20 years ago today, there was a nation-wide rebellion against the police and private ownership of property. The incident that sparked this rebellion was the innocent verdict given to the Los Angeles Police Department pigs who beat Rodney King nearly to death while being videotaped by the relatively new technology of handheld videotape recorders.
In commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the 1992 Riots which began on April 29, we want to note some of the great music that came out of this rebellion. It has been said that if one is to learn about a peoples, one should look at their poetry and their songs. Advance the Struggle finds this true and believes that culture and art are going to be fundamental to a proletarian led Socialist revolution in the US. If we look around today (2012) and see the relentless police terror on Black and Brown people, coupled with the capitalist economic depression which is far worse than that of 1992, and we see all the positive organized resistance to it, we might start to believe that we are on the cusp of a pre-revolutionary situation. Looking back to ’92, things felt more like they were on the verge of a civil war – and one of the best ways to get a feel for that is through the powerful music that the riots produced.
More after the jump:
The explosion on April 29, 1992 produced an array of results.
One of the most noteworthy of these is the nationwide truce between the two gangs that at that time were the biggest in the US; the Bloods and the Crips. The truce was famously symbolized by the tying together of blue and red rags after the riots, but the truce was actually formalized one day before it. Despite the widespread destruction of (non-personal, non-residential) property, a period of relative peace followed in the wake of the riots as the most marginalized parts of the Black and Brown proletariat saw a dramatic drop in gang-related murders.
Another result of the riot was that Black and Brown people fell into an organic alliance against the Police and Private property, in an atmosphere of racial tension. It was made organic by the similar oppression they shared. The 1990 Census showed that California’s Latino population was soaring due to immigration. In 1980 it was 19%, in 1990 it was 26%. This was the transition period from Blacks having a virtual monopoly on being the specter of racially inferior people that must be suppressed by a cross-class white supremacy, to Latinos coming more into that spotlight and, because of capital, competing heavily with Black people (“Metal banging and transport industry jobs, which blacks only started moving into in the tail end of the boom in late 60s and the early 70s, have left the city, while about one million Latino immigrants have arrived, taking jobs in low-wage manufacturing and labor-intensive services.”)
In a period of sharp economic recession, Latino immigrants were the primary scapegoat for job-loss and crime, slowly taking over the role that used to be the domain of Black “welfare queens” etc. By 1994, voters in California passed the infamous Prop 187 “Save Our State” initiative, which aimed at excluding undocumented immigrants from all social services including public schools (Sound familiar? Arizona reactionaries took a page from that book). The main goal of this strategy (and ones like these) was and has always being to take the blame off the system and place it on the working class. To turn part of the proletariat on it self. Indeed, the racial tension in the early 90’s and 80’s was not (and is not) limited to White-Black racism, either. Latino immigrants seemed to many blacks of the urban core to be flooding in and taking over neighborhoods. Racially exclusive gangs targeted each other and racially motivated fist fights between Latinos and Blacks were standard in LA schools and hoods.
But despite the intra-class antagonisms of urban proletarians, they united in action against their common enemies: the police and private property. Dr. Dre asserted in his song “The Day the Niggaz Took Over”: “They found that they couldn’t handle us Bloods, Crips on the same squad with the Ese’s thumpin, nigga it’s time ta rob and mob (And break the white man off somthin lovely! badda-bum-bum! I don’t love dem so they can’t love me!)”
Indeed, Latinos represented the highest proportion of arrests made during the LA riots. “In L.A., Hispanics, blacks and some whites united against the police; the composition of the riot reflected the composition of the area. Of the first 5,000 arrests, 52 per cent were poor Latinos, 10 per cent whites and only 38 per cent blacks.” The proletariat broke the strategy of the State and the Bourgeois (Racism) in practice by being in solidarity with it self!
People struggled for answers to all the swirling contradictions cracked wide open by the spontaneous explosion of rage, and celebrated at the prospects of what freedom might feel like. Hundreds of thousands of people did “free shopping” that day without fear in the midst of terrible economic recession (compared to the Oscar Grant looting, which were very much hurried, the LA looting was much more calm).
Yet, Black on Black, Brown on Brown, and Brown-Black violence resumed as the Blood/Crip truce broke down in the next year and every day economic necessity proved gangsterism to be permanent fixture of the contemporary political-economy of the USA. Job competition amongst every group was rampant, as was the battle for space in the city which decades after White flight was entrenched now became increasingly a competition between Black to hold onto their spaces and Latinos to establish theirs. Whites were feeling the double threat of a Black and Brown menace to their hegemony and responded in generally ignorant, reactionary, and violent fashion with hate crimes and white supremacist militias soaring nation-wide.
