Saturday, April 28, 2012 / 7:17 am

Los Angeles Riots: 1992

No justice, no peace.

by Donna Schoenkopf

Aerial view

Wednesday, April 29, 1992
5:00 am

The alarm buzzes and I am up and out of my comfy bed.  It takes a while to get my nine year old son John up and ready for school. 

I take him to McDonalds for his breakfast.  It's right across the street from his school.  It's the only way I can figure out how to make sure he's okay.  No day care for him  No money for that.  I climb back into my car, drive past the well-tended landscape of the school, and make the long drive to South Central and my job as teacher of fourth graders at 61st Street School.

It's always painful leaving John.  I worry.  

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Saturday, April 28, 2012 / 5:00 am

Street Artist Mear One on the Riots

After 25+ years in the graffiti and fine art scene, Mear One talks about politics, race, and discourse in L.A.

by Tony Chavira

New World Disobedience

It was raining the night Mear One met me at Hold Up Art to do some live painting and talk to me about the state of political discourse before, during and after the 1992 Riots. He warmed himself up, the music came on,  a crowd surrounded us and I started writing while he tore into the canvas furious with an array of paint, razors and pencils.

He had been working in Los Angeles since the mid-80s and had probably been arrested for graffiti, alongside CBS (Can't Be Stopped - City Bomb Squad) and WCA (West Coast Artist) friends dozens of times over the years for refusing to fall within the narrow definitions of graffiti as solely vandalism. His work had always been political, but he (and I) wanted to talk about the particular effect that the 1992 riots had on him and the politicization of the street art community that led to the kind of work that's being done now.

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Friday, April 27, 2012 / 5:00 am

Chicken Pox and Napoleon

A hot time in the ole town tonight is recalled.

by Gary Phillips

L.A. '92

On this 20th anniversary of the ’92 riots, in the last two weeks I’ve done a panel, a radio  broadcast, as well as written a couple of other pieces recounting and reflecting on those events.  I take this not as a sign of any sagacity I’ve gained in the last couple of decades, but of age – that simply by being around long enough and having done certain things, you get asked to look back.

In fact, a decade before, on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of those events, I’d done a piece for Geography of Rage, a collection of essays and reflections on the conflagration edited by Jervey Tervalon, published by the late, lamented local press, Really Great Books. 

There were several highpoints, if that’s the right word, for me during the riots.  Robin Cannon, a South Central community activist and a friend of my wife Gilda, was as shit jumped off at Normandie and Florence, sitting in Gilda’s Community Scholars class.  As going home that night seemed dicey, she stayed with us and during the lull the next day, Gilda took her home.  The Vons near our house in Mid-City on Pico and Fairfax got looted but the workers and some neighbors prevented it from being torched.  Me and a few other friends witnessed an old lady with a pistol in her apron pocket and her feisty girlfriends preventing some knuckleheads from torching the Texaco station at Ogden and Pico.

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Wednesday, April 25, 2012 / 7:50 pm

An Overlay of Strange

When the unexpected happens, especially when its source is people, not nature, that's when the world seems plain wrong.

by Nathan Walpow

defending Koreatown

I was in Paris recently, and several times I came across schools with signs reminding us of the horrible things the Nazis perpetrated therein during the early ’40s. This made me think about the whole city under German domination; familiar streets and buildings with the trappings of something previously unimaginable; the everyday rendered alien.

One day we went out to the Normandy beaches. Reminders of D-Day were still in place: hulking metal structures on the sand and in the water, dumped there by the Germans to hinder the Allies. The sea was lovely, the sky was clear, yet there were probably a few people around who remembered the shells splitting the air, the smoke, noise and bodies everywhere. The same place, rendered into a nightmare.

The point of the travelogue: We have an image of the place we live. We know the range of weather to expect, the kinds of people we’ll see, the vibe we feel. And there is nothing more disconcerting than to have that image fundamentally changed. When the unexpected happens, and especially when its source is people, not nature; when something we’re not preparing for in the back of our minds occurs: that’s when our world seems plain wrong.

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Tuesday, April 24, 2012 / 4:37 pm

Rodney King for a Day

Will there be fire next time?

by Jim Washburn

Rodney King beating video

What would it take to get you to beat the crap out of someone who was already lying beaten on the ground? An imminent threat to your life? The knowledge that person had done something cruel and horrible to someone you loved? How about if the person just drove fast and didn’t obey your commands with the deference you were accustomed to? How many kicks, taser shots and baton blows would you have to deliver before you felt good about yourself again?

Back on March 3, 1991, it took a taser shot, 56 baton blows, and seven good kicks (resulting in fractured face bones, a broken ankle and a quilt of bruises and lacerations) before LAPD officers felt they’d made their point to Rodney King. King was not a model citizen: He’d attracted authorities’ attention because he was driving drunk at high speed, and he didn’t heed their sirens because the drunk driving would have violated his parole for a previous robbery conviction.

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Monday, April 23, 2012 / 5:00 am

I Was Ten Years Old

When I was ten, I saw a man beaten half to death by police I was supposed to trust. And I saw them get away with it.

by Tony Chavira

Florence and Normandie

I was ten years old on April 29, 1992, when our Monterey Park middle school’s A/V staff wheeled carts with television sets into my classroom so that we could watch the outcome of the Rodney King trial. Though the vast majority of the students in my grade were ethnically Mexican or Asian and though we were only kids, what had happened was still very clear to us. We had all seen the footage of Rodney King’s beating on television and most of our elders, though trying to be impartial, were confident the officers were guilty of abuse, and legitimately shocked, in front of us, when they found out that the cops were let off the hook.

