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Memories of a Bad Time Not Forgot

By Frank Gruber

I have a few personal memories of the 1992 riots, some good, some bad, probably not that different from anyone else's. Especially the bad memories.

The abiding image I have in my mind -- from television, of course -- was rage -- misguided but at least predictable -- quickly transmuting into consumerism, as opportunists seized the day to load what they wanted into the back seats of their cars and thus prove their oneness with the culture.

We here in Santa Monica were a part of what was going on, but also, to a degree, detached, in both dictionary definitions of the word: unconnected, and aloof.

Santa Monica is no Garden of Eden when it comes to race and ethnic relations, but my friend Abby Arnold, who at the time was rehabbing a house next to the Korean-owned mini-mart at Seventh and Marine, remembers how on the first afternoon after the verdict the African American and Hispanic neighborhood kids surrounded the store to protect it.

On the second night, the Thursday, friends came over to our house for dinner. We lived on Marine Street then, near Fourth, a stone's throw (no pun intended) from Venice. Our son was two, and our guests had toddlers, too, and we all ate spaghetti and watched the riots on television.

That's how one knew the disturbances would be riots, not a revolution, because everyone knows the revolution will not be televised.

Yet six blocks away, across Rose Avenue, in Oakwood, some of the worst violence was taking place, as the mob chased people from their homes. This was some of the small fraction of the overall violence of the riots that was directed at people, not property.

My personal bad memory is the panic that overtook our housekeeper, an immigrant from Guatemala. Just before the riots she and her husband had purchased an appliance of some sort. She could not find the receipt, and she was sure that people would think she had looted it. The shame would have killed her.

My good memory, my best memory, not personal but not as remembered by others as it should be judging by its scant mention in this week's anniversary journalism, is Edward James Olmos showing up with a broom that Friday morning to start the cleaning up.

Woody Allen famously said that eighty percent of life is just showing up, but Olmos showed that you have to pick the right time and place to do so.

The rioting stopped then, in what would have been only the second full day of it. That was no coincidence. Olmos's Gandhian act did more to quell the madness than the National Guard or the police.

That's my distinct memory.

It might not have been on his mind, but Olmos also allowed me to be the best person I could be and ever have been, for a day at least, because the next day a friend and I took our shovels and brooms and dust masks and joined the clean-up.

I once met Olmos at a film festival and had the opportunity to thank him personally, but now that I have this public forum, let me do it again.

Thanks, Eddie, but one question: could you send some push brooms and shovels to Jerusalem and Jenin?

In fact, if anyone reading this column is interested in showing up to stop the violence between Israelis and Palestinians, local rabbi Neil Comess-Daniels, of Temple Beth Shir Shalom, conducts a vigil every Friday, from noon to one, at the northwest corner of 20th and Wilshire. The only condition for joining the vigil is that one must be willing to stand next to two signs: "No Suicide Bombings" and "End the Occupation."

That and a desire for peace.

So far the weekly vigils have been quite effective, as the Israelis have withdrawn most of their troops from West Bank towns and there have been many fewer acts of terrorism.

Increase the peace.

* * *

In the course of writing this column I found that many people have unique memories, bad and good, of the riots, uprising, civil disturbance of whatever they want to call them. My editor says that he would be happy to publish recollections if people send them in.

Meeting notice:

The Planning Department will hold a public hearing to receive input on Santa Monica's proposed ordinance for handicapped access to be included in homes ("visitability"). Monday, May 13, 2002, 7:00 p.m., Ken Edwards Community Center, 1527 Fourth Street. For more information, contact Manny Mendizabal at (310) 458-8355.

Livable Santa Monica, a new group dedicated to making Santa Monica more livable through "smart growth" will meet Sunday, May 12, at 7:00 p.m. at the Wild Oats community room located at Fifth and Wilshire. The meeting is open to the public and the agenda will include discussion of the downtown parking plan, sustainable city goals and indicators, and the upcoming development of the circulation element of Santa Monica's general plan.

The views expressed in this column are those of Frank Gruber
and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of The Lookout.
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