the rodney king riots and utopian solutions to kkk recruitment

This article about the Rodney King Riots is very good. It’s written from the perspective of someone who’s the same age as me (10 at the time). Her family was Korean and their business was destroyed.

It was so ironic to think that the people who had supported us, our customers, had finally destroyed us. Finally, what we had was theirs.

I remember looking outside the window of our living room through its bars, watching the stacks of black smoke rising. It appeared as if the world was on fire, an eruption, a war zone. It felt like it would never end. That the rest of our lives would just be this way. That there’d always be violence, rage. That my mother, my sister and I would always be poor. That there’d always be racism and beatings. That the story would never change. Just its players.

As the Riots spread from the south, closer and closer to Koreatown, storeowners began arming themselves, crouching and standing on tops of buildings like snipers with rifles. I remember the acuteness of my embarrassment seeing this. There we were again, the crazy Koreans, who with soap opera flare took justice into our own hands. The crazies who cared more about their stores, their money than anything else, including human lives.

And the news media loved the image of the immigrant vigilante protecting his own, his private property, just ate it up. Not only did we go to school and work hard but we also could bear arms, earning us an A+ in Model Minority because of extra credit.


It was easy to believe that the only reason why the Riots happened was because a group of white police officers brutally assaulted a black man and got away with it (again), and that the looting and vandalism represented the black community’s revenge on exploitative institutions and their local stand-ins (again)— Korean storeowners.

That is the story we choose to tell (again and again).

What was harder still was to realize that many of the people who had actually destroyed our livelihoods, mostly working-class, Latino immigrants, didn’t even really care about Rodney King.

If they didn’t loot our stores, someone else would. There was an end-of-world pandemonium and people grabbed as if they were going back to their bomb shelters with all those cartons of milk and stretchy leggings stolen from my mom’s store. It was hard to blame them.

People were hungry for this.

“…Harlem needed something to smash. To smash something is the ghetto’s chronic need. Most of the time it is the members of the ghetto who smash each other, and themselves.”

I’m not sure why or how this happened, but that same day, when we visited my mom’s store, there had been a police raid in a local apartment building. Inside they had found an entire unit full of loot. As storeowners, we were invited to go inside and pick through everything to see if any of it belonged to us.

Looking back on this now, how did that even happen? How was it legal for us to go inside this person’s house? Wasn’t this one of those situations where you couldn’t touch anything and everything had to be meticulously reported?

It had been reduced to that, people just coming and going inside of stores to take and then people just coming and going inside of people’s homes, to take back what was theirs, locked in a game of endless retaliation.

I saw the riots on AFN. I had vivid memories of that when I lived in LA, years later. I was deeply worried about the imminent possibility of social breakdown in the wake of $147/barrel oil prices, the trucks not coming, and something going wrong with the water supply. I lived in Culver City, not far from Inglewood. What if…

It feels like most people I meet have no intuition for how much violence there always is, just below the surface.

The violence of the civil rights struggle, and its arguable necessity, have been erased from historical memory. We have the Myth of Martin Luther King and the triumph of pacifism. Until I read We Will Shoot Back: Armed Resistance in the Mississippi Freedom Struggle, I had no idea that the fight for legal equality involved the severed head of a nightrider, left as a warning to others:

Cotton and other SNCC [Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee] workers came to the Walthall municipality of Tylertown in 1961…Several months prior to the SNCC coming to Tylertown, nightriders had repeatedly come across the bridge at Magee’s Creek, which separated the Black community from predominantly White neighborhoods of the city. To no avail, members of the Black community warned that the terrorism must stop. Local Blacks told Cotton that during a raid by nightriders, a group of “brothers with…ancient connections” captured a White supremacist marauder. “Ancient connections” suggested that the Black captors were part of a fraternal order. The nightrider’s head was severed from his body and placed on the bridge as a warning to White terrorists. After this act of counterterrorism, no White person crossed the Magee’s Creek bridge unless “on business and treated [Black] people in a respectful manner.” This Walthall County Black enclave served as a “haven” for SNCC workers…The identification of haven communities for protection was essential to the SNCC’s work in the state.

Another myth is that boycotts of in the South were nonviolent. In fact, in many towns where boycotts were organized, there were groups of young, thuglike black people called “Da Spirit” who’d beat your ass if you shopped at one of those stores. In some places, there were neighborhood councils where you had the opportunity to explain yourself. The boycotts weren’t violent towards white people in that sense, although they were intended to destroy people’s livelihoods. They were one of the most effective strategies, objectively.