Thinking back, I remember the weird feeling of knowing that the riots were happening a few miles away but only seeing them on television. It was as though we were nowhere nearby, yet everyone had a strong reaction to them. Strange as it may seem, I grew up in a place with no white or black people, so I had almost no understanding of Los Angeles’s racial dynamics. Everything I knew was told to me by my parents. My mother was born in Oakland and raised in Huntington Park in one of the only Mexican families in a city already divided into white and black districts during the 1950s and ’60s. My father grew up a first-generation American in East L.A., and remembered the disdain of older Jewish East L.A.ers who felt like the riffraff were taking over. Or, I guess, coming back.

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Friday, April 20, 2012 / 7:41 am

Levon Helm and Me

He took my breath away.

by Donna Schoenkopf


It is 1965.

I am in Norman, Oklahoma working in a college bar on the outskirts of town to keep body and soul together while I go to school at OU.

There are no tips.


But I do get paid minimum wage and it’s at night and it’s kinda fun.

I am newly divorced. I am 22 years old.

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Thursday, April 19, 2012 / 5:36 pm

There’s A Riot Goin’ On

No Sly, nor the Family Stone, but next week you'll hear from the entire staff about the 1992 "civil disturbance" in L.A.

by Nathan Walpow

LA Times during riots

It’s been twenty years since the whole Rodney King thing. The arrest, the videotape, the trial, the riots. Next week, the FourStory staff takes a look back at what they experienced during the civil unrest following the verdict. Most of us were adults; one was still growing up. One taught in South Central. We were (still are) black, brown, white. All these circumstances, as well as accidents of geography, affected us during the riots, and during the period after.

We start Monday with Tony Chavira’s “I Was Ten Years Old.” You’ll hear from Phillips, Washburn, Schoenkopf and me as the week goes on. Plus a guest writer or two. Then, on Monday, April 30, we’ll have an excerpt from Gary Phillips’s Violent Spring. It’s his first Ivan Monk mystery novel, published in 1994, and is set in the aftermath of the riots.

What’s changed since 1992? Lots. And nothing. Come back next week to read about both.

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Wednesday, April 18, 2012 / 7:19 am


The home furnishing giant gets housing envy.

by Gary Phillips

Ikea's Levittown

The last time the wife and I went to Ikea, and this would have been the one in Burbank, was when our kids were in grade school – middle school at the latest.  So that’s more than a decade ago.  I seem to recall we needed desks for them for their homework and a bookshelf.  No doubt I had a meatball or two while we shopped.  We made our selections and brought the items home and assembled the laminated pressboard and plywood wonders per the instructions.  What with their pre-drilled holes for wood dowels and fittings tightened with the included allen wrench, there’s something to be said for this kind of assembly line engineering that, I suppose, would have made Buckminster Fuller, the creator of the Geodesic Dome, proud. 

It comes then as little surprise that the Swedish-based home furnishing giant has a real estate development division called LandProp Services  There’s looking to bring their thing for order and symmetry to housing.  In East London, near the area where the 2012 Olympics will be staged, Ikea plans to break ground on a hamlet, a post-modern (or is that post-ironic?) Levittown called Strand East.  The area would contain 1,200 houses and apartments for some 6,000 residents.  There would also be 480,000 square feet of business and infrastructure – which I take to mean shopping centers including groceries, fish and chips shops and a Cineplex or two.

“We are in keeping with the Ikea philosophy,” Harald Müller, head of LandProp said.  “We don’t want to produce for the rich or the super-rich, we want to produce for families, for the people.” 

Ikea is not the first global company to extend its world view in this way.  In 1994, Disney built a town called Celebration a few minutes drive from Walt Disney World in central Florida.  Disney these days no longer runs the town but its influences remain.  Its buildings reflect a mix they call neo-traditional.   Lara Marlowe on the July 22, 2011 ran this quote in her article about Celebration, “This is the hometown you’ve been searching for,” says the “Memory Book” that Carlson [a real estate agent] gives prospective buyers. “A place where kids still ride their bikes to school, and neighbours greet each other from wide sunny porches.”  Leaves made of tissue paper are distributed over well-kept lawns in the fall and Bing Crosby can be heard singing from hidden speakers.  As you, or Walt, might imagine, Celebration’s 10,000 or so residents are over-whelming white.

Jokes aside about Stand East being a ready-built enclave of thin outer walls put up with only an allen wrench and dowels, here’s hoping that Ikea’s effort lives up to Müller’s words. I take it as healthy symbolism the area for the town contains rusted machinery, hulks of empty buildings and dockyards.  That from this wasteland an urban planning experiment in mixed-income housing can bloom.  I’m sure there will be meatballs aplenty at the groundbreaking ceremony. 

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Friday, April 13, 2012 / 11:15 am

Fighting the Good Fight To the Last

OC concert promoter Ken Phebus did not go quietly into the night.

by Jim Washburn

Ken Phebus

Those of you who own a pickup truck leave yourselves open to years of hauling other people’s lives around. That’s the way of it: If you can carry the load, friends count on you to be there for them. My pickup truck owning friends know when I call that there’s a 30% or greater chance I’ll be asking them to help me schlep something around town. They answer anyway.

Being a writer also comes with assumed obligations, though they’re easier on the back. You get called on to help write everything from friends’ eBay ads to their novels.

And as you get older, and your friends start dying, you write their obituaries and eulogies. I’ve lost so many friends in the past few years that my word processor has begun to feel more like a hearse than a pickup truck.

The load doesn’t get any easier with experience. Each person gone is unique, and it would take far more than a book to even begin doing justice to the life each inhabited. 

The friend this time is Ken Phebus, who died of a heart attack the night before Easter. He changed Orange County’s musical landscape without ever playing a note of the stuff, and without most people ever hearing of him. Ken was a talent buyer. I never liked that title; it sounded like he was a livestock or commodities buyer, when he was a true artist at making good things happen.

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