I have read several thought pieces reflecting on the 25 years after the Los Angeles uprisings, after the acquittal of the police officers involved in the brutal beating of motorist Rodney King. One aspect of the coverage that has been deeply disturbing to me has been the consistent use of the word “riot” to describe the aftermath of the court’s decision. Indeed, much of what occurred in Los Angeles could be described as a “violent public disturbance.” Indeed, some of the actions that occurred could be described as a riot. However, I would posit that many of the actions that occurred in April 1992 could also be described as a rebellion.
A rebellion is defined as, “an act of violent or open resistance to an established government or ruler.” The urban uprisings witnessed by the world were in many ways an act of civil disobedience and frustration at what many saw as a blatant disregard for the rule of law and the basic human and civil rights of Black Americans for generations. The subsequent death tolls should have been the lead takeaway by the media. That is, innocent civilians caught up in the anger and genuine boiling point of a community. Unfortunately, the main takeaway that the media chose to highlight was the more than $1 billion in property damage. Since when does property damage trump a human life or human dignity?
The obsession with property damage reminded me of the Baltimore uprisings after the death/murder of Freddie Gray in April 2015. The media’s fixation of the damage done to a lone CVS disgusted me on a visceral level. The desensitization of Black life in this country allows journalists to see but refuse to process the anguish, grief, loss and anger of entire communities and focus on the lowest hanging fruit, in this case, a multinational billion-dollar company.
I have asked myself so many times what coverage would look like if Black police officers roamed white neighborhoods and executed white boys and girls in cold blood and in broad daylight. It is hard to imagine because it just would not happen. It does not happen. In this nation built on white supremacy, patriarchy and anti-Black racism, it “cannot” happen because of the historical hierarchies that posit a Black life is somehow not worth preserving or valuing by so many people in positions of authority.
So we are left to reflect on the events of 1992 while comparing them to the events of 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017, as well the 20 years before what appears to be a surge in anti-Black violence by the state. We know that these events aren’t new, but individuals carrying video cameras in their pockets definitely is. Thus we remain vigilant and continue to fight for change, even if that change comes in the form of rebellion.
Christina Greer, Ph.D., is an associate professor at Fordham University, the author of “Black Ethnics: Race, Immigration, and the Pursuit of the American Dream” and the host of The Aftermath on Ozy.com. You can find her on Twitter @Dr_CMGreer.