Across town in Venice, a fifteen-minute freeway ride from the clean-up crews on Crenshaw, in the few hours before curfew, an ad hoc collective of black artists meets to discuss ideas for immediate relief. What comes out are the first raw emotions voiced in the first moment of calm, the public articulation of what has been swarming around everyone's brain. People wouldn't burn down something they cherish, something they perceive as truly their own. The violence of the last 48 hours has taken us far away from the monotone reading of the leaden verdict, the crumpled mass that was barely discernible as Rodney G. King. Now it's the stark reality of no food, of dead or absent family, of no power, of the acrid smell that clings to the clothes, the hair, the nose. 'What does this signify? What kind of phoenix's gonna rise out of these particular ashes?' asks Coleman. 'This didn't come out of a vacuum.'
'I don't want anybody to explain it in their terms', says [poet] Keith Antar Mason, barely suppressing his tears or the tremble in his voice. 'This happened to me. Now it's beyond Rodney King. It's beyond 1619. There ain't no explanation for this.'
'All my life I've been called an "animal". All my life I've been called subhuman', testifies a woman from across the room, throwing her thoughts into the circle. 'We have to be careful of the language. The "thugs", "rats", "packs" and "hoodlums". I pay close attention to the words so it's been hard for me to watch tv or read the newspaper.'
'If this was happening in another country, they'd talk about the repressive government', says poet Meri Nana-Anna Danquah. 'Pay close attention to what these people were stealing — food, diapers, toys. No one mentioned economics.'
A woman in T-shirt and jeans echoes the inchoate thought that has most occupied my own mind. 'We've been trusting too long', she says quietly. 'We trusted the jury to do right. I'm so mad at us for trusting ...'
I'm looking out the window, listening, but thinking about the sun. About the thin light we're quickly losing, about the urgency of heading back east to beat night. I'm thinking about the collective nightmare that became our lives for hours into days, about the biblical 'rainbow sign' sent after the rains, wondering how it will make itself known this time. As I drift further, what wanders in from the circle of angry voices is a stray thought, a fragment, offered up as a single puzzle piece of a larger explanation: 'Maybe it had to burn ... like how sometimes you have to burn a field. To make something new ...'
©Lynell George, 2012