Totally Unauthorized

A side of the film industry most people never see.

Once removed

For the past couple of days, I’ve been obsessively watching the riots in England on the BBC live feed.

The only reason I can figure that I’m so obsessed with watching this is that when citywide, out-of-control rioting happened here, I was right in the middle of it and scared absolutely shitless for about a week.

What you can’t get on television is the smell of a city burning around you. It’s not a nice comforting campfire at night smell, it’s the acrid stench of building insulation, plastic goods and other assorted stuff that one really shouldn’t smell burning in a civilized society.

Looking out over the city, there was a thin band of daylight near the horizon, and the rest of the sky was pitch black with smoke. The Emergency Broadcast System had taken over the airwaves and the automated voice was begging people to stay at home and stay calm, but calm was difficult  as there seemed to be far more rioters than police.

Several people who lived downtown had come over to my place because it seemed safer and offered better access to the roads leading out-of-town, but at some point, we realized that two converging mobs had sealed us in and escape from the city was impossible.

So we sat in the living room, drinking cheap beer and watching the televised images of the city burning as the city burned around us.

One would think that I’d have been out with my camera getting the shots of my life (or at least a better TV), but there was something so dark and terrifying about an out-of-control mob that I didn’t dare leave the house after the first foray where I camera’d up, got a few shots and then narrowly escaped getting the crap beaten out of me (no, I don’t have the photos anymore. I was shooting for one of LA’s throwaway newspapers and turned my half roll of film in to the photo editor. Not only were they never published, but I never got the film back).

There’s been a lot of discussion on the web about guns – if they allowed them in the UK, then this wouldn’t happen, blah, blah, blah…

From an eyewitness perspective, I can assure you that even a heavily armed police force and a heavily armed citizenry did nothing to stop or even slow down the looting and burning.

Most of the TV coverage was shot from the safety of aircraft, except for this bit of journalism gold from LA news icon Bill Kurtis:

The only thing that really got the rioting under control was the military.

The National Guard and the Marines rolled down the streets and all of a sudden the darkness began to ebb.

So much so that we decided to break curfew and go have pizza at a place on Fairfax that, back then, was good enough to risk getting arrested for being out of the house after dark.

The restaurant was packed – mostly with people just as relieved as us to be finally getting out of the house, but there were also quite a few police officers taking a dinner break in full riot gear.

They were reasonably relaxed and chatting with us criminal curfew-breakers who crowded around them to sincerely thank them for at least trying to keep us safe and offering to buy them dinner.

As the riots tapered down and it became safe to go out again, there was a lot of Monday morning quarterbacking and blaming and mea culpa-ing but  it was a long, long time before life began to feel normal and the city hasn’t ever really been the same afterwards (although between the riots and Rampart we did get the ‘kinder gentler’ LAPD, which was a nice change from the ‘beat ’em all and ask questions down at the station’ LAPD).

I could do my own comparing, contrasting, and pontificating, but this is getting kind of long, so I’ll just leave with this:

I hope the rioting in the UK dies down quickly and everyone over there is okay.  Until then, I’ll be watching on the interwebz re-living my own past.

Filed under: life in LA, Non-Work, Off-Topic, , , , , , , , , , ,

6 Responses

  1. Dave2 says:

    I was staying in a hotel on the edge of the Seattle riots, watching it happen from my window. Ever since then, I’ve been uneasy in large crowds. There’s just no saying what can happen in a mob mentality.

  2. Terrific post — that’s a great clip of Bill Curtis doing what real reporters are supposed to do. Watching the footage on TV, I’ve been having similar disturbing flashbacks to our own fiery riots here in LA. There really is nothing quite like the reek of a burning city, a smell you don’t forget.

    Mob violence doesn’t just come out of nowhere — there’s always an underlying reason and a trigger event — but it’s an ugly beast indeed, a tornado of human rage inflicting horrendous collateral damage on anyone unlucky enough to be caught in its path.

    Given the way things are going, I wonder how close we may be to experiencing something like this again…

  3. ironrailsironweights says:

    The nightmare scenario in Britain is if the Pakis start rioting, as they are the people everyone else dreads. So far this hasn’t happened.

    Peter

  4. Marci Liroff says:

    I was out of town in Minneapolis on a shoot and kept calling my friends because I was sure that the media was over-playing this event. They ALL said the same thing. “NO! IT’S SO MUCH WORSE THAN WHAT’S ON T.V.!!” I got home from location right after things died down and drove from LAX up La Brea towards Hollywood. As I passed the Rodeo area I saw entire blocks burned to the ground. I was in tears by the time I got home. People were so frustrated and full of anger they burned down their own stores.

  5. I was working in the valley at the time for a lamp rental company and at the time our boss said that company HQ told us to stay till regular closing but the TV was filled with get home before dark–so we over rode him–
    we did not shut down for the riots even thou the studios did. we kept on making deliveries with a huge logo on the truck just saying “movie gear inside, expensive stuff rob me!!” then the national guard came in stuff calmed a bit –but the real game changer was the marines form camp pendelton ( one of my buddies was one latter on he told me the gang bangers thought the NG guys where pushovers but when real troops who just got back from gulf war 1 shooting for real, they got the idea theses guys did not take crap!!)
    but anyway one of our moron rental agents got us a gig for a “neighborhood pow wow ” thing right in the middle of the mess 3 days after the main calming of action –so in we go with trucks and video truck all with logos saying rob me!! –at least they got us security armed to the teeth most guys had 2 handguns or more on them + the crew ( you can hide a Lotta sin in a fanny pac)

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