Wildcat on the LA Riots.
We do not agree with all of this article but reproduce it for reference.
Wildcat on the LA Riots.
We do not agree with all of this article but reproduce it for reference.
There's a difference between frustration with the law and direct assaults upon our legal system.
George Bush, 3 May 92.
The Los Angeles riot was the biggest in American history. There were of course negative aspects. But fighting between members of the working class dropped during the riot and has subsequently stayed low, despite the best efforts of the police. The rebellion saved lives. Initially, the media were so floored by the uprisings, they produced a wealth of evidence that they were examples of class struggle. Subsequently, they have been trying to make out it was all race.
In a racist society, class struggle often takes an apparently racial form. For example, if a particular ethnic group run the grocers' stores in poor areas, they are likely to be the first to be attacked. The fact that some rioters express their hatred of being ripped off in racial terms should be opposed, but does not invalidate the basic class nature of the struggle. As Willie Brown, a prominent Democratic Party politician in the State Assembly, and no friend of the class war, put it in the SF Examiner: "For the first time in American history, many of the demonstrations, and much of the violence and crime, especially the looting, was multiracial - blacks, whites, Hispanics and Asians were all involved." The press all expressed horror that black people burnt down 'their own' neighborhoods. But the working class has no neighborhood. These 'communities' are always divided up into shopkeepers and proletarians: two classes with irreconcileable interests. The rioters expressed that antagonism against all the talk of neighborhoods and communities, and a black lefty councillor had his office burned down. The old ploy of 1965, 'Black Owned', didn't work. Capitalist enterprises of all races were attacked. Unlike the '65 Watts revolt, the riots spread over a wide area of LA. More than 5,500 buildings were burned. People shot at police stations. Seventeen government buildings were destroyed. The Los Angeles Times building was attacked and partially looted.
The riot stopped short of a full scale insurrection. Shortage of guns was certainly not the problem, and probably not absence of organization. The police were easily overwhelmed, and the military did not appear until the rioting had abated. Gang members with megaphones tried to turn the uprising into a war against the rich. "We should burn down their neighbourhoods, not ours. We're going to take it to Hollywood and Beverly Hills" man with megaphone, London Independent, 3 May. A few blocks from the mansions of the rich, burnt-out stores testify to how close the riot came to attacking the enemy class directly. But such an attack would have been repelled by police, crack army units, and the rich themselves. Perhaps the rioters realized that the time had not yet come. Class organization needs to develop a lot further before this happens.
"On Sunset Boulevard on Thursday evening, I watched children with mobile phones coordinate the movements of their gangs with the arrival of police and fire trucks, warning looters when police were on their way". London Guardian, 2 May. The organization which is normally associated with drugs was used by the proletariat to its own ends.
After drawing up a formal truce based on the Camp David agreement, the Crips and the Bloods signed a deal with the National Korean-American Grocers' Association to employ and train gang members, some in management positions. However, not much has come of this. After the Watts rebellion of 1965, there was still room for reform. A black bourgeoisie was created. Now, this is no longer possible. The state of California is bankrupt, and the federal government is not into giving money to the poor. On the contrary. The August/September welfare checks will be down on the previous ones. The last traditional blue collar auto plant in LA shut in August. Rubber, steel and auto have now all gone. A program known as "Weed n' Seed" is what is on offer. The Weed part is to get the cops to sell drugs, and arrest people who buy them, then offer them immunity in return for informing. This threat is difficult to resist because of the draconian drug laws, which include imprisonment for a first offence and seizure of all your assets. The Seed part is to introduce "Free Enterprize Zones", wherein there are no safety or pollution laws, no minimum wage, etc.. These enclaves of Third World exploitation are already being built. This is what the bourgeoisie has to offer behind the "rebuild LA" rhetoric.
"The rebellion was community. It was liberation" - woman from South Central.
