The Spirit of the L.A. Rebellion in Watts

Revolutionary Worker #1150, May 12, 2002, posted at

April 27, 2002. Over 60 people, predominantly residents of the Nickerson Gardens Housing Projects in Watts, remembered and celebrated the 10th anniversary of the Los Angeles Rebellion with music, poetry, and a speak-out.

The housing authority and the police did not want this event to happen and did everything they could to stop it. But the celebration was a success due to the tireless effort and determination of the co-sponsors and organizers.

Two days before, the City cancelled the permit for the event because they said the leaflet announcing the celebration said it was right to "fight police brutality" and promoted "unity" among gangs. The authorities claimed that celebrating a "rebellion" could create an inflammatory situation for the police.

In quick response, co-sponsors of the 10th anniversary--the Watts Committee Against Police Brutality, KRST Unity Center of African Spirituality, the Community Outreach Ministries of the Faith United Methodist Church, the Social Concerns Commission of the First African Methodist Episcopal Church--came together, contacted many different progressive people and organizations, called the press, and refused to allow the celebration to be cancelled.

Reverend Andrew Robinson-Gaither from Faith United Methodist Community Church and Reverend Meri Ka Ra from KRST Unity Center of African Spirituality were committed until the last minute to make sure the celebration took place.

Two walls near the stage were decorated with a gallery of photos depicting the spirit of the '92 Rebellion--people gathered around to look at the images and remember one of the biggest uprisings in the history of the U.S.

Reverend Andrew said, "I'm here because as a person of faith I must stand up and speak out. I can't just let things be as they are. Justice is an ongoing cry around the world. If we don't, who will speak up for those who can't for themselves or those who the system refuses to listen to? I will continue to support and encourage and nurture to make sure these things happen."

When the City couldn't prevent the celebration, the police went all out to try to intimidate people to prevent them from celebrating their Day. Police cars followed people who came, cops ticketed people's cars and several patrol cars parked in the football field in front of the stage. However, the people weren't having it and found ways to defy the cops. One resident of the projects aimed his speakers out his window and blasted music like "Fuck Tha Police" and other songs with an anti-police brutality theme.

Reverend Meri Ka Ra opened the event with words of encouragement and declared it a day to celebrate--the people won the right to remember and celebrate the Los Angeles Rebellion.

Joe Veale, spokesperson for the L.A. Branch of the RCP, spoke about what a beautiful sight it was to see the have-nots--a class of proletarians--rise up in unity against their oppression. "This Rebellion brought out the fact that those who rule over us--and their police who work to enforce the rules of the system that keep us oppressed--are our common enemy. And it showed everyone the power we have when we unite in fury against that enemy. We were happy to be standing up together! People felt joy and pride at the unity we had created in struggle--not only people in L.A. but people like us, the have-nots, and people who stand with us all over the world."

A woman newly active with the Watts Committee Against Police Brutality came to the celebration to share her thoughts about police brutality and the Rebellion. She talked about how, during the Rebellion, she saw how people united and came together in a different way. As she looked out into the field and spoke, her words challenged the cops' glares. Later she said, "I was nervous to come out at first because I live in this neighborhood. I see them [the police] taking their little pictures out there, but if I don't come out then 10 years down the line my daughter is going to have to deal with this and start from scratch. But if I help build something that she can relate to and she can continue the fight, then I feel like I have done my job."

A resident of the projects sent a message that read, "The rebellion was inspiring. For two to three days we were together. All the arguments that people were having with each other were put aside. We were out on the streets and we were free... It was only a few days, but we got a taste of freedom and that was inspiring. We need that kind of expression now."

The October 22nd Coalition to Stop Police Brutality invited Norma Martinez to come and speak out against the nationwide epidemic of police brutality. Her son, Gonzalo Martinez, was shot 34 times and killed by the Downey police on February 15, 2002. Norma said she wanted to build stronger unity and solidarity between Black and Latino people. "They want to separate the Latinos and the African Americans. We have to be together. That's necessary because this has been the fourth killing in the city of Downey in eight months."

There was a buzz about the celebration around the projects. Throughout the event people looked from their doors and windows. Groups of people stopped and listened to the speakers, the poetry of Jerry Quickley, and the rapping of Infinite Sphere.

