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TEN: The Black West: Into The 21st Century
This final chapter explores the contemporary
African American west. The first vignette, The Watts Riot: Twenty
Five Years Later, explains what has and has not occurred in
the region's largest African American community after its bloody
uprising. Crippin: The Rise of Black Gangs in Post-Watts Los
Angeles provides background on the nation's first mega-gang,
the 50,000 member Crips. Crack and Black America is one indication
of what has changed for the worst in Los Angeles and other cities
of the region. In Crime and Punishment: Two Black Generations
Collide we see the justice system from the perspective of two
individuals from the same neighborhood but who face each other
from each side of that system. Pan-Africanism in Portland, 1991
suggests that even western African Americans long for economic
and cultural connections with the African homeland. The Block,
1992 and Korean Green Grocers: Challenge and Opportunity discuss
the future of race and economics in the West. Finally, the vignette
The Multicultural American West suggests that this region, traditionally,
the most multicultural area in the United States, could lead
the nation in adjusting to the rapidly changing population as
we move into the 21st Century.
Terms for Week 10:
- O.J. Simpson Trial
- Judge David W. Williams and Richard Winrow
- Central Area Motivation Program (CAMP)
- Sam Smith
- Norm Rice
- Rodney King Riot
- Soon Da Ju
- Bussing in Seattle
- Michael Preston
- Al Sugiyama
- Model Cities
THE WATTS RIOT: TWENTY FIVE YEARS LATER
In August 1990, Robert Conot, author of Rivers
of Blood, Years of Darkness: The History of the Watts Riot,
and contributor to the 1968 Kerner Commission Report, assessed
the black community, which became a symbol of urban anger in
the 1960s. Here is part of that assessment.
It has been 25 years since the Watts riot
flashed across America’s consciousness like a lightening
bolt amid a thunderstorm of racial disharmony. Watts made a
statement of growing black power in cities of anger at American
casuistry in preaching democracy abroad while continuing to
practice discrimination at home; of generations of blacks deprived
of opportunity through repression and exploitation... Coming
near the high-water mark of the great black urban migration
that began with World War II, and within a year of passage of
civil rights and anti-poverty legislation, Watts is an important
benchmark. How does the condition of blacks today compare with
De jure segregation is gone. Discrimination
in jobs, education, and housing has largely been eliminated.
Blacks have moved into higher visibility, role model positions.
The number of black officials has multiplied from few than 1,200
in 1969 to 7,200 in 1989. Blacks are or have been mayors of
most of America’s largest cities.... Last year, Virginia
elected the nation’s first black governor since Reconstruction.
Numerous blacks have become instant millionaires: 75% of pro
basketball players, 60% of pro football players, and 17% of
pro baseball players are black. Some of the most popular and
highest paid entertainment figures--Bill Cosby, Oprah Winfrey,
Eddie Murphy... are black.
But de facto economic segregation remains
in housing and education. The gap between the median family
income of whites and blacks has increased, in constant dollars,
from $10,400 in 1960 to $14,600 in 1988. The problems of crime,
gangs, and drugs are no nearer solution. Blacks are imprisoned
at nearly four times their proportion of the population and
graduate from college at half the white rate.
Civil rights legislation opened opportunities
for blacks equipped with the education necessary to take advantage
of them. But in an era of disappearing blue-collar jobs and
ever-higher skill requirements for well-paying ones, the masses
of poor youth have not been receiving that education. Consequently,
the increasing disparity between affluence and poverty in the
population in general is even more pronounced among young blacks.
Among whites in 1987 (the latest figures available), the top
20% received 42.9% of all income, while the bottom 40% got 16.3%.
Among blacks, the top 20% received 47.4%, the bottom 40% only
There is no mystery about what would offer
the most effective attack on poverty; an intensive program to
prevent early pregnancy; education for responsible parenthood,
together with mechanisms to help promote a stable home life.
Head Start programs available to every disadvantaged family
anywhere in the United States. If we initiate a policy to establish
truly equal opportunity in the early years, we may then let
ability and competitiveness take their natural course. We have
abandoned one generation of the disadvantaged after Watts, and
have seen the United States slip in world standings. With the
minority population increasing at more than double the rate
of the white, to ignore the problems will only see them get
worse. An investment in the neglected human potential, redounding
in a more stable and productive society, is by far the best
use of capital the nation could make.
Source: The Los Angeles Times, August 5, 1990,
KOREAN GREEN GROCERS: CHALLENGE AND OPPORTUNITY
The 1970s and 1980s witnessed the rise of
Korean merchants in lower middle class neighborhoods throughout
the United States. But as a few well-publicized incidents in
black communities such as South Central Los Angeles, attest,
the emergence of Korean grocers in black communities has prompted
growing tension between the two groups. The situation in Los
Angeles is described in the article below.
The windows of Jr. Liquor Market are tightly
shuttered, the shelves half-empty. Boxes stuffed with canned
food, cleaning supplies and liquor bottles litter the floor.
Five months after he killed a black man who allegedly was robbing
him, Tae Sam Park and his wife are moving out. Anger shut the
doors of this tiny grocery in the city's tough South Central
section. "We don't know what we're going to do," said
Park, whose business buckled under a 110-day boycott by black
residents. "How do you think I feel?"
Nine blocks down Western Avenue, past shops
with boarded windows and graffiti-marred walls, black customers
at Price food Market and Liquor browse through well-stocked
shelves and line up a check-out counters. "Over here, Ma'am,
this line's open," a girl cheerfully tells an elderly customer.
Price Food market is an anomaly in South Central: a prospering
Korean-owned store where most of the 40 employees are black
or Hispanic. the store brings in $100,000 in slaves a week,
says store manager Joe Sanders, who is black. "Treat your
customers well. These are the people who are going to pay your
bills," Sanders said of the store's success. "If you
lose the relationship with the people, then you're going to
The June 4 shooting at Jr. Liquor Market and
other recent violence between Korean merchants and black residents
have brought tensions between the two groups to the boiling
point in South Central. Since March, three blacks and two Koreans
have been killed in South Central store disputes, according
to Mayor Tom Bradley's office. Korean stores have been firebombed,
causing thousands of dollars in property damage. Last week,
a startled Korean merchant wounded a black man who ran into
his store to escape a drive-by shooting. The store owner though
he was about to be robbed, police said. Even at Price Food,
the emotional undercurrent flares in an instant, said manager
Sanders. The previous day, a black customer stuck his hands
in the face of the owner, Chong Park, when Park curtly told
him the store had run out of an advertised special on sugar,
Sanders recalled. "So you're going to shoot me, too?"
the man yelled at Park before Sanders intervened. I tell my
boss, "Stay out of the picture," Sanders said. "Blacks
don't like his face. They just don't like Koreans."
In the latest case to rock the city, Korean
grocer Soon Da Ju received probation for the March 16 shooting
death of 15-year-old Latasha Harlins inside the Du family store.
Mrs. Du had accused Harlins of shoplifting a $1.79 bottle of
orange juice. The lenient sentence handed down Nov. 15 stunned
black leaders, who accused Superior Court Judge Joyce Harlin
of racism and vowed, once again, to take their protest to the
streets--this time, in front of Harlin's home. "We demand
dignity and respect," said Danny Bakewell Sr., president
of the Brotherhood Crusade, an activist black organization which
organized the pickets and the Jr. Liquor Market boycott. The
crusade call off the market boycott when a Korean merchants'
association--whose members had donated more than $20,000 to
keep the store afloat--agreed to have it offered for sale to
a black buyer. Bakewell said he has a prospective buyer lined
up. Said Sanders, "It'd be a miracle if it happened."
Black store ownership is a rarity in South
Central, where blacks continually complain they are verbally
abused and even followed as they shop in stores owned by Koreans
many of them recent immigrants to California who live outside
the neighborhood. Resentful residents say the Koreans tend to
hire their own, take blacks' dollars out of the area and then
David Kim, Southern California president of
the National Korean American Grocers Association, acknowledges
that some Korean grocers are suspicious of blacks and don't
hire their employees from the community. "A husband and
wife work 14 to 16 hours a day, 365 days a year," said
Kim, a store owner himself, "We are not making the money
people think... You cannot hire any employee when there's no
room for it." Korean merchants also must contend with robbery
and shoplifting attempts in dangerous neighborhoods, he said.
Annual store turnover is 30%, said Ron Wakabayashi, executive
director of the city Human Relations Commission.
Black resentment of Koreans also stems from
years they're being pushed down the economic ladder by yet another
immigrant group, said the Rev. Cecil L. Murray, pastor of the
First African Methodist Episcopal Church of Los Angeles. "Every
minority group has benefited by the century-old struggle of
African Americans to pry open the doors of opportunity,"
Murray said. "We open the doors and others walk through
Los Angeles' Korean population has grown from
9,000 to 250,000 over the past 20 years. Hispanics now account
for 40% of the city's 3.5 million people and are a slight majority
in South Central; blacks, are 14% while Asians are 9%.
Source: Portland Oregonian, December 3, 1991,
CRIPPIN: THE RISE OF BLACK GANGS IN POST-WATTS
In the following account historian Mike Davis
describes the rise of the Los Angeles-based 50,000 member Crips,
the nation's largest street gang with "affiliations"
in 32 states and 113 cities. His discussion includes an analysis
of the historical circumstances including the "managerial
revolution" which gave rise to this "mega-gang."
It is time to meet L.A.'s "Viet Cong."
Although the study of barrio gangs is a vast cottage industry,
dating back to Emory Bogardus's 1926 monograph...The City Boy
and His Problems, almost nothing has been written about the
history of South central L.A.'s sociologically distinct gang
culture. The earliest, repeated references to a "gang problem"
in the Black community press, moreover, deal with gangs of white
youth who terrorized Black residents along the frontiers of
the southward-expanding Central Avenue ghetto.... Indeed, from
these newspaper accounts and the recollections of old-timers,
it seems probable that the first generation of Black street
gangs emerged as a defensive response to white violence in the
schools and streets during the late 1940s. The Eagle, for example,
records "racial gang wars" at Manual Arts High in
1946, Canoga Park High (in the Valley) in 1947, and John Adams
High in 1949, while Blacks at Fremont High were continually
assaulted throughout 1946 and 1947. Possibly as a result of
their origin in these school integration/transition battles,
Black gangs, until the 1970s, tended to be predominantly defined
by school-based turfs rather than by the neighborhood territorialities
of Chicago gangs.
Aside from defending Black teenagers from
racist attacks (which continued through the 1950s under the
aegis of such white gangs as the "Spookhunters"),
the early South central gangs--the Businessmen, Slausons, Gladiators,
Farmers, Parks, Outlaws, Watts, Boot Hill, Rebel Rousers, Roman
Twenties, and so forth--were also the architects of social space
in new and usually hostile settings. As tens of thousands of
1940s and 1950s Black immigrants crammed into the overcrowded,
absentee-landlord-dominated neighborhoods of the ghetto's Eastside,
low-rider gangs offered "cool worlds" of urban socialization
for poor young newcomers from rural Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi.