Thousands of people were politicized by the ’92 Riots, which expressed resurgence in Black nationalism, accompanied by a resurgent White nationalism epitomized by the mushrooming of the militia movement in rural America. This time period was flooded with racial tensions, both in every day life as well as manufactured in the media. Every week in the early 90s you saw shows like Jerry Springer, Donahue, Oprah, and Maury Povich featuring KKK members, Nazis and their Black nationalist counterparts preaching violence and hate. This is when questions like “is Ebonics a language that deserves bilingual status in the public schools just like Spanish?” was hot, and “can black people be racist?” were everyday discourse in every sector of society
Below are two tracks, one from Sublime and the other by Dr. Dre. Two artists and two genres which folk might think are opposites; Ska-Punk and G-Funk Rap. We do not think they are opposites as much as they are cousins rooted in cross-racial rebellion. We also note the fact that both Sublime and Dr. Dre promote the idea of using violence to loot what they feel rightfully belongs to poor people, and thus they express a political analysis of sorts and a material solidarity in actuality. Both the songs “April 29, 1992” and the “The Day the Niggaz Took Over” speak to an incident which shook up the United States for 5 days and beyond. These two songs very well depict the emotions and the actuality of the situation.
Sublime is valuable as a counter-narrative to the White racist trend with their Black and Mexican influences and sympathies. One could criticize their lyrics for tokenizing Black and Brown people, but the fabric of their narrative is a multi-racial urban reality in their neighborhoods in Orange County and Long Beach. Lead singer Bradley reps his Spanglish and familiarity with Brown and Black LA, usually with a message of unity rooted in the common working class grind (“platicaba con la raza because they know who we are” Sublime; Caress Me Down). Asians were 2% of those arrested during the riots, Whites were 9% , blacks were 38%, and Latinos 51%. We are fortunate that Sublime established the record in popular culture that Whites are also against the cops and ready and willing to act with force in a way that is not directed at non-Whites, and doing their part destroy the myth of Black and Brown racial criminality (Sublime: “It’s getting harder, and harder, and harder each and every year/ Some kids went in a store with their mother/I saw her when she came out she was gettin’ some Pampers/They said it was for the black man/They said it was for the Mexican/ And not for the white man/But if you look at the streets, it wasn’t about Rodney King/In this fucked-up situation and these fucked-up police/It’s about comin’ up and stayin’ on top/And screamin’ 1-8-7 on a mother fuckin’ cop/It’s not in the paper, it’s on the wall”)
Dr. Dre and his label at the time, Deathrow, must be understood as a young rebellious label. Dr. Dre, a non-political rapper, was coming out of NWA, the well known group that produced the track “Fuck the Police”. They history of Dr. Dre and Deathrow in the music industry should be looked at more carefully, as it represents a small group of poor black youth shaking up the Bourgeois values through their reporting of what was happening on the streets of LA with very violent and explicit lyrics. Dr. Dre in Hip-Hop should also be looked at as someone who became central in expanding Rap, that is the MC-ing and DJ-ing aspect within Hip-Hop, leaving out the break dancing and graffiti (indeed, Deathrow didn’t take that trait from East Coast too far, if at all). Indeed, Rap was expanded in the West with its own funky flavor.
The Bay and LA were hot in those days in the Rap game, and indeed, they were connected most notably through the greatest rapper of all time; 2pac Shakur.
Both Sublime and Dr. Dre speak in a capacity beyond mere reporting – they claim to have proudly taken part personally. Bradley from Sublime says “I participated in some anarchy” and Dre says he’s with “… us Bloods, Crips on the same squad with the Ese’s thumpin, nigga…” As communists, we want a higher level of consciousness coming from cultural leaders, we want to see the message that the only way for the shopping to permanently be free and for their to be no police terror is for us to kick out all capitalists and manage society collectively. So even though we celebrate the riots and appreciate its music, and even though we respect the realism offered by Sublime and Dre’s accounts, we aim for something bigger next time around. We know that the ’92 riots were not a safe place for a lot of people, that despite the opportunity to loot, they didn’t because the streets were too wild. We want a revolution in which the whole proletariat can participate, even as we stand in awe of the fact that parts of that proletariat are willing able to unleash liberatory rage into jubilation in the streets.
Most of us are eclectic when it comes to music, and the cultural messages we want to receive. Most of us are also flexible in our political analysis, mixing up a little bit of this with a little bit of that (though, there is a difference between this and eclecticism in terms of politics. We take this and that, but from a revolutionary tradition in general, and the Communist tradition in particular). If we want more from our artists, we equally expect that at the very least, every revolutionary appreciate the simmering potential of the proletariat to erupt en masse. Given the role played by revolutionaries of various political persuasions during the waves of street protest and rebellion over the past couple years in various cities in the US, things are looking bright on that tip.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OkoMXxN_p3Y (Sublime Song)
Here is a thorough study of the composition of the LA Rioters and the portrayal of them in the popular media:
And here is another analysis from a class struggle perspective: