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On the 30th anniversary of the Los Angeles riots that rocked America in 1992, we asked Triawna Wood, a lifelong Los Angeles resident, about her thoughts and insights.
Los Angeles broke out after the Simi Valley jury acquitted officers Stacey Koon, Laurence Powell, Timothy Wind and Theodore Briseno of beating Rodney King. The riots lasted for six days, and when the smoke eased, 63 people were killed, 2,383 were injured and more than 12,000 were arrested. The damage to property was estimated to be over $ 1 billion.
Wood was four and a half years old and was living with his family in the Jordan Downs projects in the Watts neighborhood when the unrest broke out. Today, she is a married army veteran who teaches her three children at home.
The following is a question and answer that has been easily edited and compressed for clarity. We strongly encourage you to watch the accompanying video so you can hear Wood in her own words.
Q: Where were you then Los Angeles riots began?
ONE: I was in kindergarten. My mom picked me up from school, we were on our way home. My normal routine was that my mom watched soap operas, and when the soap operas got underway, I knew it was my time to watch cartoons. But the soap operas were interrupted by the verdict. And I think, ‘How long is this going to last? I want to see my shows.’
I remember my brother and sister coming home, my dad coming home, and then guessing hours later that you just started hearing noises outside. People were right outside, more than usual, because it was usually pretty quiet. At this point, we lived at the back, very far back in the Jordan Downs projects, just before you came to Alameda. If there was like an earthquake, or random shots on a normal day, we would always go to the stairwell in the middle of the house, just in case, to get shelter. I remember, specifically, the night I spent all that night curled up in my dad’s lap on the top of the stairs, in the stairwell. All night I fell asleep in his lap.
I HAVE LIVED IN LA FOR MORE THAN 30 YEARS AND I FEEL I DON’T LEARN SAFE
And then the next day, my parents tried to tell us what was going on. My brother and sister were old enough to understand more than I was. And they explained to me, “You do not go to school the rest of the week – at least until they tell us when you can come back.” I thought, “Okay.” So we just hung out pretty much most of the week.
All week I remember my mother’s friend brought us groceries because she did not live in the city. Because we could not come up here to this part of the neighborhood to go to the store, because this was the only grocery store in the area.
I remember the aftermath, the fallout later. After coming back to the world again and looking at all the mom and pop stores, the liquor stores have just gone on board or been torn apart. And I remember thinking like a little tiny four- or five-year-old, what do you think of this?
Q: What was the most vivid memory you had?
ONE: The most vivid memory was learning that my family members, or people close to our family, were not as sweet of characters as I thought they were. I think it was the first time, specifically, a close relative of ours, I saw him in a different light. It was someone I always thought was very protective, sweet, funny. I was not aware that this person was also into gang activity and took advantage of a time that was really so violent. I think it was the first time I saw him like that.
He was not evil when he came past our house or anything like that, but for him to offer poorly bought goods, we were a bit like the black Brady Bunch. We were the healthy family – in church every day, every week, all year round. But that was the first time I had that interaction and was like, “Oh, we know people who are like the bad people you see on TV.” And it gave me a sense that the world is bigger than I realized.
Question: Did you understand the anger of the troublemakers, or were you more concerned with maintaining law and order?
ONE: I remember my father sat down and explained to me through his own stories of police harassment. And I started to understand like, “Okay, I know now that some people are going to treat me differently because of the way I look.”
But at the same time, I remember playing through my head because I had seen news clips of the Rodney King video, and I say, “Well, but if he did something bad, shouldn’t they hit him and arrest him?” But I did not know that there should have been limits then. And then just putting all the puzzle pieces together like a young child is like, “Oh. So you don’t just hit someone bloody and arrest them.” But that’s what I thought, because that’s what you see on TV, but you did not expect to see it in real life. And it was the first time I realized art mimics life.
Question: What do you think is the biggest lesson to be learned from the riots?