We have done what we can to find out more about what happened and what has happened since. This is some of the information we got from our few contacts in the LA area. The rebellion started among black people, spread immediately to involve Latinos in South Central (which is about 42% Latino) and Pico Union, and then brought in unemployed white workers from Hollywood in the north to Long Beach in the south and Venice in the west. East LA was only spared because of a massive show of force by the Sherriff's Department. Everybody came out onto the streets. There was an unprecedented feeling of togetherness. Liquor stores were looted. Before the stores were torched, people got out hoses to defend their houses against the danger of fires spreading. Old people were evacuated. This was a family occasion. Carloads of people turned up at a clothing factory, and men, women and children loaded up and drove off. There was two days of continuous looting involving thousands of people, mostly black and Latino, with a few white people. The police were nowhere to be seen - "there were no arrests in my area". Essential items were redistributed, otherwise some people would have had nothing. As far as the beating of truck driver Reginald Denny goes, some of the people who beat him had just defended a 15-year old against being beaten by the police. This of course is not being mentioned in the media.
Since the rebellion, young men who have spent their whole lives unable to visit the next street because it is on another gang's territory can now do so. "As a woman, I feel much safer on the streets". Welfare mothers from 4 different areas have come together to fight the welfare cuts. This is a remarkable new development. When these women demonstrate outside welfare offices, the ruling class knows that behind them stand over 100,000 insurgents. The number of participants is definitely into 6 figures. We know this because there were around 11,000 arrests (5,000 blacks, 5,500 Latinos, 600 whites), and the vast majority of rioters and looters were able to get away scot-free. There has been a downturn in the drive-by gang shootings which plagued the area. Of those killed during the uprising, most were not even participants, they were simply bystanders murdered by the police. Police assassinations have started again. There were much worse incidents before the Rodney King beating, for example, in Compton, police killed two suspects on their knees in cold blood. The police are desperately trying to undermine the gang truce. They need the working class of South Central shooting each other.
There are two theories why the media repeatedly showed the Rodney King video. One is that the ruling class as a whole wanted to provoke a riot in order to justify repression. A more plausible explanation is that forces within the ruling class opposed to Daryl Gates wanted to generate support for a law which would enable the mayor to control the LAPD Chief. Either way, they got more than they bargained for.
Defendants campaigns are in a terrible state. There is no coordinated campaign based on defending all those arrested. The campaigns which do exist are concerned with particular defendants, or particular aspects of repression, e.g. racism. Liberal lawyers have refused to defend rioters, and concentrated on those arrested on peaceful demos. Anyone in the USA who claims to be a revolutionary should be involved in trying to defend imprisoned insurgents. Failure to do so immensely weakens the struggle, as we discovered during the miners' strike in Britain during 1984/85. Plea bargaining was used by the state a lot. Those arrested were told they could either plead guilty and be let free with a felony conviction, or wait in prison for a trial. Many took the former option, which means continuous police harassment. Others pleaded guilty because this would result in six months in a county jail, rather than risk the possibility of being found guilty and being exposed to the horrors of a federal penitentiary.
The political significance of the LA uprising can perhaps best be gauged by comparing the riot in San Francisco, which was the second biggest in the country. If this riot had happened without any uprising in LA, it would have been by far the most important in California since the sixties. But the LA uprising put it completely in the shade. In SF, on April 30th, more than a hundred stores were looted and trashed in the downtown area of Market Street. Most of the yuppie shops in the financial district were trashed, and the rich scumbag lair of Nob Hill was invaded and cars smashed up. One of the main hotels had its windows smashed by a gang of youths chanting "The rich must die". These actions were echoed across the Bay in Oakland and Berkeley.
A comrade in the Bay area describes the events : "I sat up late that night listening to the news reports and call-in talk shows on the radio. Everyone was hysterical. Everyone but a few white simians condemned the not-guilty verdict. But as far as the rioting was concerned, most people I heard, of all colors, and mostly working-class, were concerned with how to stop the violence, with the idea that destruction and appropriation of property is morally wrong, and that we should pray for peace. As the uprising progressed, however, I heard more and more voices declare that their only regret was that "we are doing it to ourselves... we ought to be going into the rich areas!" Throughout the next few days and continuing the vile American tradition, issues of race and class were confused, juggled, mistaken, manipulated, and recuperated on a vast scale. But the media and political circus found it difficult to paint this rebellion in racial terms only. It was so clearly multiracial, so definitively a working-class insurrection in the inner cities that it really has eluded attempts at being characterized as purely racial conflict. Even certain politicians and media creeps were caught admitting that this was CLASS WAR.
At 6:45 I arrived at the State Building. There was a crowd of maybe 300. Speakers were ranting about racism and injustice. Suddenly, from all corners of the gathering, 30 or so very young mostly black and Hispanic youth came charging out of the crowd, down Fell Street toward the Financial District, shouting and roaring and smashing windows. I followed them immediately, as did everyone. It was happening. I now know what is meant by the phrase, 'vanguard of the proletariat'.
Odd bits of construction material on the sidewalks were instantly put to proper use, deposited through shattered glass into the Government offices lining the street. I picked up a 2x4 length of wood and chucked it, screaming "Burn baby burn!". All the young hooligans at the the forefront of the assault had zealously given themselves over to the task of destruction, joy mixed with nervous fear. I was one of the first whites to join them. I recall making eye contact and trying to demonstrate my positive agreement and collusion in their actions. These were young men in Raiders jackets and basketball hats, street youth brought up by "Fuck tha' Police" rap culture and the worsening urban conditions of the 80s. They looked hurriedly around as they saw us others not of their crowd or culture join them enthusiastically... and within minutes all social barriers seemed to melt away in the attack on our enemies. Unfortunately, I was soon to be well acquainted with a treacherous element of law-abiding idiots who proved to be enemies within.
The march continued. Several blocks later, the pig scum attempted a diversionary tactic by parking about twenty men along a wall that the march was passing. They were hailed with abuse, but it was here where I first experienced that complacency, that hesitation that our law-enforced life in this society conditions in us. We had this line of cops surrounded. Sure, they were screamed and hissed at, and occasionally whacked with a stick or stone, but how were they able to intimidate us, who completely outnumbered them, into not kicking the shit out of them?
Soon we were on Market Street, the main drag through the Financial/Shopping District. Blocking our path was a thin nervous line of blue. They stopped us for 10 minutes or so, as we teased and poked them with kicks and verbal abuse. Our comrades to the left were invading around them, and before long we were all cutting through and they were shunted to the side. They were left behind as the proletarian army advanced down Commodity-Spectacle Boulevard whooping and revelling in the attack. Two blocks later I came upon a jewelry store which had already taken a great deal of damage. A few of us, I and probably almost all blacks, mainly older, stood there pondering the possibilities. Occasional shouts of "The cops are coming!" made us hesitate, but it became obvious that we were safe. The marching crowd seemed to have doubled in size since we began - the street and sidewalks were full of people. I saw that the main window on the shop was unhinged and only hanging by its top. Picking up a corner, I began to carefully pull it out. I paused and scanned around at a distant cry of "Police!" But it was nothing... behind me a deep, black voice joyfully urged, "Pull it down, white boy, pull it down!" - and I tore the thing onto the pavement. Crash! All around me people rushed into the window, scooping up the goodies.
As I watched the looting a man came up near me and began taking photographs. I approached him, and politely suggested that we shouldn't take pictures because the police might use them to identify people. "But they're looting!!" he responded incredulously... I was hurt. Here I stood, confronted with the very real claws of the leftist counter-revolution. I had given him the benefit of the doubt, hoping against naive hope that we were were all class-conscious revolutionaries in action. I tried to get some support from the looters against this enemy-within, but no one was listening. My confrontation with this vigilante cop heated up quickly and it looked like he was about to throw a punch when some guys came up from the crowd to break up the fight: "Let's fight them, not ourselves!" they implored... "But he's taking pictures of looters in order to turn them into the police!" I insisted. Like an angelic chorus of choir-boys, these 'alternative' looking students, or whoever they were, all announced in harmony, "THAT'S OK, WE'RE AGAINST LOOTING HERE!" speaking for the mob as if they were its appointed moral guardians. You can imagine the demoralizing blow such an encounter could wield. I was alone in the crowd. The looters, my only hope for support, were apparently not concerned for such "political" matters, just wanting to get out with their jewelry scoopings as fast as they could. I was helpless. Enraged, I flipped the petty-cops a FUCK YOU salute and struck off for more successful endeavors.
