(from the archives July 1992)
Perhaps that was Greg Tate in the audience. The black voice I heard among few others in response to my call about Don Jackson and Ron Settles resonates from his direction in my imagination. Somehow I believe that he had to have been there. The rest, whose voices I had exhorted failingly, mumbled as if the language against police brutality had somehow taken Babel's turn. I have thought in times since that I might have dropped a line from PE about "rocking the boulevard", but I was so miffed about not communicating something of Patricia J. Williams' concept of lost standing in my opening line about me as a black man hating videotape, that it seemed not to matter. Though I'm probably not the type to fit the hype, I marched all the way to Thompkins Square Park on White Flight Friday.
New York, in my informal analysis, had failed, as has present-day American civilization by polemic extension - the only dimension that seems of value to me these days. If I needed a clue to tell me to stop wishing that American would gather up and do right, the relative silence of Times Square of all places was it. There often seems no noble arena worthy of my seeking entrance. All is being reduced to the existential challenge of remaining visible, insurgent and free. The city has failed to muster any support for Los Angeles in any real public way. The thing I am missing now days is the Lifeboat reality that has emerged in my hometown.
My brother tells me of his eyewitness of a poorly dressed elderly black man having a heart attack a few days ago on Crenshaw Boulevard. He lay in the sidewalk, Reagan era fashion, urine staining his dirty brown trousers. People stopped their cars and got out to help. They dialed 911 from their cellular phones. Minutes later as he continued his bike tour of the hood, the paramedics passed by. He mouthed, "heart attack", clutching is chest and got an affirmative thumbs up from the rescuers. New York, a city I have found to be extraordinarily provincial thus far, has remained so and seems much less destined than even Pasadena - where my brother has seen at least one preppy who reminded him of Herman's intelligence, pump NWA's "Fuck The Police" - to remain a great tinderbox.
Obviously this is something New Yorkers know. This, after all, was White Flight Friday where rumors of black marchers sent the political majority stampeding (oops let me not dehumanize the oppressor, after all this is not City College) running en mass to commuter trains. I still ponder the nature of the network that emptied midtown Manhattan. Coming back from a late lunch in Bryant Park I was breathlessly informed of massing police and impending terror off Times Square. I didn't smell anything in the air a few blocks away, but I am new to the city and often still doubt my impressions nonetheless. The building at which I am gainfully employed was to close in quick and orderly fashion at 2pm; upon whose orders remains a mystery. Yet it gives me a perverse sense of patriotic pride to know that the LIRR wasn't in the loop. To this day I suffer through diatribes of discomfort. Mere 6 car trains served those wishing escape from New York. Technology fails. No Exit. I took the opportunity to run to Brooklyn and put on my homeboy suit. From each according to his talents, on each according to his appropriate tastes. I, a perversely unmonotheistic black man know that one mack does not fit all though I still don't wear X gear. I came prepared for shoutin'. And so we did.
One cheer of many we chanted down the Seventh Avenue romp was. "Who's streets? Our streets!" What patriotism! What courage! What responsibility! I can hardly imagine any others but the marginalized (and left reporters) saying this with genuine conviction. These streets are truly what we have been willed as John Sayles' City of Hope makes clear, decaying as they are. Nobody wants to be there except those of us who have few other places to express ourselves. And where is the Batman? A fiber-optic cable length away, as is the political majority waiting it out in the slurbs. It occurs to me that the Omega Man was prophetic and the civilizing Burden of the next millennium is the perfection of remote control. Telecommuting being the next avenue of choice for white flight. Does everyone understand fax yet? Take a peek at your educational video catalog. The African-American series of role-modeling career videos replete with basketball celebrities exhort students of the inner city to stay off drugs and go for careers as assembly line technicians. Suburban kids get computer skills. The new labor apartheid; look at who humps tapes vs who gets new dialup lines to their neo-colonials. But a Lawnmower Man's fantasy worth of telephone networks and DASD are not capable to survive the abandonment of the cities. It would cost multi multi billions, and given the type of opportunists the computer industry suffers under, America will not likely be able to take it's urban work to the suburbs anytime soon. Legions of white collars will have no work if and when it happens. Knowing as I do, something of the difficulty required to transmute the centralized office politic into a computer-centric paradigm I take some comfort in knowing that corporate America's anti-intellectual politics will force the political majority to stay in reasonable proximity to cities - the white flight avenue of networked service-work suffers not only a techno-economic but a socio-political bottleneck.
