Posted by Marcia Penner Freedman
Day 1: The riots broke out in Los Angeles at 5:30 p.m., April 29, 1992. It was a Wednesday. I was driving home from work at the time, unaware that earlier in the day the Superior Court of Ventura County had announced their acquittal of four L.A.P.D. officers in the beating of Rodney King, a 26-year-old African American man.
If, at the time of the beating in the early hours of March 3, 1991, George Holliday had not videotaped almost a minute of the savage beating, and if he had not turned that tape over to a local T.V. station, and if that videotape had not gone viral, it’s possible that the acquittal would not have been so carefully watched and L.A. would have been spared the rioting that caused over 50 deaths – including many homicides – 2,000 injuries, businesses and cars burned, and widespread looting.
The beating was captured on videotape, however, and everyone saw it, and after a year of legal maneuvering, everyone was waiting for the trial’s outcome. The acquittal was received with shock and outrage, and a chain reaction of anger and lawlessness erupted.
By the time I arrived home that night, Reginald Denny had been dragged from his truck and thrashed on the street; the first car burnings and rock-throwing at passing cars had occurred; buildings were beginning to burn.
I parked myself in front of the T.V. and, for over three hours sat transfixed by scenes of looting and arson, people raging in the streets, and Mayor Tom Bradley calling for calm. When a state of emergency was declared, a dusk to dawn curfew imposed, and after Governor Pete Wilson called in the National Guard, I turned off the T.V. and planned on going to sleep.
But I was a changed person, driven by an urgency to leave my house – curfew be damned. I roamed the dark streets, searching for I knew not what. Flame-lit skies surrounded my quiet neighborhood, a reminder that all was not well. When I finally returned home and climbed into bed, I fell into a deep, heavy, dreamless sleep.
Day 2: In the morning I awoke confused and disoriented. Then, with a jolt to my gut, I recalled the events of the previous night. The disquiet returned. I wanted to go to work, but the office was closed, so I left the house and drove around aimlessly, unable to concentrate. I cannot recall where I went or what I saw that day.
Day 3: The next morning I awoke knowing what what I needed to do. My neighborhood was adjacent to an area called the Crenshaw District, a predominantly Black community and a center of Black business, art, music and culture. Many a day I had enjoyed shopping and lunching there. So I got in my car and drove to the Crenshaw.
What I found was both beautiful and dreadful, hopeful and discouraging, calm. The streets were crowded with young and old sweeping debris, boarding up windows, dousing still smoldering fires. People hugged and chatted. Traffic lights were out, and cars barely moved along the streets. At one point, I sat in my car waiting for the intersection ahead to clear, and bawled.
When I left the Crenshaw I drove directly to Home Depot. This, like most of my moves over the past days had not been planned. I entered and walked directly to the garden shop. Now, I am not, nor ever was a gardener. But when I walked out of Home Depot with a flat of tomato plants, I never questioned why.
At home, I filled a bucket with water and doused a narrow strip of dirt at the side of my house. I began tearing at the soil with my bare hands. Poured more and more water on the spot. I scooped out handfuls and dug some more.
And then, as if coming awake, I felt the ooze squeeze through my fingers and saw my hands caked with the rich dark mud. Everything slowed and softened. My heart. My muscles. My hands. The roiling in my stomach disappeared. I stopped digging and sat cross-legged on the pavement. Quiet. At peace.
In my post next week, I’m going to reflect on my journey from stress to peace in 36 hours.