ONE: One thing I think people took from it is: maybe we should not ruin our own things. But I do not think it should have been the only thing people should have taken from it. I think if we learn to see things as not just black and white, but more nuanced on an individual basis and pause before we react, we might think of a stronger way to react that has a better effect. for a better result.
Question: Do you think the riots sent a message, or do you think it harmed the black society?
ONE: I think it hurt more. But I also think it came out of evil. It was just this evil revolving door of just pain on top of pain. Due to not knowing how to treat that pain in a healthy way.
Q: Har LAPD improved in the years after the unrest?
ONE: To be honest, they said they made improvements. I have met with a few officers and commanders over the years for various reasons. Some of them, their hearts look like it’s in the right place. But I do not think they may have had enough opportunities to really engage in change, in the process of actually getting better. And I think it’s because, firstly, society has no trust. And two, a lot of younger officers… who started replacing those who retired had no interest in the community they serve. And I think if there are improvements to be made, that’s where it starts – creating a relationship with the people of the community.
One thing I learned from being in the service when I was in the Army before I went to Afghanistan, you wanted months on top of months of training. You learn the language, you learn about the people, you learn about their customs. What is considered okay, what is not okay. How to behave, how to talk to people, how to shake hands. Before you even set foot on the plane, you need to understand all of these things. And I think the police could take a chapter out of that book. How can you protect and serve a group of people that you really do not understand at all?
Question: The Los Angeles riots changed The angels forever. How did it change the city? How did that change you?
ONE: It was one of many experiences or events in my life that was another drop in the bucket that basically solidified an idea in my head that I live in a country that never really cared about people who looks like me. And it’s hard to sit with, and I felt that pain and that anger for years before I was even able to process it.
But what about changing the city? Yes, I think it changed the city a lot. Especially the black society, because it lives through a trauma that is never recognized, never talked about openly. So there is never room to heal from it, but it is the black experience through American history.
But as far as the city in general is concerned, I think it has changed the way we provide security. Like the mall around here, back then there were no gates around it. There was not a time of night when everything just opened up and there was no way in or out. And there are as many places as that. There are so many extra safety precautions and I do not know if I necessarily feel more secure because of it. And I think people take for granted the freedoms we had in exchange for a false sense of security…
People were much more closed after that. I think that was when I started to see the shift in people not getting to know their neighbors. Even when I was growing up on the projects, even though my parents were strict, I not only had to hang out and go and do anything, but we knew the majority of our neighbors in a row. Everyone knew each other because it was a community. I think after that one started to see a decrease in that sense of community. People stopped talking to each other for different reasons, but on a larger scale.
Q: It never recovered?
ONE: Never restored. Even in the neighborhood I live in now when we first moved there, I said hello to introduce myself. And people just looked at me like “F ***?” Like, “Who are you?” And I say, “I’m just saying hello, we just moved in.” People think it’s normal, but it’s not what I grew up with.
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Q: You talked about how you felt angry. Were you able to work your way through it, or are you still working through it?
ONE: I did not know that my father had run into the police before. I did not know it was a repetition. And I did not know that I would eventually experience similar things. Even on a milder scale, but still. And it was like, what do you do with it? So as a teenager – yes, the anxious teenager. But as a black teenager, do not express it, because now you are a threat. So it took me years to just work on myself and realize that no matter what has happened in the world, what has happened throughout history, it does not dictate where I want to be and how I want to be. And it took me years to work through it, to process all the emotions of how I saw the world. It even took me a lot to change my own perspective, time and time again. I was actively looking to get out, to explore, because that could not be the only way to look at life.
I think if there is one thing you should probably not do, it is that we all suffer from some form of trauma or pain. It is not only individual, and it is not only subject to the minority communities. It is always a different perspective that happens at the same time. And I think if we focus on learning to see how others perceive the same event or series of events and realize that we all suffered some kind of trauma from it, we can connect on a deeper level. of understanding how it affected the individual and how it affected us in general as a society. I believe that once you have shared pain, it makes you stronger. It makes it easier to tie. But we have to get out of our own individual pain first to experience that type of bond.