Yesterday marked 20 years since the acquittal of four LAPD officers in the videotaped beating of Rodney King incited several days of violence and looting in South Central Los Angeles. But it's also been 20 years since a similarly motivated uprising erupted in nearby Long Beach, resulting in numerous arrests and causing extensive damage throughout the central and northern parts of town. This rarely gets mentioned in reports of the infamous L.A. Riots.
Chuck D of Public Enemy once famously said that rap music is the black CNN, but in the case of this civil unrest in oft-forgotten Long Beach, it was local ska/punk/reggae/hip-hop/everything band Sublime's song “April 29, 1992 (Miami)” that became the city's own news network.
Released on its 1996 multi-platinum self-titled album, the song reports on the burning buildings and felony committers of the band's hometown in the days following the not-guilty verdict. Using actual Long Beach Police Department radio transmissions and verses that describe personal involvement in the pillaging, it gives a localized account of the Long Beach riots (complete with street addresses of the destruction).
To some, it might seem inflammatory that pseudo-reggae white boys would write a song about participating in racially motivated violence and looting (our friends at the SF Weekly recently wrote that they were “piggybacking on a riot”). But the rioting Sublime writes about is not the iconic Normandie and Florence chaos that continues to define the days following the end of the Rodney King trial. The song is about how the riots affected them and others in Long Beach, a city nearby yet worlds apart from neighboring South Central (and its pent-up racial tension). If you've ever been to the mostly working-class port city of nearly 500,000 people — which remains the most statistically diverse city in the country — you know what we mean.
So when Nowell sings, “'Cause everybody in the hood has had it up to here,” he's not only talking about disenfranchised blacks or mistreated Hispanics. He's also talking about himself and the rest of the people in Long Beach that had suffered through enough of “this fucked-up situation and these fucked-up police.”
The song (contrary to other discussions of the riots both at the time and during the last week of media attention) says that it didn't matter if you were white, black, Mexican, Cambodian or whatever — the riots in Long Beach were about “the man” bringing everyone down. And even though it's been debated as to whether or not the members of Sublime actually committed the acts they describe (at least they were probably in town on April 29, 1992, since they played several area shows in the days before), the song also one of the only things out there that gives a white person's participatory perspective on the whole L.A. Riot-related shitshow. Takes some balls, no?
In the spirit of looking back on the riots and the music they inspired, we decided to take a tour of all four of the Long Beach locations listed in the police chatter sampled in “April 29, 1992 (Miami),” a few of which are still standing and most of which are still in areas that would probably have reason to riot again.
1934 E. Anaheim
“That's O-N-S, Junior Market. The address is 1934 East Anaheim–all the windows are busted out and it's like a free-for-all in here.”
The “ONS Junior Market” that had busted-out windows in the song is now A-Cherry Liquor Market. Presumably this is not the same liquor store that Nowell and his friends “turned into a structure fire” since its facade still features original art deco details.
Anaheim and Alamitos
“Call fire to respond to the Mobile station at Alamitos and Anaheim. Its uhh flamin up good.”
Of the four lots that could have been site to a “flaming up good” Mobile station on Alamitos Ave. and Anaheim Blvd., the open asphalt on the north-west corner that now houses Expo Motors, Inc. is most obviously the one referenced in the clip. It even has that annoying extra driveway that makes it impossible to form an orderly line for the gas pumps — good thing it's fenced off and covered with utility boxes now.
“Units be advised there is an attempt 211 to arrest now at 938 Temple, 938 Temple… 30 subjects with bags trying to get inside the CB's house. He says they're trying to kill him.”
This line always confused us since the dispatcher is clearly saying that there is an attempted burglary at someone's house; however, she also says there are “30 subjects with bags.” Either this guy was a drug dealer, a crackhead or Deebo from Friday. Either way, 938 Temple is currently a pretty-standard-looking stucco apartment building with camera-unfriendly characters lurking on its outside stairs (thus, no shots from the front, which faces 10th street).
334 E. Willow
“Any units assist at 334 Willow. Structure fire and numerous subjects looting.”
The structure fire seems to have had a permanent effect on whatever business was once at 334 Willow. There is no building at all sitting on the address. Instead, the location that was being looted in rebellion 20 years ago today serves as the back of a Rite Aid parking lot housing palm-tree-and-flowers optimism as well as overflow parking for the Dickies/uniform store across the street.
Sarah Bennett is a freelance journalist who has spent nearly a decade covering food, music, craft beer, arts, culture and all sorts of bizarro things that interest her for local, regional and national publications.