Meanwhile, on the other side of Main Street, more affluent Black
youngsters from the Westside bungalow belt created an [imitation]
white "car club" subculture of Los Angeles in the
1950s...While "rumblin" (usually non-lethally) along
this East-West socio-economic divide...the Black gangs of the
1950s also had to confront the implacable (often lethal) racism
of Chief Parker's LAPD. In the days when the young Daryl Gates
was driver to the great Chief, the policing of the ghetto was
becoming simultaneously less corrupt but more militarized and
Since "wild tribes" and gang perils
were its golden geese, it is not surprising that Parker's LAPD
looked upon the "rehabilitation" of gang youth in
much the same way as the arms industry regarded peace-mongering
or disarmament treaties. Vehemently opposed to the extension
of constitutional rights to juveniles and loathing "social
workers," Chief Parker, a strict Victorian, launched a
concerted attack on the Group Guidance Unit of the Probation
Department, a small program that had emerged out of the so-called
Zoot Suit Riots of 1943. The original sin of Group Guidance,
in the Chief's opinion, was that they "gave status to gang
activity" by treating gang members as socially transformable
individuals. The LAPD in the 1950s and early 1960s dichotomized
youth offenders into two groups. On one hand, were mere "delinquents"
(mainly white youth) susceptible to the shock treatment of juvenile
hall; on the other hand, were "juvenile criminals"
(mainly Black and Chicano)...destined to spend their lives within
the state prison system. Essential to the LAPD worldview was
the assertion that ghetto gang youth were composed of...hardcore
criminality. Moreover, as Black nationalist groups, like the
Muslims, began to appear in the ghetto in the late 1950s, Parker,
like [J. Edgar] Hoover, began to see the gang problem and the
"militant threat" as forming a single, overarching
structure of Black menace...
South central gang youth, coming under the
influence of the Muslims and the long-distance charisma of Malcolm
X, began to reflect the generational awakening of Black Power.
As Obatala describes the "New Breed" of the 1960s,
"their perceptions were changing: those who formerly had
seen things in terms of East and West were now beginning to
see many of the same things in Black and White." As the
gangs began to become politicized, they became 'al fresco' churches
whose ministers brought the gospel (of Black power) out into
Veteran civil rights activists can recall
one memorable instance, during a protest at a local whites-only
drive-in restaurant, when the timely arrival of Black gang members
saved them from a mauling by white hot rodders. The gang was
the legendary Slausons, based in the Fremont High area, and
they became a crucial social base for the rise of the local
Black Liberation movement. The turning-point, of course, was
the festival of the oppressed in August 1965 that the Black
community called a rebellion and the white media a riot. Although
the riot commission headed by old-guard Republicans John McCone
and Asa Call supported Chief Parker's so-called "riff-raff
theory" that the August events were the work of a small
criminal minority, subsequent research, using the McCone Commission's
own data, proved that up to 75,000 people took part in the uprising,
mostly from the stolid Black working class. For gang members
it was "The Last Great Rumble," as formerly hostile
groups forgot old grudges and cheered each other on against
the hated LAPD and the National Guard. Old enemies, like the
Slausons and the Gladiators (from the 54th Street area), flash[ed]
smiles and high signs as they broke through Parker's invincible
This ecumenical movement...lasted three or
four years. Community workers, and even the LAPD themselves,
were astonished by the virtual cessation of gang hostilities
as the gang leadership joined the Revolution. Two leading Slausons,
Apprentice "Bunchy" Carter (a famous warlord) and
Jon Huggins became the local organizers of the Black Panther
Party, while a third, Brother Crook (aka Ron Wilkins) created
the Community Alert Patrol to monitor police abuse. Meanwhile
an old Watts gang hangout near Jordan Downs, the "parking
lot," became a recruiting center for the Sons of Watts
who organized and guarded the annual Watts Festival.
It is not really surprising, therefore, that
in the late 1960s the doo-ragged, hardcore street brothers and
sisters, who for an extraordinary week in 1965 had actually
driven the police out of the ghetto, were visualized by Black
Power theorists as the strategic reserve of Black Liberation,
if not its vanguard. (A similar fantasy of a Warriors-like unification
of the gangs was popular amongst sections of the Chicano Left).
There was a potent moment in this period, around 1968-9, when
the Panthers--their following soaring in the streets and high
schools--looked as if they might become the ultimate revolutionary
gang. Teenagers, who today flock to hear Eazy-E rap, "It
ain't about color, it's about the color of money. I love the
green" -- then filled the Sports Arena to listen to Stokely
Carmichael, H.Rap Brown, Bobby Seale and James Forman adumbrate
the unity program of SNCC and the Panthers. The Black Congress
and the People’s Tribunal (convened to try the LAPD for
the murder of Gregory Clark) were other expressions of the same
aspiration for unity and militancy.
But the combined efforts of the FBI'S notorious
COINTELPRO program and the LAPD's Public Disorder Intelligence
Division (a super-Red Squad that until 1982 maintained surveillance
on every suspicious group from the Panthers to the National
Council of Churches) were concentrated upon destroying Los Angeles's
Black power vanguards. The February 1969 murders of Panther
leaders Carter and Huggins on the UCLA campus by members of
a rival nationalist group (which Panther veterans still insist
was actually police-instigated) was followed a year later by
the debut of LAPD's SWAT team in a day-long siege of the Panthers'
South central headquarters. Although a general massacre of the
Panthers cadre was narrowly averted by an angry community outpouring
into the streets, the Party was effectively destroyed.
As even the [Los Angeles] Times recognized,
the decemination of the Panthers led directly to a recrudescence
of gangs in the early 1970s. "Crippin,'" the most
extraordinary new gang phenomenon, was a bastard offspring of
the Panthers' former charisma... There are various legends about
the original Crips, but they agree on certain particulars. As
Donald Bakeer, a teacher at Manual Arts High, explains in his
self-published novel about the Crips, the first "set"
was incubated in the social wasteland created by the clearances
for the Century Freeway--a traumatic removal of housing and
destruction of neighborhood ties that was the equivalent of
a natural disaster. His protagonist, a second-generation Crip,
boasts to his "homeboys": "My daddy was a member
of the original 107 Hoover Crip Gang, the original Crips in
Los Angeles, O.G. (original gangster) to the max." Secondly,
as journalist Bob Baker has determined, the real "O.G."
number one of the 107 (who split away from an older gang called
the Avenues) was a young man powerfully influenced by the Panthers
in their late sixties heyday:
He was Raymond Washington, a Fremont High
who had been too young to be a Black Panther but had
soaked up some of the Panther rhetoric about community
control of neighborhoods. After Washington was kicked out
of Fremont, he wound up at Washington High, and something
began to jell in the neighborhood where he lived, around
107th and Hoover streets.
