Children played guns in the streets while enterprising vendors hawked everything from peanuts to produce, blankets, T-shirts, other people’s property as well as crack and even themselves. Ah… the free enterprise system in action.
The cops drive by glaring hatefully at the residents, and then swarm some hapless petty dope dealer and hog-tie him in a show of force. This clears the streets for a few minutes, but when they leave everything returns to the way it always is.
But somehow today seems different. The air is tense with restless energy and it feels like the whole damn town’s about to blow.
Two hundred yards from here in a narrow duplex on Somerset Drive there lives a young boy with brown eyes and unruly curls. Sam Maverick is fourteen. His father was dead and his mother cleaned rich folk’s homes to feed herself and her son. Sam did odd jobs for an old junk store owner named Isaac Dodson, and he worked long hard hours after school.
One cold gray afternoon, Mr. Dodson sent Sam to take some books to Miller’s Used Book Store. It was April the 15th, 1992. Halfway there a friend shouted to Sam.
"Sam, hey Sam, have you heard the news yet? They’re gonna reach a verdict on the Rodney King case. I heard word that they ain’t gonna be found guilty. And them cops that raided ol’ man Mizzer’s house ain’t even gonna get charged for bein’ in the wrong either. Man I tell ya, this system’s fucked!"
Just then an undercover police car drove up and two officers jumped out of the car, badges in hand, hands on guns.
"What you got there in the bag, boy? You moving dope? Or you got a stereo in there? Why don’t you give me that bag and put your hands on the hood where I can see ’em?"
Sam’s friend, still flushed with anger, spoke back. "Why don’t you go fuck yourself, pig? We ain’t gotta do jack. We ain’t violating so why are you jumpin’ our shit?"
"Listen you little punk…" Just then Sam’s friend shanked the cop in his side, leaving the big man to drop to his knees stuttering in wide-eyed disbelief.
Realizing that he’d better get the hell outta there, Sam bolted down an alley way, stashing the books behind a dumpster.
Meanwhile, many blocks away, Hennery Miller was tending his bookstore. The electronic beeper sounded and in came Mario Lespucci. "Mario Lespucci, how goes it wit’chou?"
"Not so good Hennery, thing’s issa not so good. Matta’ a fact, dey stink."
Mario Lespucci was a snack food vendor with wild gray hair and powerful green eyes. He often stopped by to pick up books to study English. Hennery got a kick out of listening to his fiery Italian friend protesting the incomprehensible tax laws that were ruining his business.
"Canna you believe it? Not only do dey tax soda pop, but now dey starts taxin’ alla da snacks. Now whatta is I a gonna do? There’s a no way that I canna compete with the bigga stores. And you only know they’s a gonna raise da taxes even more. Whoever heard of a tax that did anyting but go’ a up?"
Just then the door slammed open and in ran young Sam. He was breathing hard and beads of sweat dripped off his forehead. "You were running Sam? What’s got you so scared?" Mr. Miller had never seen Sam so uneasy.
"Um… no sir, I was just in a hurry."
"Where are my books?"
"Ah, the… um.., the police took ’em. Thought they was stolen."
"What?! Now I’ve heard it all. It’s gotten so a young boy can’t even carry books without gettin’ hassled. What has this world come to?"
Clearing his throat Mr. Lespucci pointed to the cops walking towards the door. A look of terror took over Sam’s face and he began to shake.
"Why don’t you go into the back room and wait? I’ll handle this."
Opening the door, two of LA’s finest walked in. The taller officer held an old leather bound book in his hand and asked, "This belongs to you?"
"We’ll it depends, let me see…" Checking the book’s spine revealed the author, Jean Jacques Rousseau, and the title On the Social Contract. "Where’d you find this? If I may ask?"
"It was in the possession of one of the two juveniles who stabbed an undercover police officer about 15 minutes ago. He ran off with the bag full of property and we believe he stole it from this area. Naturally we thought to check with you first."
"No, that book ain’t mine… Now, if you don’t mind, I’ve got business to attend."
Opening the door Mr. Miller was agonized to watch his book leave. Over two hundred years old. He doubted the police would ever read it. If they did maybe they’d learn about the doctrines of popular sovereignty, the supremacy of the common people and their right of revolution. Also that the police are not the people’s masters, but their servants. But he doubted it. He thought to himself what Rousseau once said, "Man is born free, but is everywhere in chains."