A statement by The Watts Committee Against Police Brutality captured the feelings of many in the crowd. It read in part, "We can't accept police brutality. We cannot accept being a victim. We can't accept seeing our kids grow up without food and no education. In the rebellion we saw the power of the people. We got a little taste of justice. And we learned that we can't wait for another rebellion to happen to fight back. We have to be organized. Organization and unity are weapons for the people. Organization and unity makes us strong."

An organizer from the Watts chapter of the RCYB described how the L.A. Rebellion changed her life. She was 15 years old in 1992. "When I flicked on the TV that day and saw that the masses of people had practically taken over the city, I saw a glimmer of revolution and knew it had to be possible." Inspired by what she saw, she went to L.A. with a group of young revolutionaries to work with the Party. She recalled how a Black youth in South Central described what it was like for the people to have control of the streets, if only for a few days. "He told stories about crowds of people chasing the police away and whole blocks having barbecues together in the street. He was so proud. For the first time in my life I felt like I belonged to a class worldwide." She then told the crowd, "When the time started coming close to go home, I felt like my heart would break if I left. I had fallen in love with the masses and their vanguard party." She has been in L.A. ever since.

A group of youth from the projects in their early 20s said that April 29th was a day to celebrate because on that day the people got together and showed the system that the people have the power. One of the youth read a poem titled "We're Still Watching" that he wrote about the L.A. Rebellion:

Due to the past we know our future,
The Deeply Scarred Wit no need for sutures.
Yeah We're still watching Tha Government
Still make laws to curve judicial WALLS.
YEAH we're still watching politicians lobby
On things that better their life and knowing
They have twisted tha knife.

We're still watching tha violence
Rise & fall, tha drug filled communities
Tha sirens echoes, tha mental and physical
Abuse--tha homeless, corrupt cops! We're
Still watching united waiting for you to
Slip so we can all erupt into a 92 trip.

We're still watching!

* * *

After the event spirits were still high. A group of about eight people, mainly young men and women of different nationalities, walked around the projects on a People's Patrol--"stalking the stalkers." A revolutionary in the group told what happened:

"We went around and started chanting `pigs in the hood' as the pigs passed by. One of the masses told us they were coming after us. The pigs busted a U-turn and came back. We stood our ground and started chanting `oink, oink, bang, bang, everyday the same old thing' and `who let the pigs out?' "

As the group challenged the police with exposure and agitation, dozens of people came out of their houses, many cheering on the People's Patrol.

"We asked the cops, `Were you the one who killed Tyisha Miller? Were you the one who killed Chubby Hood?' There were two pig cars with a couple of pigs inside and they were laughing and giggling. One of the pigs jumped out, thinking that we were going to back down, so we took a step forward and he was shocked. All he could say was that he wanted us to watch our language and respect the kids out there.

"Respect? They don't respect the kids. I asked them if they were worried about the kids when they killed Chubby and he was laid out there for all the kids to see? The masses cheered us on.

"The pigs realized they weren't going to intimidate anybody, so they got in their cars and they pulled off really quickly with a defeated look in their face."

On the 10th Anniversary, people in Nickerson Gardens remembered, celebrated and carried on the spirit of the L.A. Rebellion!

* * *

The Nickerson Gardens celebration was covered on the local NBC news station that night. And the Los Angeles Times wrote:

"A different riot was remembered Saturday on a parched grass field behind the gym of a Watts housing project. Activists, church leaders, poets, rappers and residents paid tribute to the people who took to the streets. To this gathering at Nickerson Gardens, what happened that April 29 was not a riot, but political action born of outrage.... Nickerson Gardens was chosen as the site for the event because the economic boom of the late '90s brought no economic boom to Watts, [Rev.] Byrd [Meri Ka Ra] said. The same poverty that existed in 1965 and 1992 still exists today. `Where is the infrastructure? Where is the beauty? Where are the trees?' Byrd asked... `This rebellion was the most beautiful, the most heroic' civil action in the history of the United States, said Joe Veale, a spokesman for the Revolutionary Communist Party. Rappers and poets likened blacks and Latinos to Palestinians, calling them besieged and oppressed peoples living in police states. Mistakes were made in 1992, many said, alluding to...damage to Korean- owned stores... Koreans are not the enemy, they said, and neither are white people. `The system' is."

This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
Write: Box 3486, Merchandise Mart, Chicago, IL 60654
Phone: 773-227-4066 Fax: 773-227-4497
(The RW Online does not currently communicate via email.)