Although it is usually surmised that the name Crip is derived
from the 107 Hoovers' "crippled" style of walking,
Bakeer was told by one O.G. that it originally stood for "Continuous
Revolution in Progress." However apocryphal this translation
may be, it best describes the phenomenal spread of Crip sets
across the ghetto between 1970 and 1972. A 1972 gang map, released
by the LAPD's 77th Street Division, shows a quiltwork of blue-ragged
Crips, both Eastside and Westside, as well as miscellany of
other gangs, some descended from the pre-Watts generation. Under
incessant Crip pressure, these independent gangs--the Brims,
Bounty Hunters, Denver Lanes, Athens Park Gang, the Bishops,
and, especially, the powerful Pirus--federated as the red-handkerchiefed
Bloods. Particularly strong in Black communities peripheral
to the South central core, like Compton, Pacoima, Pasadena and
Pomona, the Bloods have been primarily a defensive reaction-formation
to the aggressive emergence of the Crips.
It needs to be emphasized that this was not
merely a gang revival, but a radical permutation of Black gang
culture. The Crips, however perversely, inherited the Panther
aura of fearlessness and transmitted the ideology of armed vanguardism
(shorn of its program). In some instances, Crip insignia continued
to denote Black Power, as during the Monrovia riots in 1972
or the L.A. Schools bussing crisis of 1977-9. But too often
Crippin' came to represent an escalation of intra-ghetto violence
to Clockwork Orange levels (murder as a status symbol, and so
on) that was unknown in the days of the Slausons and anathema
to everything that the Panthers had stood for.
Moreover the Crips blended a penchant for
ultra-violence with an overweening ambition to dominate the
entire ghetto. Although, as Bakeer subtly sketches in his novel,
Eastside versus Westside tensions persist, the Crips, as the
Panthers before them, attempted to hegemonize as an entire generation.
In this regard, they achieved, like the contemporary Black P-Stone
Nation in Chicago, a managerial revolution in gang organization.
If they began as a teenage substitute for the fallen Panthers,
they evolved through the 1970s into a hybrid of teen cult and
proto-Mafia. At a time when economic opportunity was draining
away from South central Los Angeles, the Crips were becoming
the power resource of last resort for thousands of abandoned
Source: Mike Davis, City of Quartz, (New York,
1990), pp. 293-300.
THE BLOCK, 1992
The following is an account of the impact
of the 1992 Los Angeles Riot on one block in the South-Central
ghetto. But it also illustrates the tensions and rivalries among
people of color in contemporary urban America.
Before Doomsday, The Block pulsed with life.
Palm trees shaded the tidy little houses that stretched....from
the intersection of Vermont and Vernon Avenues. Behind waist-high
fences old folks puttered in their gardens.... Around the corner
"Fish Man" Taylor was flipping catfish at the All
Seas fish shop, and the smell of fried chicken wafted out of
Julia Harris's fast food place.... Farther on, the chatter of
Korean peddlers hawking everything from nachos to gold chains
spilled out of the Sunny Swap Meet, mixing with a lilt of reggae
from Sea Blize Records. Surveying this funky empire, Willie,
the homeless man, peered out from a vacant TV-repair shop. The
landlord had given him a key in return for odd jobs. Willie
kept an eye on things....
"They're robbing the market!" The
news seared along The Block. A hundred maniac looters surged
past Vermont Square Shopping Center. Some swung axes, others
crowbars, some had lock cutters....They snapped the lock at
Sunny Swap Meet. They piled into a pickup and tried to bash
through the steel shutters at the Best Discount house wares
store. Then they plunged into Tong's Tropical Fish store and
ran out with boa constrictors, fish--even the turtles. When
it was all over, Willie, eyes glinting, walked up to a Korean
merchant studying the ruins. "Get out of here, motherf---,"
he shouted. "I'll burn your motherf--ass. I'll bring 'em
back to burn your ass a second time."
What possessed everyone? With the shudder
of a worn-out furnace, The Block transformed itself. People
cut loose, scaring everyone, including themselves. The center
didn't hold. At the peak of the frenzy, there was one certainty:
this catastrophe didn't just happen....The Block lay within
one of the country's worst zones of crime and economic blight.
In the neighborhood of Vermont and Vernon last year, there was
about one murder every other day, along with 655 robberies each
year and 255 rapes. The median income was $17,410, a gasp above
the official U.S. poverty line. In the area of South-Central
where The Block resides, almost 44% of the black teens are unemployed.
Still, if The Block offered hardship to its residents, it offered
an opportunity, of sorts, to its small business people. "All
the talk about ghettos not having any money is a myth,"
says Wendell Ryan, a partner in the shopping strip that included
the Pioneer Chicken franchise and Sea Blize Records. "As
soon as somebody moves out, we have three or four people waiting
to get in."
Ryan's waiting list was a tribute to a spirit
of rugged entrepreneurship that persisted in spite of the odds.
Eight years ago Julia Harris spent 12 weeks negotiating a $100,000
small-business loan, which she put together with $50,000 of
her own to buy the Pioneer Chicken franchise. She paid $1,540
each month in rent and turned over one fifth of her take to
the Pioneer chain; but she made enough to live outside the neighborhood
on the more prosperous black turf of Baldwin Hills. For this,
she paid the price The Block regularly exacted; punks robbed
Pioneer Chicken 14 times; in 1985 they hit her shop four times
in one week. At one point, crack dealers used her restaurant
tables to cut their coke.
