The 1992 Los Angeles Riots were the first in a new type—mischaracterized by the media as “race riots,” the events in LAwere more that of a general, decentralized uprising which made no demandsand, in so doing, were able to cohere a new national atmosphere around them, as riots again spread across the country. No longer were the riots simply limited to a district or two, as had been the case in the Watts riots thirty years prior. Now rioting spread with the entire city as its substrate—a tendency seen again, though in more limited ways, in Cincinnati in 2001.
It is not coincidental that this new national sequence of rioting began in LA, one of the US’ most suburban cities. The Los Angeles riots were a window into the future, their decentralized geography foreshadowing the evolution of the American riot as it adapted to the new ghettos that, in 1992, had only begun to be built. And now, twenty years later, Ferguson offers us a second window: this time into how those new ghettos might burn.
- Phil A. Neel