Battling for the Soul of the City | Sojourners

Battling for the Soul of the City

The TV news crews were in place. The minivans fanned out across Los Angeles with their hydraulic microwave transmitters staring into the sky and gaggles of nervous reporters flocking to First A.M.E. Church in the Crenshaw district, to Koreatown's strip malls, to the Latino barrio of Pico-Union, to the infamous corner of Florence and Normandie ("ground zero" of last year's uprising), to the LAPD's headquarters, and to the National Guard staging area where the boys were hunkered down with their M-16s.

At a little after 7 a.m. on April 17, the mixed verdicts were read and immediately aired throughout the city and the country. Guilty. Guilty. Not guilty. Not guilty. The camera lights glared, the tape rolled. Reporters literally stumbled over each other looking for the "reaction." And of course there was none. The city was quiet. The sun even poked through a typically foggy April sky later in the day and the stores in practically every neighborhood hit by last year's violence opened without incident.

Given the media's endless preparations to cover LA like war correspondents over Bosnia, there surely must have been some disappointment among the TV news producers. Headlines like "City on Edge"--replete with ominous synthesizer for soundtrack--were a daily ritual. Rumors abounded. Inner-city gangs would attack Beverly Hills. Snipers would gun down LA's finest.

Another favorite story was the Korean store owners arming themselves for armageddon--never mind that white suburban vigilantes were just as well armed. No surprise. The media, in the end, faithfully replicates LA's race and class divisions, the essence of its conflict. TV news splits the city between the largely white suburbs and the black-brown-yellow inner city, and clearly holds the former's point of view: The inner city is to be feared.

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Sojourners Magazine June 1993
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