1992 Remembered: From Inglewood to Brentwood |
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1992 Remembered: From Inglewood to Brentwood

Erin Aubry Kaplan

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(Editor’s Note: Frying Pan News continues its series about the 1992 unrest with this account told to us by Erin Aubry Kaplan.)

I was living in Inglewood in 1992. When the verdicts came in I was getting a facial — we were all really outraged in the salon. At that time I was teaching adult education courses — basic English and math for GED exams, plus ESL classes. I felt like I had to do something and a teacher friend and I heard there was a rally at the First AME Church. I was excited — I hadn’t really seen this kind of energizing in L.A. before. But as we drove to FAME people were filling up the streets and the energy felt dangerous.

We never made it: This guy threw a trash can into the street and someone tried to stop a motorist. (My father also went to FAME and didn’t make it inside because it was too crowded — but things got ugly and people started to leave. Some guys were ready to bust up my dad’s car, but somebody he knew yelled at them, “He’s okay, he’s Larry Aubry, good people!” and they backed off.)

So we kept driving west to where the streets weren’t filled and ended up in Brentwood at a bar – in the Hamburger Hamlet! The mostly white crowd there only wanted to watch the Lakers. My friend and I got mad at that too — we were the only two black people in Brentwood and we were scolding these white people for not caring about what was happening in South Central.

A fair amount of stuff happened in Inglewood that wasn’t publicized – there was quite a lot of looting, and a curfew — which is why I didn’t go out after the first night. My sister was working at the Auto Club near USC. From a distance she looks white and so she had to drive off through red lights a couple of times, because people were coming after her whenever she stopped.

I was mostly excited and expected something major to come out of this. A big tide was turning — I felt the iron curtain had lifted. At the same time there was a new jazz club on Crenshaw and King that got burned to the ground, and that really killed me.

For almost five years I had been sort of working with a small publication called Accent L.A., but the riots realigned my priorities. We pulled the issue we’d been working on and rewrote a new one to cover the unrest. We put together a pretty good issue and got it out.

Soon afterward the L.A. Times hired me — the official beginning of my journalism career. They had a crisis of conscience and started all these new sections I wrote for, covering the Crenshaw area for three years. The Times had a diversity committee for a while and that created some tension in the newsroom – they’d rounded up black and Latino reporters from the Valley or Orange County bureaus to cover South Central. People knew it was dangerous — they were cannon fodder.

Not nearly as much changed after the riots as I thought would. Stuff was cleaned up and the police have gotten better, but we didn’t learn our lessons. We ended up with “retail justice” — all that black anger about inequality of justice got focused on Let’s Build Some Stores – Krispy Kreme, a Home Depot. There’s not a core economy, though — just stores that serve people who work elsewhere. Unemployment in the city is worse now. Twenty years later, look at that leveled land next to the Crenshaw Mall – that’s all you need to know.

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