While the working woman behind the fast fry
was an African American, Robert Castillo, who owned the All
Seas fish shop, came from Mexico. He came to the U.S. in 1973,
worked for years as store manager, saved his pay and bought
the place for $350,000 five years ago--$40,000 down and $3,100
a month for mortgage. He hired four black countermen, put up
a photograph of Martin Luther King Jr., commissioned a mural
showing a dark-skinned cowboy riding a huge fish across a lake.
He worked hard, doubled the store's take. To succeed, he told
friends, you had to get along with the community. When two Korean
businessmen offered him $500,000 for All Seas, he turned them
down. "I told them to get the hell out of there,"
he recalls. "If I sold to them I'd make money, but all
my family would be out of work--they don't hire Hispanics."
The fires of race superheated the pressures
of class. The Koreans weren't all rich. When Byongkok Kim, 57,
arrived in America six years ago, he had a family but no security
for any loans. He used $10,000 in savings, scratched up $35,000
from Korean moneylenders, at 30% interest and bought the C &
C Market on Vermont and Vernon. By working seven days a week,
14 hours a day, he and his family made $6,000 a month. Far above
them stood Young Jin Kim whom The Block call "a ghetto
merchant"--a prince of poverty. Kim moved from Seoul to
Los Angeles eight years ago. He worked 18 hour days, splitting
his time among a liquor store, a gas station and a tennis club.
With his savings and family money, he bought a clothing boutique
in downtown Los Angeles. The business prospered. In 1987 he
put together $120,000 in family money and a $200,000 loan form
the California Korea Bank, the state's largest Korean-owned
lender, to buy a building on Vermont Square from a Jewish landlord.
He turned the building into a bazaar, subletting stands to 28
small dealers who paid him between $500 and $1,000 a month in
rent. After meeting his mortgage payment, his utility bills
and the payroll for his security guards, he still made a tidy
Relations between the Koreans and the rest
of The Block were uneasy. Although the stands in the Sunny Swap
Meet changed hands every year or two, local blacks didn't have
the $10,000 to $15,000 needed to start up. Kim says none ever
applied for a stall. New renters were predominately Koreans.
Kim did hire four African Americans as security guards and sweepers.
But the mom-and-pop stands were small and poor; they gave no
jobs to anyone from The Block....The Block's drug and crime
rates surged upwards. Koreans, suspicious, padded down the aisles
after blacks as they shopped. "The Swap Meet was one of
the best businesses around," remembers Harris. "But
I tried to tell the Koreans all the time, 'You can't think you're
better that we are'." They ignored her. They would sit
in Pioneer Chicken, take up all the tables for the meeting--and
order one Coke. Tensions escalated last year when a Korean shopkeeper
shot and killed Latasha Harlins, a 15-year-old black girl who
she had accused of shoplifting. A judge sentenced the shopkeeper
to probation. The Block swelled with rage.... Then a jury acquitted
four white policemen of stomping Rodney King. On Vermont Avenue....
people were home watching TV when the verdict was announced.
They poured into the street. Brad Long, 24, heard teens screaming,
"We're not gonna take this!" "Before long, everybody
was outside," he says. "Babies, mothers--it was like
some kind of revolution."
A week later Jeeps filled with M-16-toting
troops were cruising The Block. Next door to the Swap Meet,
Harris stood in the waterlogged ruins of Pioneer Chicken with
plastic bags wrapped around her feet. "This is a hard place,"
she said, clutching a flashlight in the blackness of her burned-out
store. "But I'm staying." The C & C liquor store
didn't burn that night. But the Kim family lost $85,000 in stolen
merchandise and structural damage. The psychic damage was worse.
John Kim, a son, said, "We were good to the people here.
We had friends. We gave them credit." As he spoke, his
mother bent down in the rubble to pick up a piece of dirty paper.
She used it to wipe her eyes. "We won't come back here,"
he said. "We are going back to Korea or another state like
Hawaii, where there is justice for all."
Source: Newsweek, May 18, 1992, pp. 40-44.
CRACK AND THE BLACK WEST
On a chilly February night, a tall young man
named Ron sits in MacArthur Park, his hands stuffed into the
pockets of his thin red jacket. In an interview with Los Angeles
Times staff writer Darrell Dawsey, he tells a story that is
familiar in the netherworld of drug abuse. The second passage
is part of a speech by California’s State Senator Diane
Watson who represents “Ron’s” district to
the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
Ron: I’m from a small town in Louisiana,
but the fast life got me. I wanted to hang out with the fast
people. I had a job at Southern California Gas Co. I had a job
paying $30,000 a year. I had two years of college at Southern
University [in Baton Rouge]. I lost it all because I got hooked
on dope, crack. That s--- is a double edged sword. It makes
you feel so good but it will tear your life apart. I've met
every challenge in my life, man, and won. But I was not able
to beat this drug thing.
I started off selling it. I was making a little
money, but then I started getting high too much. Pretty soon,
I was smoking more than I was selling. My company paid $20,000
for me to spend 30 days at a rehabilitation clinic, $29,000
for the next 30. But they got tired of me going to rehab. I
wasn't making any improvement. I was still smoking and messing
up my life. So they fired me. That’s why I’m living
like I do. I can’t get a job.
I heard they were trying to legalize drugs.
That would be the worst thing. Think about it. If they got better
cocaine, everyone would try it. You won’t have anybody
in this country who isn't on their way to getting strung out.
That’s a lie, when people tell you that you won’t
have crime [with decriminalization]. I had a heart operation,
had a valve replaced. And I’m still smoking. Coke is a
cruel mistress. She don’t care who she takes from. And
she doesn't give anything back.
These kids who sell it, they'll tell you.
