Netflix is for more than bingeing, it’s also for learning. Get a history lesson and watch Let it Fall: Los Angeles 1982-1992.
When unequivocal violence at the hands, knees, or weapons of police officers enters the homes of Americans who do not often see it, the bubble the U.S. maintains pops.
Social media has been popping that bubble over and over again, relentlessly in the 21st century, but in 1991, it was footage from a video camera that turned police brutality into a national conversation, and it is a conversation we have had for generations.
It is the conversation documented in Let It Fall: Los Angeles 1982-1992, a documentary you can – and should – watch on Netflix.
History repeats itself. It is an adage often used resignedly as something has happened before happens again, though the spark for its occurrence is different. The United States is no stranger to civil unrest. Real change in this country has nearly always derived from provocation. Civil disobedience is written into the very DNA of our origin as a nation.
So it should come as no surprise that American citizens are organizing, disrupting, and shutting down cities across the country in an effort to seek justice for George Floyd. His death, like those before him, has become a symbol for the Black Lives Matter movement. George’s murder is the spark that has seen people taking to the streets crying out for systematic change.
But we’ve done this before. We’ve done this for nearly a decade, and it was done the decade before that, and the decade before that, and so on and so forth.
The outrage we are seeing is not new. Almost 30 years ago, Rodney King was beaten by four LAPD officers. Unlike George Floyd, he survived his attack. But the subsequent acquittal of the officers involved resulted in four days of rioting in Los Angeles.
63 people lost their lives, 2,000 were injured, and 12,000 arrested. 3,000 buildings were burned or destroyed, 20,000-40,000 people were out of work, and 1 billion dollars in damages were sustained. But in order to understand why this happened, you have to understand that the beating of Rodney King wasn’t an isolated incident; it’s simply the incident that was caught on camera and broadcast nationally by the news.
Communities of color, particularly Black and Latino communities, had been dealing with an oppressive and aggressive police presence in Los Angeles for decades. Hence the Watts riots of 1965. Cracking down on gangs and the traffic of drugs often went hand and hand with officers dismissing the rights of citizens and using excessive force to get the job done.
What happened in 1965 is what happened in 1992, and it’s what is happening in 2020. It’s not Los Angeles, it’s Minneapolis but it’s the same fuse even if it’s a different spark.
America is a powder keg. When the voices of citizens go unheard, when change seems to only come when business as usual is inconvenienced and held hostage, and even then the change is incremental, if existent at all, you get what we’ve seen in the week since George Floyd’s death. Protests mixed with riots, rights being violated, laws being disobeyed, and the nation’s hurt spilling out into the streets like a wave engulfing everything in its path.
The Los Angeles riots are an important part of American history. Not only because it was a display of violence enacted by police against a citizen going unchecked and uncensored provoking citizens to commit violence en masse but also because, like most of American history, the LA riots are a cautionary tale.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said in his “The Other America” speech:
I think America must see that riots do not develop out of thin air. Certain conditions continue to exist in our society which must be condemned as vigorously as we condemn riots. But in the final analysis, a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it that America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the plight of the Negro poor has worsened over the last few years. It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice, equality, and humanity. And so in a real sense our nation’s summers of riots are caused by our nation’s winters of delay. And as long as America postpones justice, we stand in the position of having these recurrences of violence and riots over and over again. Social justice and progress are the absolute guarantors of riot prevention.
So I ask, while things have changed in the 53 years since Dr. King made his speech at Stanford University, how much progress have we made? It’s summertime and there are riots due to the nation’s winters of delay. Former officer Derek Chauvin was arrested and charged for the murder of George Floyd. Protestors are calling for the arrest of the three officers who bore witness to Chauvin’s attack and are therefore complicit. But arrests and charges are not convictions, and if a jury of his peers acquits Chauvin we may have another tragedy akin to the Los Angeles riots of ’92 on our hands with the potential to spark similar riots in cities across the nation.
What is the means of preventing more summers of riots? Learning from our past to inform our present so that we may shape our future as a nation. Knowledge is power and in America, the way we exercise that power is voting. Demonstrating is important but, like faith without works, it will mean nothing if further action is not taken. In this case, further action is voting.
Register to vote, let your voice be heard on the local, state, and national level. Keep your knowledge up, the more you learn about history, the more you learn about how we’ve gotten to this place that feels unfathomable to some but was inevitable to others.
The call for change starts in the streets, but it’s the seats of power that enact that change. Change who is in those seats, and you change how that power is wielded.