“Hey, wait just one minute, isn’t this just around the corner from Barbara and Elzie? I shrieked at our television set as I watched throngs of people, my people, swarming into the streets overturning cars, throwing bricks, rocks and bottles and lighting businesses on fire.
The intersection of Florence and Normandie was quickly labeled the Flash Point of the 1992 Los Angeles Uprising.
Barbara and Elzie Lewis , the in-laws of my married daughter, had a lovely home located at 1412 W. 92 Street. It was a street with well kept lawns, flower gardens and beautiful landscaped areas.
There were no old mattresses, ragged stuffed leather chairs, old televisions or broken chest of drawers lining the curbs when it wasn’t trash pick-up day. These items, please note, are clear indicators that you’re in the ‘hood.
Not to mention, there was a total absence of old cars parked on dead lawns and rusty car parts scattered in driveways
Barbara and Elzie lived in a nice neighborhood, one of those where the residents say, it doesn’t happen here, so what was I seeing on my television screen ?
Florence and Normandie ,was but a few blocks from where our folks maintained a comfortable home.
I called Barbara on my old-time black telephone anchored in my hallway. But I didn’t reach her.
Finally catching up with her she told of her personal involvement in the uprising.
A newly opened neighborhood store had been trashed but not burned. Barbara with her cleaning supplies, brooms and trash bags marched down her street to the place.
She gathered up many of the young “hoodlums” (her words) who had been part of the chaos and put them to work.
“There were no eye-rolls or disrespect they knew better and, besides, I was wearing my mean face,” she told me.
Barbara says she thinks, at first, the young people thought she had come to beat their butts with her broom and mop sticks. They may have also thought, she added, that “I was gonna use my clorox spray bottle to get them in line.”
The uprising was ugly; deaths, arrests, injuries, loss of property and horrific images seared into our memories that, for many, will forever define South-Central Los Angeles.
Where were the parents of the young people who swarmed the streets? What did parents do when their kids came home with loot from ravaged burned-out stores?
One parent, Ms Williams, mother of Damian Football Williams, one of those who pulled Reginald Denny from his truck and beat him almost to death, claimed her son was innocent.
The brutal beating, with Football as the lead culprit, was seen on television newscast around the world.
Barbara walked back to her house with the newly formed hard-working cleaning crew and fed them. They broke bread together. She’d never met them before and never saw them afterwards. They had manners. They were respectful. They left saying thank you.
She didn’t hesitate to remind all of them that she thought that they were probably part of the unruly crowd that had destroyed the store – no eye rolls and no attitude – just, seemingly, an attitude of acceptance from someone who cared about them and about their community.
In a brief interview with Football Williams, in a documentary that aired last week,Williams says he is not a product of a bad environment but instead a product of bad decisions.
He was, for his role in beating Denny, charged with attempted murder, assault and aggravated mayhem but was only convicted of four misdemeanors and simple mayhem. He was released after serving four years of his 10-year sentence.
In 2003 he was convicted of participating in the murder of an LA. drug dealer and was sentenced to 46 years and is now serving his time in Pelican Bay California State Prison according to California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
A product of bad decisions is an outgrowth of being raised in a bad environment. However well-meaning and loving his mother, Mrs Williams was, her inability to hold her son accountable for the ghastly beating of Denny, that we all witnessed, reflects a parenting formula that spells disaster.
One would suspect that this young man was never made to own up to his misdeeds as he grew up. Not teaching children to accept responsibility and helping them to ignore what they’ve done fosters the ability to make bad decisions.
Surely someone called Mrs Williams and let her know that her son was the star of the live television news helicopter footage, so why didn’t she march down to Florence and Normandie and put a stop to the carnage?
Black parents have both an obligation and a responsibility in making our communities strong and that starts in the home.
Barbara didn’t create a clean-up crew because her biological son or daughter was wrecking the place, she sprang into action because she believed every child needs guidance and she knew that sometimes a mean face is required.