Thus I felt haughtily superior in my pity and disgust for the clutching yuppies self cornered behind the caged storefront cafes and restaurants along the parade route. Trashcans flew into windows normally employed as stages of vanity. Now the sybaritic know nothings seek the protection of proprietors. Maitres D' were suddenly stripped naked. Of all the things to do on the Friday evening after America suffered another painful plumbing of its uglier soul, dining in an upscale restaurant with big windows seemed the most foolish. But folks of this particular stripe seem to enjoy making victims of themselves. I consider it a complete waste of time, this useless simpering guilt of individuals coddled by the political majority. They all could have easily come outdoors with a raised fist, or an intelligent political statement of solidarity against the travesty of injustice and police brutality. But their fear outran their good sense and citizenship. This demarcates America's immediate political future - the privileged having the intellectual and political wherewithal to stand in the streets for noble reasons and instead remaining physically caged behind boutique security and politically bound by fluff/fear journalistic interpretations of those on the street. How many horror stories have you heard about the mob that almost got me? Political actors mere yards from each other in completely different dimensions. It makes me want to puke. I imagine their thought balloons; "Who's backyard? Not my backyard!"
I have sought out reporters this time trying as I might to inject a bit of fact and background into the stew. I was compelled to ask sista to give me a moment to speak back at Times Square because I felt nobody in this whole metropolis had any clue that white men in Volvos were looting computer retailers, ailing businessmen were allegedly torching their own inventories and college students were assiduously dismantling ATMs and burning the contents. Nobody realized that what happened in Los Angeles portends political chaos of Russian dimensions. But my spoken allusions to John Slaughter's words, Melanie Lomax's words and Mike Woo's words have been drowned out by soundbite editorials voiced over the infamous visual. I keep waiting to see amateur videoist Holliday responding languorously to "So, set up the clip." on some talk show. Someone other than the most critically affected will have the last words. I myself didn't help much were mooted by the mute response and a bad case of nerves. My speech to activist New York prompted by "Pump 'em up" petered out. Next time perhaps I'll conk my hair or come in a Kunstler mask. I keep trying to get to speak to people and Press and Police press and police.
Anyway, those from the print media all carried the same notepads and pens. They dressed down, some wearing 35mm cameras. All wore the ubiquitous badges that rendered them immune from police batons if not flying bottles. I plainly told them that they wanted to hear me out. I, after all, was a young black man from Los Angeles who from age 17 through 29 had been detained 17 times and cited only twice. But most of the print journalists didn't walk far past Madison Square Garden, where I chortled with glee at the Rangers fans watching us like a pack Midwestern zoo goers. I wanted to give the sportos violence for real, but guessed they'd love returning it. They alone were the only white folks not a direct part of the parade who didn't cower in fear. I told a woman reporter who paid the most attention to me that I didn't think the violence in Los Angeles would last very long. Mostly I was concerned that New York wasn't concerned.
I studiously avoided the visual reporters. The political majority seems to enjoy the aphorism of literal equivalence - a picture is worth 1000 words - and employs it to justify its illiteracy. As I observed their usual blank faced data gathering of the equally illiterate politics of stereotypically unreconstructed angry black babble. I was suddenly made aware of the robotic, literally senseless professionalism of the police and visual journalists. I believe that they'll likely constitute the politically significant middle class of the 90s. Any career counselor will tell you that these are the promising fields. Their loyalty (a concept hardly discussed during the Persian Gulf War) is at stake and I venture to believe that like many Los Angeles police officers they may someday soon pause at the old unionist refrain "Whose side are you on?" But that cannot be an issue when everybody has an equal(ly stupid) opinion and their job (media-person, police-person) is to provide the buffer zone of understanding.
Police and press seem to have equally large numbers of apologists for their systems but few heroes among them. I sense them all reneging on any ethic save that of F. Scott Fitzgerald's. "The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function. One should, for example, be able to see that things are hopeless and yet be determined to make them otherwise." This false liberalism is what we get from a morally dysfunctional professional class, as it becomes captivated by its own first-rate intelligence. The press and the police will remain employed defending the know nothings of the political majority who simply weren't there. What can they do but offer up drama, yet maintain that all is in control? Eyewitnesses from the political majority must reflect naiveté, realism plays only to guilt. Every time I see journalists laugh in each other's company on television I am reminded of this. Every time I see This, the inculcation of professional values into the sorry lives of us often chaotic protesting masses, is their great calling. Yet, infatuation with such intelligence allows a free market morality. Rabbi Hillel said, "When there is no hero, you be the hero". On the other hand one can defend the system and shrug.
It still hasn't been said enough. Property is a value subordinate to respect. Morally and principally, rebels so dedicated and so consecrated are in the right and should long endure. In the long-standing war for respect, Los Angeles black and Latino communities unconsciously conscripted its young into an often violent demonstration of outrage - a battle for justice. But such communities have no generals the like of Powell and Swartzkopf on their side; they have no industrial technology the likes of Raytheon and General Dynamics working for them. Thus, this was no supremely effective pinpoint strike. As in the gulf states, there was much collateral damage. But despite all mouthing to the contrary in either case, the political motivations were clear. But I suspect that the arbiters of 'electability' in the national media are the same who would decide southcentral's respectability. This goes to the question of recompense. What are the deciding factors in who gets what development dollars?