It’s August 1965 in Watts, a neighborhood in Los Angeles, California.
Black people are protesting after an officer attempted to arrest Marquette Frye for driving drunk. With racial tensions high and segregation still prevalent, the incident was the spark leading to six days of unrest – later to be known as the Watts Riots.
Fast forward to May of 1992 in Los Angeles, California. The beating of Rodney King by four policemen with batons and tasers is caught on camera for the entire world to watch, overwhelmingly with shock. Overnight, Rodney King became a household name and reminder of police brutality and systemic racism in America. His beating also led to five days of looting, the decimation of property, and over 50 lives lost.
28 years later, America is reliving its own racist past at the expense of George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man who was killed after an officer kneeled down on his neck for almost nine minutes. Americans and people around the world began to protest against police brutality and racism, and still continue to do so.
55 years later and we are still fighting for police reform.
Many Non-Black People of Color (NBPOCs) as well as White people have been out protesting alongside Black people. However, this even has been fraught with tension and lost in semantics in a time when words are especially dangerous. “Looters” versus “rioters” versus “peaceful protestors.” Some are using the protests as an excuse to loot stores. Others have been seen on video angry and brought to tears by those spraying “Black Lives Matter” and “BLM” on businesses, reminding people that this is not a part of the protest agenda.
In many ways, Black Lives Matter no longer belongs to its founders. Arguments erupt online at a constant pace about the meaning of the phrase. The words are often tossed around, fought over, and eventually buried in Twitter comments.
One thing is for sure, many people–including black people–have not begun to process the fact that we are just now gaining a collective voice to call for change 55 years after the Watts Riots, 28 years after the LA riots, and even after numerous black lives have been lost. Even those who mean well, are still blind to the complexities of racism in America.
These are some of the topics that panelists had after the screening of “LA 92” by National Geographic this week.
Screening of “LA 92” and Panel Discussion
National Geographic held a free virtual screening of “LA 92” followed by a panel discussion. Panelists included: Dream Hampton, Award-Winning Filmmaker, and Writer; Jamal Simmons, Host of #ThisisFYI on Instagram and CBS News Political Contributor; Jelani Cobb, New Yorker Staff Writer; Jane Elliott, Anti-Racism Educator; as well as the Directors of “LA 92” TJ Martin and Daniel Lindsay. Debra Adams Simmons, Executive Editor, Culture at National Geographic, moderated the conversation.
One of the film’s directors stated that they created this film to “use the power of video to compel us as a country to face hard truths.” This film does just that. This almost two-hour documentary film walks viewers through the beating of Rodney King, the subsequent trial of the four officers (later acquitted) as well as the protests, looting, and riots that ensued. The film also touches upon the case of Latasha Harlins which fueled the anger of many Black Americans and raised tensions between the Korean and Black communities of Los Angeles. TJ Martin and Daniel Lindsay didn’t leave out any of the tragic and oftentimes gruesome scenes from those five days of rage. As a viewer, it is difficult not to compare today’s outcries for change to those of 1992.
The panelists had roughly an hour to discuss the film, police reform, and systemic racism, only scratching the surface.
Some of the main takeaways of that conversation included:
- The need to vote. Voting does not only consist of going to your designated policing place but reading and studying the issues and learning about the candidates.
- The importance of state and local governments in enacting change in police departments across the country.
- What defunding and changing police departments would look like, such as adding mental health services for officers or having social service providers respond to a call with an officer depending on the issue.
- The importance of supporting the economic empowerment of Black people. After enduring centuries of mistreatment, it’s important to give people of color the ability to build, own, and maintain their own spaces within their communities.
We still have a long way to go. Racism, prejudice, and hate are still embedded in our society. Many feel hopeless and for valid reasons. If anything is sure, unity against adversity is power.