*As the nation recognizes the twentieth anniversary of the 1992 Los Angeles Riots, one person in particular has memories as turbulent as the street of LA in 92 and just as fiery.
That person is Henry Keith “Kee Kee” Watson, one of the four men convicted in the beating of trucker Reginald Denny. One of four men now known as the “LA Four.”
Watson was born in the turbulent times of the 1960s, which in America brought change in many ways.
Turbulence ran through the nation like the waves of a tsunami across the sea.
The waters were indeed troubled, but even as the nation appeared to be ripping itself apart, in many ways, it was being reborn from the many revolutions that were giving natural birth to evolution.
Yes, the times they were a-changin’.
Perhaps one of the clearest examples of revolution and change was found in an area of Los Angeles, California, called Watts, which burned in rioting in 1965.
Change was coming in the laws of the land, in the thinking of the people about each other and in the living conditions of the American people.
And as much change as the people were seeing, the times promised even more change.
The Watson family had been planted in Texas, but had eyes on California, where promises of greater opportunities were beckoning to the nation’s own poor, huddled masses, who were yearning for greater freedom.
Landing in Watts just before the area of Los Angeles, California imploded, the family moved into a house in a nice neighborhood in South Central Los Angeles, near Florence and Normandie.
Henry Keith “KeeKee” Watson was born in the summer heat of 1964.
Families were still the central unit of the Black community and still the driving force of America.
“I grew up in a two-parent home,” recalled Watson. “No one can tell me what it takes to be a man because I had a man in the house all my life. I didn’t come from that broken home phenomenon and most my friends had the same foundation and structure. We had the basics of how to conduct yourself, even if you didn’t follow them. You were taught values early on and that’s the way it was.
“I’d be lying to say that life was hard growing up, because we had a real community then. There was crime and gang activity, but there was still a sense of community when I was a teenager and a sense of unity from the sixties and the “Black Power” Movement.”
Watson had two older sisters who wore the Afros and leather gear of the Black Panther Party and demonstrated the Black Pride of the era.
“That’s what had so much influence on how my mindset developed. I saw a lot through my family’s eyes because they lived through it. I listened and understood. I had an awareness and I always knew that I wanted to be connected to the community and be on the side of the people. Black Pride and Black Power were real to me.”
“I was a teenager in the late seventies when things happened that tore the community up. The biggest thing was white flight from what was becoming the Black community. That flight took a lot with it.
“We used to have Montgomery Ward’s stores, but they closed and a lot of other stores and services left. We had Sears in the community, but they left and went to other areas. That was an indication that something was happening. Things were changing. These places were American institutions that didn’t want to be in the Black community.
“Even the Black businesses started leaving because the owners were leaving the community with the white people. Then a lot of the blackness that was in the community was being replaced by Hispanics. The commerce changed when Arabs and Asians bought the community stores.
“I started seeing more theft and crime. People were losing jobs and losing hope and had to turn to other things to survive. But the biggest thing that made huge changes was big, bad crack cocaine.
“Crack had families falling apart. Women were selling their bodies, and men were taking money and not taking care of their families.
“It also made gangs more violent, because they were about holding territory based on where they could make money. They protected their territories with guns. Things really began to break down.
“Crack gave the community a definite makeover. No one was expecting the kind of effect that it had on the community.”
Crack Cocaine changed the inner city of every major city in the nation and then began working on smaller cities. The drug dealers were getting rich, while the people were going to hell in a handbasket.
Watson could look around him and see the effects of the new urban community commerce everywhere. It even threatened to change his life.
“My neighborhood was rampant with drugs and gang activity. You had a part of something to survive. I banged for a moment—you had to deal with it.
“But my thing was that my mother always tried to keep me out of the hood. Out of the neighborhood schools—I didn’t go to elementary, junior high or high school in my community. It was up to me to find my identity in my neighborhood, but I still became a force in my neighborhood.”
And as a force in his neighborhood, Watson understood where that would lead him. He wanted a different path, so he went to the Marine Corp Boot Camp one week out of high school.
“I was trying to break the cycle and get out of South Central LA.”
Watson stayed in the Marines for six years and actually wanted to become a cop when he returned to LA, “but my attitude changed and it was hard to deal with the police—even becoming one.
And in the late eighties, the streets had changed more than his attitude. The drug game had become the commerce of the streets and the gang scene had become a strong part of the street life.
Watson wanted none of either, so he decided not to live in his old neighborhood.
“I moved to Inglewood. I wanted to start fresh, but you can’t get too far from the lifestyle of your own neighborhood, because Inglewood is too close to LA. It kept calling me. The streets keep calling. I wound up back in the streets and this time even more involved.
Twenty years later, I’ve been trying to sidestep and not dwell on my past in terms of 1992. However, it’s not happening. There is a constant reminder—the nation or the media—people don’t want to allow it to subside.
“I’ve had to live with twenty years of being reminded of 1992. When someone recognizes me, it all comes back. When I see similarities to the conditions that created the environment for the 1992 Riots, it all comes back.
No matter how I try to live my life–not to act like it never happened–I’m constantly being reminded. I have to face my demons and come to terms with things.
I need to place things in some kind of perspective for me. Everyone else has opinions and philosophies, but my bottom line is always that history repeats itself.
America better pay attention to that.
Next Week: In The Storm
Darryl James is an award-winning author of the powerful retrospective on the LA Riots, “The Whirlwind or the Storm,” available on Amazon.com as an eBook for Kindle or PCs and as a paperback book. James’ stage play, “Love In A Day,” opened in Los Angeles in 2011and runs through June of 2012. View previous installments of this column at www.bridgecolumn.proboards36.com. Reach James at [email protected].