Glancing at his watch, Mr. Lespucci uneasily excused himself. "Make assure that boy don’t get inna no trouble. His momma would be’ a heart-broke." He paused… "It’s a bad day Hennery. there’s a trouble inna da air."
A grave silence iced the atmosphere. Going to open the back door, Mr. Miller gave Sam the twenty dollars and told him to hurry back to Mr. Dodson’s. "Everything’s gonna be alright…" he bravely told the boy.
Nine blocks away Shaky Jake does his daily tour of dumpster diving. Once a thriving businessman from Bel Air, he lost it all when sentenced to three years in Lompoc for violating health codes he didn’t even know existed. The state seized all of his property and his wife divorced him.
In the joint he picked up a heroin habit in a sad attempt to end it all. Instead he found solace in Lady Buttercup and the time flew by in one big blurry dream. That was over seven years ago… old habits don’t just die-hard, they slowly kill you first.
"What have we got here?" Spying the bag, Shaky Jake opened it up. "Damn, just some books." Eyeing the titles, he mumbled to himself. "…On Artillery, < a href="http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0521369746?ie=UTF8&tag=thinkmagazipr-20&linkCode=as2&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=0521369746">The Spirit of the Laws by Montesquieu, The Anarchist Cookbook, L.G. Gipson’s The coming of the Revolution… hey, I know somebody who might want these."
Quickly he buried them in his cart and headed off to trade his find for some sweet escape. Twenty minutes later he was deep in the heart of the Knickerson Gardens Housing Projects. Dangerous territory for a white man, Shaky Jake was known here and rarely got hassled.
"What’s up Pops? You lookin’?" It was Lars, a cousin of Alan Planck, also known as ‘Chrome’.
"Yeah, I got a trade for Chrome."
"What? You find a hot piece or sumptin’? Lemme see what you got."
"It’s just some books, but I think Chrome might want’ em."
"Oh yeah? When’d you start thinking?" Laughing, he began rifling through the bag. Grabbing a copy of African nationalism in the twentieth century, he stuffed it in his coat. "Chrome’s down in C-111. But I don’t think he wants to be disturbed, if you catch my drift."
"But I need to see him, it’s important!" he began pushing his cart off towards the C building, ignoring Lar’s advice.
"Don’t say I didn’t warn you!"
Outside the door to C-111 stood two men in para-military gear. He was fearful, but the craving in his brain made him feel clever and he decided to bluff his way in. "I’ve got the books Chrome wanted," he paused, "I’m supposed to deliver them personally. I hope I’m not too late."
Throwing him against the wall, book, bag falling to the ground, the muscular sentry patted him down. The other guard was busy searching through the book bag. Seeing the Anarchist Cookbook, he believed the old man’s story. Opening the door they announced Shaky Jake’s arrival.
Looking angry he asked, "What you got for me Trash Man? Make it quick."
Uneasily, Shaky Jake surveyed the room. All around were the toughest mother fuckers from the funky west side.
"I got some books for.. for your coll..c..collection."
Pouring the books onto the table, Chrome seems quite impressed. "Are these a gift for me, or do you want the usual?" This was followed by a roar of laughter as lake jumped to catch the little packet of yellow powder.
Turning to his audience Chrome then advised, "Remember, sell it to the other man, not the brother man." Chrome’s mood turned dark. "Now get him the fuck outta here and don’t let anyone else in or I’ll cut your fucking throat myself!"
Within an hour Shaky Jake was Jell-O-Jake.
Back in C-111 the shit was coming down. Plans had been made, deals cut, and with military precision everyone split to prepare for their part. Chrome had everything planned. The verdict on the King case would be reached by 4:30. With the Molotov’s in the trunk of the ride, and four vans gassed to go, Chrome had about an hour to himself.
Lighting up a joint, he picked up a book of Quotations of Thomas Jefferson and began reading. "It is the old practice of despots to use a part of the people to keep the rest in order."
"That’s what the pigs do…" he thought to himself.
"The will of the people is the only legitimate foundation of any government, and to protect its free expression should be our first object."
"Yeah right. Try telling that to Ice-T, mutha fucka! Ha, Tommy Jefferson sure was some trippy cracker. Didn’t I read somewhere that he knocked up some sister? One of his slaves?"
"When in the course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bonds which have connected them with one another, it is their right…"
"Word!" Closing the book and throwing it down, he grabbed his keys, checked his holster and headed for the door. "It’s gonna be a hot time in the ol’ town tonight."
