and brown people in the urban ghetto who are seen as a moral cancer and a threat to civil order. The situation is Manichean, with the "dividing line" enforced by the police and prison system "creating an atmosphere of submission" (1968 38). A return to Fanon describes not only the brutal and mechanical violence of the state, as well as the sociopolitical discourse that is akin to colonization, but also its psychological trauma. For Fanon, the real revolt against colonialism is carried out by those dispossessed and marginalized people, who are completely "outside the colonial system"- people who, in the words of apartheid, are "surplus populations." Crushed by colonial expropriation (of land and labor), dehumanized by colonialism's ideology and its police, the damned of the earth - the "scum," the surplus people and the "feral rats" (as a shopowner, in a media interview, referred to participants in the English revolt of 2011), that mass insensible to ethics can only be held in check by violence, a violence that is "brought home and into the mind of the colonized" (1968 38). The old colonial tactic of divide and rule is manifested by intra-community violence, often by gang warfare, quickly settled by the knife or the gun. It is an atmosphere of violence, suggests Fanon, where everyone lives on edge. But every so often, the anger explodes outward. For Fanon, these damned and wretched people express the truth of civilization, its dehumanization. The frightening thing for the rules and the reformists is that they have nothing to lose. Additionally, in a Fanonian sense, the rebels express an elemental new humanism. Listen to this articulation by the poet Vicky Lindsey, of the activist group Mothers Reclaiming Our Children:
I will never be free from you until you are free from me,
your superiority complex versus my captivity ...
me the serf, you the master is the reality
which kept both of us enslaved throughout history ..." (Afary 157)
Mothers suffer a special pain when their children are incarcerated (lost to them). It was from this pain and suffering that Mothers ROC was born! ... We fight against the police abuse, the false arrests & convictions and the unfair treatment throughout the Justice System. We educate ourselves and our young about the workings of the ... system.