*The City of Los Angeles was the site of the significant urban riot in the history of America. Let’s state that off the top … Over $1.2 BILLION dollars in damages (which they estimated at $400 million then) and a BUNCH of excuses as to why it happened—like we didn’t know. The combination of harassing police, economic redlining, joblessness and cavalier leadership mixed with a corrupt judicial decision … and BOOM, Los Angeles went up quicker that a flame on a barbeque pit when squirted with lighter fluid. On the first night of the riots, the police pulled back and let the city burn. A tactic that left the citizens vulnerable to chaos. Los Angeles pulled together and decided that it would “rebuild” itself … In fact, that was the name of the initiative. Rebuild L.A. it was called, and the purpose was to draw investment into the historically underserved areas of the city, hoping that South Los Angeles could arrest its economic repression and just the of the city. It went out with a BIG THUD.
Oh, Los Angeles was rebuilt alright. The L.A. we see today is not the L.A. we remember twenty years ago. If Tom Bradley was alive today, he wouldn’t even recognize downtown L.A., or the Westside, or Valley, or Koreatown, or even Hollywood. But he would damn sure recognize South L.A. Not much at all has changed in twenty years. He’d be glad to know that Maverick’s Flat has reopened, and that Crenshaw now has a Buffalo Wild Wings. It has another sit down restaurant (Dennys), but lost two in the process (Marie Callendar’s and Sizzler). That seems to be the plight of South Los Angeles-one step forward and two steps backward. And more businesses have died in Bradley’s pet project, The Baldwin Hills/Crenshaw Mall, than people buried at Inglewood Cemetery. Not quite, but close. In fact, in parts of South L.A., not much has changed in 47 years if you take it back to the riots of 1965.
But there was something different about what writer, James Baldwin, called The Fire Next Time. The second time L.A. burned, there almost seemed like there were people waiting to dope the community with a bunch of false hope. See…REAL HOPE would have netted South Los Angeles some significant gains in twenty years. People have gotten rich, and some even think they’re famous, pimping the pain of the people of South Los Angeles. It’s a hustle we can’t hate him for (before y’all call me a “Hope-Hater), but it hasn’t delivered much to the community.
Yeah, I said it. There’s been some, as the youth say, “Mad Pimpin,” “Big Willie” pimpin going on in the last twenty years. Selling “Hope” replaced selling dope in the last twenty years, but the community is not any better off. If that was not the case, the measurable outcomes of South L.A. would have been different. More community institutions have disappeared in South L.A. in the last twenty years than have come into fruition. South L.A.’s biggest employer, United Health Plan…gone. Martin Luther King Hospital…gone (though it’s on its way back, thank God). Golden State Mutual Insurance Company…gone. Golden Bird Chicken…gone. The Herald Dispatch Newspaper…gone. The Blvd. Café…gone. The Vision Complex…gone. Fifth Street Dick’s…gone. Most of them victims of the absence of investment capital. CRA…the prime capital attraction for investment and investment capital in South L.A.…gone. Also gone are 200 liquor stores that activist (now Congresswoman), Karen Bass, and her organization, Community Coalition, refused to allow to be rebuilt. South L.A. didn’t want to be rebuilt as it was. It wanted something new. The community wanted development to come to South L.A. The community waited for development to come to South L.A. South L.A. is still waiting…and hoping. Too much pain happened to, and in, our community to trivialize it like this.
The insult to this injury is that people have taken bus tours around South L.A. every five years to show the “progress” of South Los Angeles and to “sensitize” investors, bankers in particular, to invest in South L.A. It never made sense to me that bankers had to get on the bus to come into “the war zone” when they had people who worked for that were from the community. I said it was a sham after five years, after ten years—the fifteenth year I got co-opted being invited to moderate one of the tours. About halfway through the tour, I said this is some bullsh*t and it turned into a commentary. I’ve been waiting five years to get back at this.
Now 20 years later, Operation HOPE had another bus tour. Wrapped themselves with “celebrity riders” and took his same partners, many of whom we are fighting in the media and courts for making sub-prime loans that this administration’s Justice Department and the California’s Attorney General found where discriminatory and corrupt—straight up robbing the black and Latino communities of their wealth, on another tour of South L.A. that really doesn’t show much of South Los Angeles. If anything, it will show how the world has moved on…twenty years later. Los Angeles is a whole new world now, but South L.A. is not. What’s wrong with that picture? Plenty…but taking tours to nowhere is not the answer either.
