In January 1860, a cattleman was slain at a water hole in the Mojave Desert, about 180 miles east of Los Angeles. A few months later, two teamsters were attacked and died nearby. This was on a critical commerce route to Los Angeles, and the businessmen of L.A. petitioned the U.S. government to ensure the safety of their Old Spanish Trail routes. Apparently, Paiute Indians from Nevada had – with the rumored encouragement of Mormons from Salt Lake – invaded California to steal livestock and other property.
Under the direction of Captain James H. Carleton, Companies B and K, First Dragoons marched from Fort Tejon with an interpreter and four wagons of weapons and supplies. They fought a series of skirmishes in the desert, killing five Paiutes. Although Carleton had the bodies hung on scaffolding or beheaded and mounted, it is likely that it was in fact the words of an elderly captive Paiute woman who inspired an abrupt end to the property raids and murders committed by her people. She had been released to her tribe with instructions to warn her people of the consequences of meddling with LA business interests.
In 1940s, the future President Bush merely played cowboy in his quiet hometown of Compton, California, one of the earliest independent suburbs of Los Angeles. By 2015, Compton has become a majority hispanic city, but between those eras (1960-1990) it was a black city run by black business interests.
The most significant military-style series of skirmishes since the moon landing started in what was then known as South Central LA. The skirmishes that consumed Compton and much of the rest of the city were called the Los Angeles Riots, and involved a number of factions with a variety of economic and public interests.
During the 1980s, Compton was a major entry-point for immigrants from both South America and Asia, and these groups were seen as invaders of residential and business territory that had been black-owned and held since the 1960s. It was also an area that was both a victim of and beneficiary of the lucrative cocaine and crack trade.
Drugs and the Drug War appear to have destabilized the area, contributing to both the sense of eroding territory for black citizens, as well as an intensified focus on “turf” wars between rival black and other ethnic gangs, but a major flashpoint for the riots had nothing to do with gangs: a black girl was shot and killed by a Korean shop owner’s sister after the girl assaulted her over a bottle of orange juice. Because she was shot in the back, murder charges were brought against the owner’s sister. But when a jury found the owner’s actions to be considerably less than worthy of a murder conviction, Ice Cube responded with “Black Korea”:
So don’t follow me, up and down your market
Or your little chop suey ass’ll be a target
Of the nationwide boycott
Juice with the people, that’s what the boy got
So pay respect to the black fist
Or we’ll burn your store, right down to a crisp
And then we’ll see ya!
The Riots started in earnest following the Rodney King police brutality trial, but the “Black Korea” tension can’t be overstated.
The largest number of casualties appear to have been innocent victims of criminal or racial intent, who were unarmed and included whites, blacks, hispanics and Asians (primarily Koreans). They were shot, beaten or stabbed. Occasionally, they were not robbed, and even more frequently, they were clearly targeted for their race, and any robbery was a secondary objective after the fact..
Throughout the LA Riots, skirmishes frequently occurred between store owners, employees and security against an onslaught of looters seeking material goods and political mayhem. A large number of the businesses that were targetted were owned by Korean immigrants. In fact, the Korean word for the LA Riots is “Sa-i-Gu,” a simple reference to April 29th, the day the combat started. On the 2nd Day, a mini-mall in Koreatown was under attack and owners and employees returned fire with high-powered rifles. The offensive was repelled, but a security guard, an Algerian national, was killed by apparent friendly fire.
There were, of course, a number of factional shootouts with authorities – first the police, then the California National Guard with support from the U.S. Marine Corps. These almost always involved black or latino factions.
In a number of other store defenses, hispanic and black looters were killed by known or unknown store defenders, and in one unfortunate incident, two Korean groups of store defenders fired on each other, having mistaken the other for looters.
Vehicles were weaponized during the riots, both as weapons transport but also for ramming. A number of people were killed or injured in hit-and-run style attacks. Finally, in an apparent car attack on a National Guard post, Victor Rivas was shot to death.
Business and property has always been contentious in Southern California, going back as far as another racial/economic incident in 1840 at Agua de Tomaso, where Mexicans enlisted the aid of whites (including Kit Carson) to recover horses taken by Indians. Such conflicts have always tended to end with naked brutality.
African Americans? Hardly. While they continue to be most closely associated with any injustice connected to Rodney King or the Riots themselves, strategically, they did not benefit by being so closely associated with being the sole instigators of and reason for the attacks.
In fact if “bad” (looters, skirmishers with U.S. authorities, as opposed to unarmed, random civilians) casualties are any measure of a faction’s responsibility for the L.A. Riots, then the Latino attack faction was equal to the Black attack faction in this regard:
More Latino looters were shot by store owners and others than black looters. Of the eleven skirmishers who died fighting the National guard, six were black, but five were latino. This highlights one of the inescapable facts of the skirmishes that rocked L.A., leaving more than 50 dead and thousands injured: ethnic diversity and “balance” between factions was a major contributing factor to the conflict. Ironically, one of the major results of the Webster Report drawn up to assess the root causes of the days of skirmish was to further diversify the police force, as if a badge makes its wearer colorblind.
Economics, numbers and notoriety.
Thus, my prediction for the future is this: although divisions will naturally fall along ethnic lines, proximity and scarcity will be the causes of conflict between them. Because of this, areas open to migration will experience immigration and expulsion. When times are good – economically – these open areas will hand over the reins to the newcomer with relative peace, although typically in a “there goes the neighborhood” sort of peace, as it did when the successful whites moved out of Compton and left the city to a new and growing black middle class in the 1950s and 1960s. But in a recession like 1992, which followed the scourge of gangs and drugs of the 1980s, as well as an explosion in immigration, the “old timers” have far fewer options to separate themselves from the alien.
Looking at the two main looting factions, it becomes very clear that they were in no alliance, despite their shared goals of materials transfer. They were competing tribes, ultimately fighting for the same trinkets and turf.
Considering both the current demographics of the city, as well as the PR and media backlash that centered attention on black looting and white victims, the other lesson is this: if you are going to be a faction, be the one that achieves its goals without having to admit it.
Thus, the future skirmish will be one in which the more closely and tightly diverse peoples find themselves unable to find spatial relief from those who are alien. The closer they grow, the more violently they shall be torn apart.