I’d like to stress that white people ALSO take up arms to defend their own communities when they feel threatened. Here are actual scary KKK veterans with PTSD talking about the importance of defending against niggers. There’s a Klansman talking about how the Rodney King riots made him take up arms just like the Koreans, but in Mississippi:

The aftermath of a march with MLK turned people away from pacifism. The civil rights era was too complicated for simple conclusions:

King and the contingent joined two hundred local Blacks in a march from Philadelphia’s [MI] Mount Nebo Baptist Church to the county courthouse downtown. The group rallied at the county jail after being denied the right to assemble on the courthouse lawn by the police.

A mob of three hundred White civilians attacked the commemorative march as they proceeded back to Mount Nebo in Philadelphia’s Black community…The mob hurled insults, as well as “stones, bottles, clubs, and firecrackers” at King and the marchers. Police only intervened after fighting broke out between six of the marchers and a small group of the mob…Upon returning to the March against Fear in the Delta, King pledged that the march would return to Philadelphia to “straighten the place out…using our nonviolent might.”

Armed self-defense would be necessary to repeal nightriders attacking the Freedom Democratic Party (FDP) headquarters that evening in Philadelphia. The FDP office also served as a residence for organizers and volunteers in Neshoba County. White terrorists made four raids on the headquarters, which contained approximately twenty occupants on the evening of June 21st. The first attack came at 8:10 p.m. from a lone White racist who fired at a group of Blacks after arguing with them…White terrorist nightriders came twice again that evening and found the occupants of the FDP house ready to return fire...One of the attackers, forty-year-old Stanley Stewart, was wounded after being hit with “buckshot in the head and neck” by Featherstone and his comrades. Stewart was treated for his wounds at a local hospital and released, never to be arrested by local authorities. Media reports stated that the nightriders returned again that evening and fired at an FBI agent who was standing near the FDP house…

Philadelphia police chief Brute Latimer said–in reference to Whites detained in the area immediately after the shooting–“I know their mamas and papas and they are not hell raisers. I think they got to drinking…and somebody took a pop at them.” Local officials blamed Movement activists for the day’s violence. Philadelphia mayor Clayton Lewis told the media that “[i]t’s just those rabble rousers and foreigners that came in here.” Chief Latimer added, “We got good nigger people here…What I think is we are going to accept our good niggers and they are going to fall in line.”

The defense of the office was considered a victory for many in the organization. One SNCC militant remembered,

I remember white people in Philadelphia, Mississippi, coming down to the SNCC office and houses where movement people lived, shooting in houses. And one night that all stopped, because when they shot, they were shot back and they were hit. So that stopped that…And for those people it was a big victory.

The defense of the MFDP led by a SNCC member also signified the organization’s shift from advocating nonviolence to embracing armed self-defense.

I think black people have tried everything at least once. White people have a job to do. The world would be so much better if we could find someone to be nicer to returning veterans than the KKK (!). I suggest stoner chick. Puff, Pass, and Paint saves lives:

For people who need stronger medicine, MDMA can be life-changing:

For people who fear emotions, hippie drugs are deeply threatening. “Soon, the men found it difficult to obey orders.”

Soldiers…having problems with their feelings…that get better when they take pills from gay nightclubs…so they stop racially terrorizing people. It’s all true. I propose unlimited cannabis, ketamine, and MDMA for all veterans, as a reward for their sacrifice and a way to make them calm the hell down. Imagine if the Klan guy with all the guns was a stoner instead of an alcoholic. We put robots on the moons of distant planets. We can do this.

It only sounds ridiculous because you have to de-brainwash yourself so much. Considering how many health conditions cannabis can treat, giving everybody free cannabis would probably help public health in a lot of ways. Imagine if we took 10% of what we spend on corn subsidies and subsidized organic hemp and cannabis farms. Is that too much to ask, given all we’ve done for Iowa? Instead of making, imagine if we’d spent the same amount of money giving cannabis away. Imagine if everyone were 5% less angry. The benefits would be incalculable.

We already spend money just to keep defense contractors open so we have floppy disks for our nuclear weapons. Whoever introduced the bill to make this happen would be reelected until the end of time and a monument would be erected in his or her honor. A wonderful point David Graeber made is that bureaucracy is utopian, too:

Bureaucracies public and private appear–for whatever historical reasons–to be organized in such a way as to guarantee that a significant proportion of actors will not be able to perform their tasks as expected. It’s in this sense that I’ve said one can fairly say that bureaucracies are utopian forms of organization. After all, is this not what we always say of utopians: that they have a naive faith in the perfectibility of human nature and refuse to deal with humans as they actually are? Which is, are we not also told, what leads them to set impossible standards and then blame the individuals for not living up to them? But in fact all bureaucracies do this, insofar as they set demands they insist are reasonable (since a significant number of people will always be unable [sic] to perform as expected), conclude that the problem is not with the demands themselves but with the individual inadequacy of each particular human being who fails to live up to them.