Twenty years is a whole generation. A whole generation now has seen much of the same all their lives. Let’s have a conversation about “love leadership.” Tough love leadership. This guy named HOPE, yes—he even changed his middle name to “Hope”—pays himself as much as the President of the United States (literally…no, fo real) to show second graders how to open bank accounts. How many of them are now in college? How many scholarships has HOPE given over the past 20 years? Do you know if any of them are still alive? How much investment has been made in South L.A. over the past 20 years? Real dollars, not micro-loans. Has HOPE even built one building besides the cyber café buildouts? I don’t think so…not in Los Angeles. Hope has moved on too…taking this act global. Heard he bought castle in Atlanta, so Atlanta’s his base now but he still drops in to front off L.A. every five years and it insults our intelligence. Those second graders are probably grown now and making less money then their parents did as median income has fallen in comparison to others. Those second graders have a less chance of finding work then they did 20 years ago as the unemployment rate is higher. That same second grader probably can’t afford college as tuition is at an all-time high. That second grader’s world hasn’t changed much since they “banked on the future.”
They, and we, have watched the whole city develop around our community. The wonderment of L.A. Live, the spirit of the Grove, the expanse of downtown and downtown II in the Valley and the reality of South Los Angeles is as plain as it ever been. There is no real difference between the Ninth Ward in New Orleans after Katrina and South L.A. after the 92 Riots-they both are waiting on something that have yet to come, and may never come. The reality is that the investment has never come in South L.A. beyond the coffers of Operation Hope and a few other community groups. HOPE likes to talk about glasses being half full versus half empty…but South L.A.’s glass is not even half empty. It’s been dry for awhile, but HOPE has been drinking from his half full glass until his cup now runneth over. He’s rich and South L.A. is impoverished (and he’s not the only one, as a few others have come up on what former Richard Riordan called at the time, “Poverty Pimps”). Poverty Pimps are people who earn their sole livelihood on the donation that suppose to facilitate of the improvement of the lives of others. Twenty years later, the smoke is longer in our eyes and our vision isn’t blurry. We can say it. We’ve been doped by most of our leaders in South L.A. over the past twenty years…and some of them are still playin’ us. Or playin’ with us.
Hope without WILL is just that, talk. The bus tours are twisted fundraisers to invest in HOPE because they don’t really invest in South Los Angeles. Hell, they don’t even stop in Watts, where WLCAC and Watts Health Foundation are doing some good work since riots. How do you tour South L.A. and don’t go south? That’s like saying you’re gonna tour poverty in the deep South and miss Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Georgia. I’m sure they didn’t stop at Marlton Square either, a war zone without a war that competes with the most war-torn areas in the world. Investment could’ve come there…but it never did. Bickering came there, and bickering won. The businesses lost. The people lost. The community lost. But HOPE won, taking dimes from banks who wouldn’t lend dollars in South L.A. HOPE became the shield banks leaned on to front a community presence. HOPE came up while the community stayed down. Everybody is trying to intellectualize what happened 20 years ago…whether we called it a riot, a rebellion or “civil unrest.” What we should call it is a DAMN SHAME that South L.A. hasn’t progressed any more than it has. And we should call it a travesty that we get gamed every five years with this tour to nowhere nonsense. Every time you invite HOPE out to discuss it, or defend it, he has a prior commitment. But he never has a prior commitment on the anniversary of the riots…that’s “pay day” for him and like his original partner, Nix Check Cashing, he has his hand out for the handouts that will follow. But not for the community…for HOPE coffers.
South L.A. is forgotten about every year, except when we recognize the anniversary of the riots. Then we get doped with more hope talk…but nothing ever happens when they get off the bus. Doing the same thing and expecting a different result is the definition of insanity, or Operation HOPE. I haven’t quite figured which one is more insane. But here’s a question for HOPE; When is South Los Angeles going to be able to move on? When the investment comes?
The 1992 Riots has to be more than a symbolic engagement of what was, or what could be. Everybody else has been made whole. Time for investors in to stop hoping, and start acting, in making South L.A. whole. Or stop touring communities that you know you’re not going to invest in. You’ve had twenty years to show us. The glass of “Hope” is still nearly empty.
We’ve had enough posturing from our own…
Anthony Asadullah Samad, Ph.D., is a national columnist, managing director of the Urban Issues Forum (www.urbanissuesforum.com) and author of the upcoming book, REAL EYEZ: Race, Reality and Politics in 21st Century Popular Culture. He can be reached at www.AnthonySamad.com or on Twitter at @dranthonysamad.