They don’t sell it because they are bad people. They sell
it to stay alive. How else are people going to make money? Nobody
wants to hire too many black people. So they think we are supposed
to starve because they won’t give us jobs? Naw. People
are going to try to stay alive, any way they can. That doesn't
make you a villain. [The drug epidemic] is a tough problem.
I really can’t say what the solution is. I think you need
more education. Enforcement doesn't work. People need jobs.
I think that’s one of the main things: jobs. I blew mine,
but that doesn't mean I don’t know how important a job
is. After the jobs, though, I don’t know. It’s tough.
* * *
Watson: Since the mid-1960s, American blacks
have been fighting not a legal war against segregation, nor
an insurmountable economic war against discrimination, but a
profound psychological war for our own sense of self-worth.
We are fighting to free ourselves of the psychological bondage
to which Africans were subjected in this country. It is the
damage that results when you distort a people’s belief
in the cause-and-effect principle of the universe. It is the
faith in this principle that motivates achievement and enables
self-respect. It is the belief that effort produces results.
It is the notion that “I can get what I want if I work
hard enough, smart enough, long enough.” It is what teaches
a human being to believe in productive labor. It is self-discipline.
Source: Los Angeles Times, March 12, 19, 1990.
CRIME AND PUNISHMENT: TWO BLACK GENERATIONS COLLIDE
In this account from the Los Angeles Times,
two black men, Judge David W. Williams and Richard Winrow, who
grew up in the same South Central neighborhood although in different
eras, face each other in court. Their experience reflects the
intersection of race and class in America.
U.S. District Court Judge David W. Williams,
79, grew up poor on 109th Street in South Central Los Angeles,
raised in an era when it was still not allowed for blacks to
buy homes west of Western Ave. Richard Winrow, 22, until Wednesday
lived on 118th Street in South Central, a little more than a
mile away from where the judge was raised. An A student before
dropping out of high school from “sheer boredom,”
Winrow was the youngest in a poor family of nine children. He
was born in an era when blacks could move anywhere they liked,
but few, including Winrow, could escape the poverty that surrounded
On Wednesday, the two men, separated by two
generations but sharing similar roots, were brought together
in Department 23 of U.S. District Court in downtown Los Angeles.
In his courtroom, Williams--bound by a federal multiple offense
law that forced his hand--dispatched Winrow to prison for the
rest of his life, without the possibility of parole.
While of judicial interest as the first use
of the mandatory sentence law in California, the courtroom paradox
also raised fundamental and troubling questions about who fails
in society, who succeeds, and why.
Named a student of the year in 8th grade at
Ralph Bunche Junior High, Winrow was known as “the smartest
kid in the neighborhood”--a child who it seems could easily
have attended college and followed a career. Winrow’s
family, which emotionally insisted upon his innocence Wednesday,
said he had a chance to make it in life, but circumstances were
always running against him. Relatives, reacting to the harshness
of the sentence, found it hard to believe that the judge was
a product of South Central himself.
“If that judge had ever been on this
street, then he’d know what it was like,” said Vincent
Scott, one of Richard’s six brothers. “[Williams]
didn't grow up here. If he grew up in this neighborhood, how
could he judge my brother?”
Today, East 118th Street and 109th Street
mirror one another; both are lined with trees and modest homes.
And children in both neighborhoods today have a high school
dropout rate of nearly 50%. Gang graffiti mars industrial buildings
that stand where grassy fields once were. Williams, long a resident
of Bel-Air, is intimately familiar with South Central’s
troubles, having presided over 4,000 criminal cases arising
from the Watts riots of 1965, and watching jobs move out and
crime go up in the area in more recent times. But he remembers
a more nostalgic time, when he practiced law on Central Avenue
and “people could stroll down the street without any premonition
As Williams recalls, “the whole society
was different” in South Central in the 1920s and 1930s.
Social pressure was so great that if a boy got in trouble with
the law, his family would pack up and move away.
“The neighborhoods were good, and if
a kid was arrested, the shame of it would drive a family out,”
he said in an interview. “Now the question [in the South
Central area] is which families have not had a son arrested.”
No matter how bad the environment, Williams
said, it does not provide an excuse for criminal behavior. “I
blame the young people of my own race for not getting an education
and for taking the easy way and for trafficking in drugs and
joining gangs,” Williams said. “But there is blame
to share, because our young people were not denied a chance
for a job like they are today.”
At Winrow’s house on Wednesday, such
sociological musings seemed off the mark. A member of the family
had been sent off to prison for a long, long time, and those
left behind did not seem to understand why. The family, so emotionally
distraught over the sentence handed down by Williams, did not
clearly understand that their brightest star would spend the
rest of his life in prison. His mother, Lavern, believed the
sentence would last only 20 years.
“I think it’s too stiff a penalty
for a young man,” she said, speaking softly and holding
back tears. If Winrow was guilty, then he should get “time
to think about it, yes. But not 20 years.” Winrow had
three prior narcotics violations when he was arrested last December
in a raid on his East 118th Street home and charged with possessing
5.5 ounces of cocaine. Prosecutors identified him as a member
of the Mona Park Crips. But family and friends all claimed he
did not sell drugs and had never joined a gang. “Richard
was not a dangerous person,” said Renee Scott, 28, his
sister. “He was not a bad boy. These [gang members] around
her, true, he knows them, but he was never a gangbanger.”...
“They’re trying to use him as an example for all
these other guys around here,” Renee said angrily. “They
didn't do him right.
But Williams said Winrow’s gang and
drug activities had been clearly proven. He also noted that
Winrow’s attorney’s--two from Las Vegas and one
from the Los Angeles area are “high priced lawyers...
who handle large drug cases. No little kid from Watts is going
to come up here with that kind of representation without a lot
of financing behind him.” The sentence he handed down
Wednesday nevertheless troubled Williams, who said he hopes
the case will prompt a review by Congress of mandatory sentencing
laws that preempt a judge’s ability to decide for themselves,
but this is the law, and it’s my job and it’s up
to Congress to do something about it...,” said Williams.