In Cafe Mocha on Melrose Avenue, steam hisses forth from the espresso machine in a violent escape. Frothing the milk into a creamy white foam, Vic pours it into the murky black coffee. Setting it down on the counter he tells the skinhead with a torn leather jacket "$2.50 please."
Dropping two crumpled ones and a fistful of change on the counter, he walks away, carefully shuffling into his booth. Opening his book on the teachings of Lao Tzu he reads one of the many highlighted quotes
"’Govern a great nation as you would cook a small fish – don’t over do it.’ Man I love this guy!"
Sperry began studying eastern philosophy while a ninth grader in Council Bluffs Iowa. That was his last year in school, but he vowed to never quit learning. At fifteen his father beat him badly, so he packed a suitcase full of clothes and books and hitchhiked to Hollywood.
Two years later found him a confirmed anarchist. He spends most of his time preparing for the ‘Revolution’, selling copies of the Zendik Farm zine and writing hate letters to corporate executives. Sitting in the seat across from him is Rachel, his sometimes girlfriend and devoted follower. Sperry likes her for her excellent shoplifting skills and cute butt.
Flying in through the door with all the grace of a busload of school children crashing on the freeway are six teenage street punks. Running directly towards him seated at the booth is a large lad with shocking green hair, who trips and knocks Sperry’s coffee all over the table.
"What the fuck Lurch?"
"Come on Sperry, there’s demonstrations going on at the City Building. Those fuzz that beat King got acquitted. There are cops all over the
fucking place pissing their pants, man, it’s fucking beautiful!"
In a flash they were piling into a Ford Grenada with the roof crudely cut off and heading south towards downtown. Reports on the radio told of sporadic violence in the Crenshaw District and cops in riot gear downtown.
"Fuck Crenshaw, that’s Crip territory. Let’s go down La Brea."
"Naw man, that’ll take too long. Get on the freeway."
For years Sperry had dreamed of participating in a real riot and not just some bullshit altercation with a couple of cops. He had the biggest hard-on of his life. Lurch opened his backpack and passed around cans of Schaeffer’s Beer.
"Here’s to the end of the system. Long live the revolutions!" Cheering, they all chugged down the lukewarm brew and laughed.
Thousands of miles away, in Council Bluffs, a middle aged suburban couple watches the national news in nauseous horror. On the screen a young man throws a parking barricade through the plate glass door of a government building. "George, isn’t that our Spencer?"
"Naw, it couldn’t be…"
In a small two-bedroom house under a freeway overpass in Pico Rivera, a lace shawled Hispanic woman fingers her rosaries while reciting the Lord’s Prayer. Watching CNN on a 1950’s TV set with foil on the antennae, Lita is positive that Judgment Day has arrived.
In a back room Luis, Porky and Ruby down their forty-ouncers and pass around a jay. It’s been a long day for the three of them, what with Porky having to be bailed out at six in the morning for a DUI. It took his buddies three hours to raise the cash, but one all-night pizza joint and two Seven-Eleven’s later, they had the cash. They were all old timers, long over the gang banging shit, but every now and then they pulled a caper just for old time’s sake. Whenever they had a reason. Everyone in the hood knew not to fuck with the Vatos from Aero Drive, not if they liked breathing.
Tonight Porky was pissed off and felt like letting off some steam. He had spent the whole day nursing his hangover and brooding in his dimly lit room. The pigs had impounded his sled and refused to release it until he paid all of the fines.
Walking past his mom on the way to the icebox for another beer, what he saw on television was the answer to all his problems. Down in South Central buildings were burning and people were dying all, cause some pigs beat a Mayate and got away with it. Forgetting his beer he walked back to his room and announced to his compadres his plan.
"Amigos, tonight we’re gonna tear this fucking town apart. No fucking cabrones cops are gonna take my ride and get away with it. Let’s smoke these fucking pendejos."
"Aw Porky, you’re all fucked up. Too much cerveza for you." Ruby shot back. "Why don’t you go sleep it off?"
"My friends, the city’s burning and now’s time to la gronda (take advantage). If you doubt me, go check out the TV."
"What are we gonna do, rob a bank?" Asked Luis.
"Like Pancho Villa pingo, we’re gonna hit Circuit City smooth as ice. You guys in?"
"Horale Vato loco, Horale!"
One week later Porky had enough money to not only get his carrazo back, but get it painted as well. Sky Blue with white pin stripping and "La Revolucion" large across the hood. Don’t fuck with the boys from Acro Drive. NOBODY fucks with Porky’s set.
