The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

25 Years Ago:
Rebellion in Los Angeles

May 8, 2017

It has been 25 years since the 1992 Los Angeles rebellion. On April 29, 1992, people’s anger boiled over after the acquittal of four L.A. cops, whose brutal beating of a black motorist, Rodney King, in March 1991 was seen by millions of people on TV.

Half an hour after the “not guilty” verdict hit the airwaves, more than 300 protesters were in front of the L.A. County Courthouse. Into the evening, hundreds more people took to the streets, first in South-Central L.A. and then in other parts of the city, stopping traffic on streets and freeways. Another large protest began at the L.A. police headquarters and lasted well into the late hours of the night.

Angry residents confronted cops in the streets, and police retreated from South Central. Within the next two days, authorities sent in 10,000 California National Guard troops to beef up the police force, followed by 3,500 federal troops two days later. It would be six days before the rebellion died down.

As usual in such situations, the media emphasized images of violence – motorists being pulled out of vehicles and beaten; smoke rising from buildings set on fire; etc. Commentators called the rebellion “senseless,” telling people, patronizingly, they were “destroying their own neighborhood” – as if it weren’t the capitalists and their government that destroyed these working-class neighborhoods all the time, by not providing good-paying jobs, decent schools, a functioning infrastructure and services!

But authorities’ own actions after the rebellion showed that people’s outburst of anger was not senseless after all. Talk of six billion dollars of investment for jobs and businesses did not, of course, materialize – but the very fact that L.A. authorities talked about the need for such a large infusion of resources shows that the rebellion was absolutely justified.

Today, 25 years later, the conditions that led to the 1992 rebellion are not only still there, but they have worsened. South-Central, now called South L.A., has higher official poverty and unemployment rates than it did in 1992. And incidents of police brutality, including especially the police shootings of black men, are as rampant as ever.

Then as today, there is widespread anger and frustration in the working class. This was demonstrated by the relatively large outburst in Baltimore in 2015 in the wake of the police killing of Freddie Gray. But for this anger to lead to real and lasting results for those who revolt, working people need not only to rebel, but to fight consciously, aiming to challenge the very system of profit that creates this poverty and brutality.