“Let’s put it this way: today was the first time
in 35 years as a judge that I have had to give anyone a life
Winrow’s grieving family and friends couldn't fathom that
he will not be coming home again. “Life without parole?,”
said Betty Williams, a family friend and former neighbor. “That’s
his whole life wasted.”
Source: Los Angeles Times, December 7, 1989.
PAN-AFRICANISM IN PORTLAND, 1991
In an article titled “African Americans
Can Play Major Roles in Forming Stronger Ties Between Nations,”
Oregonian reporter Osker Spicer describes the attempts by Portland
blacks to promote economic Pan-Africanism.
What do Africa and African Americans mean
to each other? And subsequently, what should Africa and the
United States mean to each other? How best to strengthen ties
between the world’s most prosperous country and its poorest
continent was emotionally addressed--and productively answered--during
a historic meeting this April between 1,000 African and African
American leaders in Abidjan, Ivory Coast.
But even closer to home, the Portland-based
American African Trade Relations Association founded last year,
is launching similar world wide efforts to promote healthy commercial,
cultural, and educational U.S. African connections. George Amadi
Ejim, president and founder of the Portland group, said that
while the Abidjan summit meeting primarily rallied black African
and African Americans, “we are going beyond that to more
actively include African friends here and in Africa who are
white. We want to see all of us come together.” “But
no mater what we say about links between Africa and the United
States, without African American entrepreneurs and organizations,
it can’t work,” Ejim insisted. “I see African
Americans as the bride. As Americans and as Africans they share
both cultures. We need that connection. An African American
can negotiate better in America for Africans and in Africa for
The question of black America’s connections
to Africa--commonly termed Pan Africanism--harks back to the
early 1800s and to the first slaves. They, according to African
scholar Ali Mazrui, were violently “dis-Africanized”
with varied versions of the refrain, “forget that you
are African, remember that you are black! Forget that you are
African, remember that you are black!” Consequently, there
is much to be learned and relearned; many blacks, just as most
other Americans, are woefully uninformed about Africa. While
the black consciousness movement of the 1960s and 1970s and
recent political and social changes in Africa and the world
have led to vast improvements, the Western media and educational
system continue to distort and disregard vital African images
However, it appears that the “First
African and African American Summit”--at least the “first”
for the current era--will help reconnect links and bear abundant
fruit. The meetings--which included five African heads of state
and representatives of nine other nations, as well as political,
educational, and business leaders--was well planned and charted
vital, realistic goals. Among the goals are improving African
agriculture for domestic and foreign consumption and battling
massive health problems, such as AIDS and river blindness, which
afflict 40 million Africans. The summit also hopes to develop
a massive educational program, including student-exchange fellowships,
and to push for a policy of US support for Africa and for substantial
increases in foreign aid for the continent.
On the other hand, [Rev. Leon] Sullivan emphasized
Africa could be a “new frontier” for thousands of
black Americans who are either underemployed, or merely interested
in the challenges and rewards that helping Africa could bring.
Such ventures, Sullivan projected, will generate new jobs and
enterprises both in Africa and the United States.
In Portland, Ejim said that the American African
Trade Relations Association already has established representatives
in eight other US cities--Seattle, Los Angeles, Denver, New
York, Baltimore, Houston, Atlanta, and New Orleans--and if officially
involved with at least 10 African nations: Nigeria, Zimbabwe,
Ghana, Kenya, Tanzania, Egypt, Zambia, Ivory Coast, Swaziland,
and South Africa (via the anti-apartheid African National Congress).
Ejim, a Nigerian citizen who has resided in the United States
for 15 years, said that Portland will remain ATRA’s international
“We should look beyond the distance,”
Ejim said.... “Africans already trade extensively with
Japan, Taiwan, Korea, China; they even trade with the Soviet
Union...,” adding that it would be natural to expand such
Pacific Rim trade into Oregon and other parts of the Northwest.
“Right now there are from 44 to 50 businesses in Oregon
doing business in Africa. Ejim and Gresham Mayor Gussie McRobert,
who is also on the ATRA’s advisory board, will represent
the region at a trade conference in Lagos, Nigeria, in July.
The association helped coordinate the signing of a friendship
pact between Mayor Enoch S. Msabaeka of Mutare, Zimbabwe, and
Portland Mayor Bud Clark during its recent African trade forum
The idea of stimulating US African trade and
cultural bonds is not new. Such concepts and concerns were presented
by many early 19th century black leaders, such as Dr. Martin
R. Delaney, a Harvard-educated physician who, during the Civil
War, became the first black major in the US Army. But before
that, he led an expedition into the Niger Valley in West Africa,
later publishing an official report of his explorations in a
study that called for black investments in Africa.
And there was Paul Cuffee, a well known abolitionist
and shipbuilder who carried 38 blacks to Africa in 1815 at his
own expense and helped colonize the African nation of Liberia.
In this century, sociologist W. E. B. Du Bois was dubbed the
father of Pan Africanism. Du Bois, who also co-founded the NAACP
in 1909, organized five Pan African Congresses, including sessions
attended by attorney Beatrice Morrow Cannady, a pioneering Portland
black newspaper editor and community activist... And the related
Pan African conferences held in Ghana and Ethiopia in 1958 and
1963 produced the current Organization of African Unity. Predictably,
efforts such as the recent Abidjan summit and the activities
of the Portland-based ATRA will help bring to reality the dreams
of countless sages past and present for not just stronger but
mutually nurturing US-African ties.
Source: Portland Oregonian, June 9, 1991,
p. C1, C4.
THE MULTICULTURAL AMERICAN WEST
In an essay describing my 1991 visit to the
University of Colorado, Bill Hornby, senior editor of the Denver
Post, discusses the growing recognition of the multiracial and
multicultural Western half of the United States.
