Flame Thrower

Reflections on April 29, 1992

Today, only that last sentence makes sense. It's taken me 10 years to shed my rationalizations about April 29 and to return to what was real in that moment: fear—of police, of vandals, of getting killed in the crossfire.

That's exactly what I thought might happen a few minutes after I saw the smoke grenade hit the street, when a phalanx of 30 or 40 police officers in riot gear charged our occupied intersection of downtown Los Angeles. Fear, they say, slows everything. I recall the police charging slowly, jogging, almost politely, as if hoping we'd scatter before the battle could be joined.

I'd like to say with certainty that everyone safely abandoned the barricades before the police arrived, but I'll never know: I was one of the first to run.

A decade later, I'm still running—not from the flames, of course, but from my role in helping to set them. The torch I carried briefly shed no light. The fire purified nothing. Nothing ever rose from the ashes.

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