The march had left Market Street, and headed north toward Nob Hill and some other shopping areas. Half a block up an undercover police car was mired inside the crowd, nonchalantly communicating on his radio. I jumped into action. 'Hey! It's a pig! Let's get him!' I entreatied to the protesters, on whose skin every color in San Francisco seemed represented. Nobody listened. Everyone appeared to ignore me. I looked from face to face, searching frantically for signs of solidarity. Nothing. The cop was making his way to the rear of the crowd. I gave up on seeking support, started kicking at the back of the car out of desperation. It is not everyday that such opportunities avail themselves. But again, nonviolent moral sentiment in the crowd reared its stupid head. "We don't want any of that around here," yelled a big black woman, surrounded by supporters. "Well, I do!" I retorted. "No, you get out of here -this is our day." Her stern glare spoke of deeply held beliefs. So did mine. "That's a racist comment!" And she completed the discussion's degeneration: "No, you're a racist!" No one else in her group, 3 or 4 black men, said a word. As in LA, black churches throughout the SF Bay Area attempted to gather people together into a strictly pacified, grovelling, doggie position. As in LA and elsewhere, they had little success...
The next day there were the mass arrests of about 650 people who were coming to the announced demonstration at 24th and Mission streets... I was among them. We were held for 36 hours and it would've been longer if it weren't for the political rivalry between the liberal city council (who called off the state of emergency - the first since the 1906 earthquake) and the law-and-order mayor, Frank Jordan. The police chief, Richard Hongisto, had also been a mayoral candidate, on the ultra-liberal ticket. One of his first (and last, it was to emerge) acts was the May 1st counter-revolution. It was quite amusing to hear the complaints of the liberal-activist crowd in jail: 'I voted for Hongisto!' There was much talk among the prisoners of the prospects for revolution. Most were totally supportive of rioting and looting."
In San Jose, students looted and attacked police cruisers with rocks and bottles. Police were shot at by youths rioting in Tampa, Florida, and in Las Vegas rioters burned a state parole and probation office and shot at police, who just managed to save the casino area from the anger of the mob. Armed confrontations between police and local people continued for the next 18 days. In Seattle, a burning vehicle was pushed into police ranks, the interstate highway was closed for 2 hours, and there was loads of looting, smashing and burning. Similar events occured in Atlanta, where tear gas failed to stop the rioters. There were smaller riots in numerous locations across the nation. At a march in New Brunswick of 1,000 people on 1 May a truck driver plowed through a crowd, but quickly retreated as a large angry crowd quickly materialized. It is possible that the attack on the truck driver in LA was sparked off by a similar provocation.
Until the uprising, under the law in California the state had to arraign suspects within 72 hours of arrest or let them go. The California State Assembly voted unanimously to "temporarily" extend the arraignment period. The bill was flown on a National Guard airplane to be signed by State Supreme Court Justice Malcolm Lucas. This is the epitome of democracy in action. In a democracy, the ruling class and their hired orchestras of lackeys brag that the difference between a democracy and a more open form of despotism is that under democracy there are rules that limit the degree to which our rulers can screw us. But when the rules don't work, they show how meaningless they are by changing them.
KAPD NOT LAPD
The first major uprising of the 1960's was the Watts riot in LA in 1965. Hundreds of buildings were burned down by angry black proletarians. It was not simply a question of race, as the Situationist International wrote in December 1965 :
"This was not a racial conflict: the rioters left alone the whites that were in their path, attacking only the white policemen; conversely, black solidarity did not extend to black store-owners or even to black car-drivers. Even Martin Luther King had to admit in Paris last October that the riots did not fall within the limits of his speciality: 'They were not race riots,' he said, 'they were class riots.'"
Another major uprising occurred in Detroit in 1967, and in 1968, as the Vietnam-centred crisis of US capitalism reached its climax, the assassination of Martin Luther King became the pretext for a massive wave of riots across the country (he was no longer around to stop them). Tanks had to be used to quell the uprisings. Twenty years later, the proletariat in the USA had been crushed by the Reagan years of immiseration, bans on strikes, racism and atomization. The Vietnam syndrome had apparently been overcome.
That has now changed for the time being. The phrase "class war" was widely used by the insurgents. This was a momentous reassertion of class against the US bourgeoisie's attempt to bury class awareness under the myth that the market and democracy are the end of history. However, it will take more than a few riots to overcome the massive defeat the working class in the US has suffered since the sixties.