"In the night." - Exile, In The Night 22
L.A. Noir by John Buntin (Harmony Books, 2009). After the Watts Riots, our city's (and the nation's) Top Cop:
"They're attempting to reach these groups...by catering to their emotions," declared Parker (an emotional man who had no patience for that quality in others." 'You're disolacted, you're abandoned; you're abused due to color,'" Parker continued, mimicking and mocking the attitudes of civil rights supporters. The civil rights movement had unleashed the virus of civil disobedience—the belief that people "don't have to obey the law because the law is unjust." At the same time, a huge surge of black migration had "flooded a community that wasn't prepared to meet them." (Parker didn't hide his own feelings about the matter: "We didn't want these people to come in," he told the panel.) Both factors laid the foundations for the uprising. One thing was for certain: The LAPD was not to blame.
This is what L.A. Noir and L.A. history in the 20th century is really all about. While Buntin focuses his story on the intersecting lives of two men—Chief William Parker and gangster Mickey Cohen, what becomes obvious both at the beginning and end of the novel is that Los Angeles, like most american cities, is overwhelmingly impacted by the intersection of "the races".
I don't know what happened in Watts except for what I read and see in books like this but I know what an L.A. riot looks like. I was attending Van Nuys high school and living in the valley in 1992 when the Rodney King riots took place. As I read through the final chapters of this, the images of that time ran through my head constantly. With this reading, however, was more anger and less confused frustration. Now knowing where we had come from, it's obvious that a city that should have learned, that should have understood it's population, simply didn't.
But maybe that's not surprising. We live in Los Angeles, once touted as the last "white spot" of America. The last bastion of safety for those disinterested in mingling with their darker skinned brethren. A city that once believed it was better than Selma but that voted consistently to keep de facto segregation in place. A city whose black population connected more with Malcolm X than Martin Luther King. A city whose police force kept tabs on everyone (and probably still does) and who thought Communism and the Nation of Islam is what riled up black folks not injustice.
We're a complicated lot, Angelenos. Our city created the modern form of policing while, at the same time, much of our city's culture and charm has been birthed out of organized crime. My idea of Los Angeles is one of that salad bowl mix of cultures and I think that's true. But what is also true is that there is this constant tension between us all. L.A. remains a pressure cooker waiting for something to set it off.
Buntin's book conveys that well. While not as elegantly and entertainingly written as A Bright and Guilty Place, it covers a much larger swath of time and gives a much broader view of this city of dreams. And while I would have liked to spend much more time learning more about how the formation and growth of LA's Black community came to pass, as well as the deeper impact and history of figures like eventual Mayor Tom Bradley, that's not what this book is about.
Ultimately, L.A. Noir serves as a reminder for me of one thing: I love this town.