This week marks the 20th anniversary of the Rodney King incident that subsequently triggered the worst rioting in the history of Los Angeles County. I was serving as a Los Angeles County deputy sheriff at the time, and my primary memory of these events is anger and frustration: mine.
I remember the images of truck driver Reginald Denny being yanked out of his truck and getting beaten within an inch of his life because he happened to be white.
Why wasn't anybody helping him? I asked myself.
Unfortunately, I couldn't help him. I was working my assigned post: As a newly promoted floor sergeant at Men's Central Jail. As word filtered throughout the facility of what was happening on the streets about us, the growing consensus among the deputies was one of frustration: We wanted to be out there doing something to quell the violence.
I'll never forget what one of my fellow deputies said during the riots: "Yeah, years from now when my grandkids ask me what I did during the Riots, I'll be able to say I was backing up chow in the mess hall," he grumbled.
That first day of rioting was the flashpoint for four days of violence, days wherein downtown Los Angeles acquired a surreal feel that at times made it seem like something out of the old Charlton Heston horror movie "The Omega Man."
Traffic on the I-10 Freeway was non-existent, save for those who absolutely had to go to work under a hazy film of smoky clouds. I remember thinking that all of the other commuters must have been either cops or firefighters.
In the months that followed I compared notes with many, many patrol deputies who'd responded to various command posts throughout Los Angeles County. Often, they would see acts of wanton violence, vandalism, and thefts take place in plain view in front of them. They begged to be allowed to intervene. They were often told to stand down.
To this day many of those deputies are bitterly disgusted at the impotent roles to which they were relegated when the people of Los Angeles County needed them most.
At least, I can comfort myself that I was backing up chow.
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