LA Riots or Uprising?

I was reading a real estate blog, when I noticed a story about a community garden.  The garden had been planted on a lot that had been empty for 25 years.  The lot started out 1992 occupied by a structure, which was destroyed by arson during the civil unrest that followed the Rodney King verdict.  The blog described the structure as having been destroyed in the 1992 Uprising.  This is a term that I keep hearing more and more.  When the riots happened, they were called riots.

If you believe that words have whatever meaning we want to give them, then there’s no controversy over this issue.  People can use any word to describe any thing, up can be down, left can be right.  But if you believe words have a shared meaning that is not up to any one person’s interpretation, then you might be interested in which word fits this situation more.  Merriam Webster defines uprising as “an act or instance of rising up; especiallya usually localized act of popular violence in defiance usually of an established government.”  It defines a riot as “public violence, tumult, or disorder.”

Changing the description of something is often a political act rather than a descriptive act.  We may sympathize with the racial grievances of some of the rioters.  Some people may agree that the Rodney King jury got it wrong.  But we all know, since childhood, that two wrongs don’t make a right.  Legitimate racial grievances can’t be resolved through violence.  They can’t be resolved through arson, like the one described in the article.  They certainly can’t be resolved by looting, which only victimizes the rioter’s own community.

I can’t help think about what happened to Reginald Denny, who was pulled from his car, beaten, robbed and hit with a brick.  The man who did it, Damian Williams, was a gang member.  The other men involved in the attack were a convicted robber and two drug addicts.  Damian Williams would be convicted, released from prison early, and then go on to murder a man.

Uprisings are more noble than riots.  Some black journalists have described an uprising as “a group of people saying ‘enough is enough.'”  Uprising includes definitions that describe its purpose as overthrow of the political order.  Liberal opposition to President Trump is often described that way.  The use of the word uprising to describe noble behavior is the reason that it is being applied to the riots.  It reflects a retroactive attempt to burnish the image of the rioters from thugs to tragically failed revolutionaries.  Hijacking the facts to fit a political theory is dishonest, especially when the facts include death and destruction.

It makes me especially angry to think that we might be turning these rioters into heroes in some kind of anti-racist class struggle.  That could not be further from the truth.  You can’t fight racism by committing crimes.  Indeed, many racists probably saw confirmation of their racists views during the riots.  American history is full of examples of successful non-violent movements against racism.  Non-violent protesters are heroes.  The people that attacked Reginald Denny and burned down all those buildings are villians in this story.  As time passes, we shouldn’t forget that.

Six people died from arson during the riots, out of 53 total deaths.  The article I read does not say whether this community garden was built where one of those people died.  But those people who view the riots as an understandable or even justified response to racism, should read this list, containing a short accounting of each of those deaths.  The riots were nothing more that the sum of each of these crimes.  We do a disservice to these victims when we try to polish or politicize that fact away.

Pictures Within Pictures

When you look through the defendant’s Facebook feed, with his posts stupidly set to public, you see the frozen mind of a teenager.  What if you never got tired of graffiti, dip, and naked women?  What if you thought that posing with your shirt off was cool for the rest of your life?  And he had the loneliness of a teenager too.  His Facebook isn’t full of photos birthday parties, expensive food, or nights out with the boys.  It was one man wandering alone through cargo containers, on post-industrial street corners, and through railyards.  I found myself wondering who his audience was.  They weren’t in the pictures.

The pictures did show the defendant burning things.  Plenty of things in lots of different places.  His case was pending for years before we found the pictures.  I wasn’t there to see his face when he first heard that we had them.  Did he wince?  Did he kick himself for being so stupid?  Or had he seen this coming from far away, only to feel relief that it finally, inevitable happened?

By the time I met the defendant, the case had been through several lawyers on both the defense and the prosecution side.  The defendant (or rather his wealthy parents) had the habit of firing lawyers at a rapid clip.  On our side, the case was so old that people had been transferred on to new assignments; several rotations worth of prosecutors.  But when the case came to me, my number was called, and I tried it.

Defendant was accused of arson, and the defense was mistaken identity.  The defendant had even engaged an expert on mistaken identify.  She had been paid to opine that the witnesses who saw the defendant at the scene were mistaken.  The case had been pending for so long that the expert had written her report and rendered her opinion before we discovered the Facebook evidence.  The court granted an 1101(b) motion to admit the evidence.  We had a witness to another fire in the neighborhood testify that he saw the defendant light a fire and then film it on his phone.  That man took a picture of the defendant, who was, in turn, taking a picture of the fire he had lit.  And on the defendant’s Facebook, we found that very same picture.

The mistaken identity expert didn’t seem to know any of this.  When she got up and testified, I confronted her with the photo of the prior fire.  She had to admit that it was the defendant.  She had to admit that this type of evidence made it more likely, not less likely, that this was not a case of mistaken identity.

One day I’ll be so old that I won’t know where to look for this kind of evidence.  I suspect that Instagram has a ton of evidence, but I haven’t been able to figure it out.  In another case, two people met on a website called MocoSpace.  That’s when I first began to suspect that I might be a little out of the loop.  Backpage was already closed by the time I figured out that it was a gold mine of trafficking evidence.  But at least in this case, Facebook evidence did the trick.  I just need to make sure to keep looking for it.