What Not To Say During A Riot

12 Aug

My first thought was whether my mother really REALLY needed to go to work the next day. Then I wondered about my uncle, my aunt, and I thanked God my Grandma and little sister were home and safe. We lived in a studio apartment–very tight quarters–and during the LA riots of 1992 I went from being a 10 year old to being an adult. I was now in direct worry about my family of grownups, telling them with the authority of a school principal that they would not be allowed to go to work while the riots were happening.

I don’t remember if they went or not, but I don’t think they took me seriously. My life then was mostly spent in front of the television, away from the hood which had always been dangerous but had recently transformed into outright hostility and anger. Our little apartment was my cocoon, and the only view I had outside was television.

As a 10 year old brown kid living in Inglewood I knew why the riots happened, even needed to happen. I knew why intrinsically, before I ever read the words “militarized police force” “inequality” or “segregation.” I knew why you needed to push bullies who got physical with you and so I knew why the riots happened, but I also knew that we hadn’t collectively agreed to riot, which was something many people didn’t care to know about us.

What not to say during a riot? Pontifications on the correctness of riots, treatises about why riots are wrong, calling people animals, y’know, all the stuff people say during a riot is not what I wanted to hear. Everything every one said during a riot was wrong, because nothing made me less scared. As an adult I can tell you what scared 10-year-old me would have liked to hear:

“Are you ok?”

“How is your family?”

“Need anything?”


The Irreverent Psychologist has some thoughts about “gays appropriating femmes” based on a post of mine. Read it.

-Researched the LA riots just a bit to refresh my memory about dates and how old I actually was then (it felt like I was a rugrat) and stumbled on this. Genuinely shocking to me because I vividly remember Reginald Denny’s beating but hadn’t heard about Fidel Lopez until just now, and it turns out he’s Guatemalan like me. It’s one thing to intellectually think about cultural erasure and identification, and it’s quite another to feel it slapped in your face years later.


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