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1992 L.A. riots protester: ‘People are willing to fight’

He watched the car fires, the store-front windows being smashed and the looting on television with his granddaughter in his arms. He saw the peaceful protesters trying to make a point about police violence and the angry mobs bent on destruction.

“People are willing to fight,” he said. “It’s part of the struggle. Positive things come from rioting. These people would rather die than be oppressed. That’s how I felt.”

Mark Craig, now 51, was one of the iconic participants in the 1992 uprising after the acquittal of the police officers who were charged in the beating of Rodney King. Craig, wearing a T-shirt with a large peace symbol, was photographed in front of angry flames when he was 23 years old. That picture appeared on the cover of Newsweek magazine and in countless publications around the world.

Craig, who works as a tour guide in Los Angeles and often takes people past murals where his own image is depicted, did not go out to protest this weekend. Protesting, rioting and looting, he said, are young people’s tactics.

And they work, he said.

“It’s all about symbolism,” Craig said. “Kap (former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick) took a knee. I saw the police headquarters in Minnesota burning. I saw people surrounding the White House. That symbolism could change this country’s hand again.”



As new unrest sparked, first in Minnesota and eventually Southern California, Craig said he spent the weekend “glued to his television set.” He was watching his 5-month-old granddaughter Khaliyah.

“I’m glad my granddaughter was here,” he said. “It helped me stay at home.”

He is thoughtful about and well-versed in the history of civic unrest. Sunday and Monday, he pointed out, marked the 99th anniversary of the 1921 Tulsa race massacre, in which white mobs destroyed a predominantly African American neighborhood, injured at least 800 and left at least 36 – historians estimate possibly 300 – dead.

He said the civil rights movement had an early spark with the lynching of 14-year-old Emmett Till and the acquittal of the men accused of killing him.

He said he has been inspired recently by watching YouTube videos of Malcolm X speeches.

“The chickens,” he said, quoting Malcolm X after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, “are coming home to roost.”

In 1992, Craig went to Parker Center in downtown Los Angeles because he wanted to confront police. He was filled with anger. Twenty-eight years later, he understands why people are in the streets today.

“There has been tremendous progress, but systematic racism has always been there,” Craig said. “With the police, nothing has changed. Watching this on television now, I’m more proud of what I did.”

He’s proud, he said, that he was part of the struggle. Last week, as he watched the televised images of George Floyd’s death, Craig felt the pangs of civil disobedience inside him, but this time he didn’t act. He laughed when he said he’s in the house “quarantined from the violence.”

“It was very painful to see any human being murdered on national television at the hands of law enforcement,” he said. “With Rodney King, they were able to defend that. This one has no defense. We all look through our own prism, but this was murder.”

He said the protesters now are more savvy than he was in 1992. Several of the protests he was watching on television were taking place in neighborhoods that didn’t get destroyed in 1992.

“When I saw them on Third and Fairfax with all those shops, I knew this time they weren’t going to destroy African American neighborhoods.”

He said he thinks all this community anger will lead to more voting in November.

“I hope all these young people have that energy when it comes time to vote,” he said. “Hope is in the African American spirit. The change has to come from the ballot box.”

The fact that the protests are taking place only six months from November is a positive.

“It’s good it will be fresh on everyone’s mind,” Craig said.

When he confronted police in 1992, the world was a different place, he said.

“African American women are some of the most educated people in the country,” he said. “African American governors have power. That change has come from the ballot box.”

He also issued a word of warning.

“What if this is just a prequel?” he asked.

He said the upcoming trial of at least one of the officers in Minnesota could be an even more powerful flashpoint.

“If they were to get off, there will be major violence,” he said.

Source: Orange County Register

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