Dr. Quintard Taylor, professor of history
at the University of Oregon, will deliver the Robert Athearn
Memorial Lecture at the University of Colorado, Tuesday night...
His topic, “From ‘Freedom Now’ to ‘Black
Power’: The Civil Rights Movement in Seattle, 1960-1970,”
will cover ethnic relations in a significant Western city as
“minority” groups move nearer to becoming “majority,”
at least in political affairs. The Athearn Lecture is Colorado’s
most prestigious forum for injecting new historical scholarship
into the regional policy dialogue, and Taylor’s insights
emphasize the West’s increasing congruence with an emerging
world society. What do we mean by the grandiose term “world
society”? In the October issue of American Demographics
magazine, Martha Riche of the Population Reference Bureau in
Washington, D.C., puts it this way: “During the 1990s,
the United States will shift from a society dominated by whites
and rooted in Western (European) culture to a world society
characterized by three large racial and ethnic minorities.”
One can drown swiftly in the sea of statistics
supporting this assertion, but its truth is obvious in Colorado
whose largest city is now run by a black mayor following on
two terms of a Hispanic mayor. In our schools the growth of
formerly “minority” populations is exploding....
By the end of the 21st century one-third of the nation’s
school and college-age population will be non-white or Latino.
As both Taylor and the Population Bureau’s research make
clear, this coming population multiculturalism will by no means
be unified politically, or lead to domination by any given group.
Simplistically put, the ... Latino groups are split in political
objectives between Americans who have Mexican roots in the Southwest,
Cubans in Florida, and Puerto Ricans in the Northeast. The Clarence
Thomas situation indicates the many differences of opinion in
the black American community. Similar news is emerging from
the Asian and Native America “blocs,” and indeed
the supposed past unity and domination of whites is somewhat
mythical; I seem to recall something about a Civil War.... The
fact is that every major population group in our country is
now a “minority,” as far as the percentage share
of the population they represent.
What this means is that...we are in a transition
to a multicultural society, in which the term minority will
lose its meaning... Without fully realizing it, we have left
the time when the nonwhite, non-Western (European) part of our
population could be expected to assimilate to the dominant majority.
In the future, the white Western majority will have to do some
assimilation of its own. Government will find that as minority
groups grow in size relative to one another... no single group
will command the power to dictate solutions... Reaching consensus
will require more cooperation than it has in the past. Historians
have been slow to pick up on this shift of the nation a world
multicultural society, particularly as relates to the American
West where the John Wayne School dealt on Anglo glories. As
modern historians such as Quintard Taylor attest, the West has
always been one of the most multicultural, just as it has been
one of the most international, regions of the nation. We are
a charter member of the world society, but only lately, thanks
to such as Taylor, are we remembering that.
Source: Denver Post, October 13, 1991
ETHNIC POPULATION DISTRIBUTION IN WASHINGTON, 2000
Totals by Race/Ethnicity
Race or in Combination)
Total Pop. White
Black Asian American Indian Latino
5,003,180 238,398 395,741 158,940
Population by Race/Ethnicity of
Ten Largest Cities in Washington, 2000
Race or in Combination)
Pop.* White Black Asian American Latino
563,374 413,396 55,611 84,694 11,869
195,629 181,072 5,834 5,910 5,966
193,556 143,426 26,461 7,043 18,731
143,560 126,605 4,727 2,952 8,034
109,569 84,329 2,860 924 20,841
91,488 77,476 3,909 2,557
Federal Way 83,259 60,930 8,012
1,758 11,919 6,266
8. Kent 79,524 59,617
7,869 1,749 9,074 6,466
71,845 51,854 1,916 2,207
10. Bellingham 67,171 60,832
1,092 1,668 3,658 3,111
Percentage of Population by Race/Ethnicity
of Ten Largest Cities in Washington, 2000
Race or in Combination)
Pop. White Black Asian American Latino
100 73.4 9.9 15.0 2.1
100 92.6 3.0 3.0 3.0
100 74.1 13.7 3.6 9.7
100 88.2 3.3 2.1 5.6
100 77.0 2.6 0.8 19.0
100 84.7 4.3 2.8 7.6
Federal Way 100 73.2 9.6
2.1 14.3 7.5
8. Kent 100 75.0
9.9 2.2 11.4 8.1
100 72.2 2.7 3.1
10. Bellingham 100 90.6
1.6 2.5 5.4 4.6
Source: U.S. Census, 2000
Western Black Population Growth, 1990-2000
Black Pop. Total Pop. Black Pop.
Total Pop. Black%
22,415 550,043 27,147 626,932
110,524 3,665,228 185,599 5,130,632
2,208,801 29,760,021 2,513,041 33,871,648
133,146 3,294,394 190,717 4,301,261
27,195 1,108,229 33,343 1,211,537
3,370 1,006,749 8,127 1,293,953
143,076 2,477,574 170,610 2,688,418
2,381 799,065 4,441 902,195
57,404 1,578,385 75,833 1,711,263
78,771 1,201,833 150,508 1,998,257
New Mexico 30,210 1,515,069 42,412 1,819,046
North Dakota 3,542 638,800 5,372
233,801 3,145,585 284,766 3,450,654
46,178 2,842,321 72,647 3,421,399
South Dakota 3,258
696,004 6,687 754,844 57.2
2,021,632 16,986,510 2,493,057 20,851,820
11,576 1,722,850 24,382 2,233,169
Washington 149,801 4,866,692 238,398 4,866,692
3,606 453,588 4,863 493,782
Totals: 5,290,687 78,308,940
Total black regional population
Total regional population increase:
Bureau of the Census, 2000, Black or African American Population
for the U.S.,
Regions, and States, and for Puerto Rico:
1990-2000, Table 2, www.census.gov/prod/cen2000/docp194-171.