LA Riots 20 Years Ago – Part 1

My experience of the riots was quite unique.  I was the token white working in the production office of the John Singleton movie follow up to Boyz In the Hood, Poetic Justice.  I and the rest of the production staff were well aware that the verdict in the Rodney King case was due.  I was first into the office.  Before even starting the coffee brewing, I turned on the radio which was easily audible through out the open, concrete floor and wall space.

The crew we were managing was, ironically enough, shooting in Simi Valley that day.  We were in touch with them regularly, the topic of the verdict always making its way into the discussion.  When they had wrapped, I left the office.  My assistant and a few others remained to close up.  It was my mother’s 72nd birthday.  Instead of driving home, I drove to Santa Monica to a birthday dinner of fish & chips.  I met up with my mother, mother-in-law, husband and year and half old daughter.  Sitting under a heat lamp outside the restaurant there was little to indicate that anything unusual was occurring elsewhere in the city.  It was a warm evening with a beautiful sunset.  After dinner I drove my mother home.

The next day the news of the reaction to the verdict was not good.  Despite some concerns, I drove to the office which was near the intersection of Jefferson and La Cienega.  The roads were unusually clear and, other than more helicopters than was customary circling above everything, appeared normal.  Then I started getting calls from the crew, they weren’t going to be able to make it to the set.  These were dedicated, hard working crew people who hadn’t missed a single day in a grueling schedule.  What was going on?  The police refused to let them leave their neighborhoods – all predominantly black enclaves of Los Angeles.   It was as if they were under house arrest.  That was my first clue that things, despite outward appearances, were not right.

I called the production manager, he and other key crew members had opted to stay over night in Simi Valley.  I warned them they were going to be short handed.  The schedule of work for the day was adjusted downward.  I called all the crew on lock down and assured them everything was cool and to just stay inside and let it all settle down.

more to come…


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