Monday, April 29, 2002

The riots started 10 years ago today. And, although I don't often let myself, I can feel like I'm right there again. I remember the initial feeling of disbelief when I realized how close I had been to walking by the intersection of Florence and Normandie, the initial feeling of relief that even though I had been out on the streets alone, no one had bothered me or acted as if anything was happening. I got my paper bound just fine, and luckily decided not to walk to school and turn it in.

I remember the deep thudding in my chest every time the Marines helicopter went over my building. In my sleep, I could distinguish the difference between the news helicopters, the police helicopters, the military helicopters.

I remember standing at my window in my dark room--breaking the rules because we were supposed to stay down to avoid sniper fire--talking to Chong on the phone and being so angry I never wanted to talk to her again. Angry that she'd trivialize the situation, angry that she'd think I was out on the streets contributing to the violence, angry that all she wanted to talk about was her job when I was standing there watching a building on the next block burn down. Angry that she didn't care enough to even watch the news.

I remember being told to come off the roof--it must have been the first day--because the police were going to fire on us if we didn't. And being disappointed because it was the best vantage point to watch how close the fires were getting. Watching the billows of black and grey and yellow smoke between us and campus and wondering what would be left and how close everything would come to us.

I remember the empty parking lot next to our building, empty for the first time ever because people were afraid to come to work.

I remember looking down onto Grand Ave. and watching the police cars move in a V-formation, taking up all the lanes.

And I remember the absolute silence and stillness between police patrols. Rationally, I know there must have been sirens and noises and murmurs, but all I remember is that none of the noise of my life was there anymore. Everyone was gone, no one was on the streets, no one was moving, and the silence was the most impressive thing I've experienced in my life.

I was afraid to leave my turtle in his aquarium for fear I'd be on the ground floor when we were evacuated and wouldn't be allowed to go back up and get him.

I was angry at USC for not providing for us, for leaving us without food for the entire time, for not bringing us anything. And I was angrier still at all the USC students who fled the campus and went back to their safe havens and ignored the entire thing. I hated USC for throwing its gates closed and leaving us outside and not taking care of us.

I updated my answering machine every hour so if my parents called, they would know I was still okay. I didn't like to be alone in my room with the curtains drawn, I couldn't stay there, I had to be out in the building somewhere. Jen and David called every couple of hours the first day or so, to talk to me, to apologize for not being able to come rescue me. They couldn't get through to downtown LA from Culver City, and I didn't want them to try. I remember talking to Doyle, he joked about my answering machine message for my parents.

We tried to hold a meeting of teaching assistants, only to be distracted by the noise in the streets. We crowded around the window, watching a chicano/latino man break the window of the Foot Locker across Grand Ave. Where did all those people come from? The streets were empty, but almost before the glass landed on the sidewalk, swarms of people were in the store, gathering up the shoes. I wondered what they would do with the shoes if they didn't fit. The police showed up, maybe there was a silent alarm, and everyone got away except one poor woman. The cop handcuffed her to a tree and left. I didn't get to see what happened when he came back or how long she stood chained to the tree. I was embarrassed about everything, and sad.

I was impressed by the damage, the burned stores and buildings I walked by on my way to school. I was afraid to take photographs (but I did, sneaking my camera out of my pocket when I thought no one would see me). I was afraid to walk by myself by the Korean stores. I was either amused, impressed or embarrassed by the first billboard I saw asking if we could all get along. I still don't know how I felt (but I took a picture of it).

The fury at USC's hypocrisy. I walked to the one grocery store in the area and had to sidestep a fully-armed national guardsman to enter. The commencement ceremonies on campus were repeatedly interrupted by military helicopters (the Coliseum was the staging ground for the armed forces responding to the riots) and national guardsmen were everywhere. And the president of the university gave this speech about USC's role in the community, and how much it meant for the university to get out amongst its neighbors, and I wanted to stand up and yell, "Yeah, then why'd you lock your gates, you bastard? Why did all your white kids go home to their Beverly Hills adjacent addresses and bury their heads in the fucking sand?"

I was confused by my role in all of this as a white gay female--disempowered in some areas, but privileged because of my skin. L.A. wasn't my home, and I didn't even understand most of what was going on. I didn't know what role I had in the black v. asian conflict, and if it was any of my business. I just didn't want to get shot.

And two weeks later, when I was called a white bitch by those guys who backed me against that fence, all I could think was how stupid it was to kill me just because I was white, just because I was female. And after I was safe, I thought what it must be like to feel that feeling all the time, and wondered if I would hurt someone with less power than me just because I finally could.

How much changes in 10 years?

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