The news reported that up to three fires a minute were being set and Jack’s pulse raced with adrenaline. UCLA was out for Easter Break and he and his roomy Milo had nothing to do. But they had ideas. A poly-sci major, Jack looked like he could have walked off the set of Beverly Hills 90210 or any one of those dorky whitey-tighty shows. Jack hated this. Giggling sorority girls would always hit on him, bragging to their friends about what a hunk he is. If only they knew what he really thought of them.
Ever since he and Milo were in tenth grade they realized that the whole "American Dream" thing was just some sick lie perpetrated by corporate America in an effort to increase consumption and enforce conformity. Their parents had fallen for what they called "The Lie," as had half the people they grew up with. These sick self-righteous bastards with their myopic worldview and TV-Land mentality were the cause, directly and indirectly of every damned problem society faced.
How could they let it exist? And homelessness?
Henry George, who advocated a single tax theory, once said, "The equal right of all men to the use of the land is as clear as their right to breath the air. It is a right proclaimed by their very existence. For we cannot suppose that some men have a right to be in this world, and others, no right."
Homelessness in America is a direct result of greedy corporate entrenchment and the moral and financial bankruptcy of our supposedly great nation. The annual five million that sports stars get for endorsing shoes represents the total lifetime wages of 400 factory workers. What a disgrace. What a waste.
Jack and Milo couldn’t help the fact that they were white. Some would hardly think they quality as ‘oppressed’. But try speaking your mind around the Republican controlled white enclave of Costa Mesa. You don’t know what censorship is until you’ve tried writing for the Orange County Community College newspaper.
Tonight though, things would be different. Tonight they could lash out at the system that they despised. Last Halloween’s Ninja outfits would make a perfect disguise. The book Creative Anarchy would be their guide along the way. A chainsaw stolen from a city work truck would finally be put to good use. Loading up the Taurus in ten minutes flat, they were ready for action.
First stop; the telephone poles along highway 110. That should even up the score with the phone company for inflated rates. It should also keep the power company working for a while. A box of laundry soap firebombs kept things lively too.
It’s the zero hour. While Jack watches the car, Milo dropped a firebomb on an unattended police van from an apartment balcony. It’s a direct hit. Most of the evening was spent creatively monkey wrenching, with occasional breaks and plenty of excitement. Piggy backing onto a stolen calling card, Milo’s computer kept the 911 line jammed for three hours. If only their fathers knew how their money was being spent they’d shit their shorts and cash in their chips. Running up to a Thrifty’s Drug Store, looters began laughing as Jack tossed in a firebomb and in his best oxford Imitation asked, "Riots anyone?"
All over the City of Angels and others across America, the disenfranchised army of the ignored and violated and trespassed rose up and shouted with their actions "NO MORE!"
No more beatings, no more property seizures, no more lying politicians, no more banking frauds and thefts, NO MORE LIES
! Like our brothers and sisters in the former Soviet Union, the people rose against their oppressors, and for a moment, at least, they were heard. But same as before, the abuses continue. The innocent continue to suffer, the nobility continues to plunder the poor, and everywhere homelessness, despair and wanton wastes continue to run unchecked.
April 15th, 1992 was just the beginning, the shot heard around the world.
The past is over. The revolution of 1969 failed. It was defeated. They bought "The Lie" and accepted the status quo. TV placated them and the Vanguard grew old and became their parents. A new generation is coming, they will rise up and seize the reins of power after the new millennium comes, and in a world of hoarded treasures and dwindling resources they will rise against what is wrong, and destroy the perpetuated fraud of the corporate elite.
And from the waste there will be a rebirth, the technology that now enslaves us will be our liberation. The ‘bottom line’ will be replaced with rational thought, problems will be solved not because there is a profit to be made, but because we can. The tribes of humanity will reaffirm their common bonds and come together in unity to solve the problems of the world, like environmental degradations, overpopulation, disease, war and famine.
Superstitious thinking will be a thing of the past and we shall all bask in the glory of our success through reason. The future is unwritten. Tomorrow is what we make it, so make it count. Educate yourself and your neighbors and learn all that there is to learn. Share joy and comfort, seek solace in times of sorrow and you will be free. Remember that financial success is not an adequate response to life. Happiness and love are the only worthwhile endeavors. Liberate yourself through knowledge.
I wrote this for Sin Magazine in 1992, during the LA riots, as we cruised around downtown LA for 24 hours… with writing breaks at cafes and late night diners.