Many behavioral psychologists and sociologists have a saying: The best predictor of future behavior is relevant past behavior. When politicians, particularly those on the Left, refer to “civil unrest,” they are referring to what the man on the street calls a riot. Civil unrest is simply a “politically correct” or a “Liberal-friendly” euphemism for a riot.
Survival web sites also frequently mention the need for preparing for “civil unrest,” particularly in urban areas. While not civil unrest, as such, the identical behavior involved in civil unrest was seen in the streets of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, and every American who was of age in 2005 saw it and understood it for what it was, riotous looting that was a clear attempt to steal from others when the chances of being punished for it were minimal. (I am not particularly critical of those who were desperate for milk, bread, etc., and who took food to feed their starving families–if they were, in fact, starving. The televisions, sofas, $150 Nike running shoes, and bottles of Maker’s Mark being carried away were in an entirely different category.)
The reality is that, on any given day, the denizens of many urban neighborhoods, in particular, are kept in check only because of the fear of punishment. As in the case of mobs, in general, anonymity provides a protective cloak to looters. As the likelihood of punishment diminishes, the likelihood of anti-social behavior increases significantly until law enforcement is able to obtain a certain “critical mass” in gaining control of the situation. After that, their offense does not involve a violent major felony, looters understand that as long as there are enough looters, and as long as they keep their looting below a certain threshold, the urban criminal justice system will issue “misdemeanor permits” or what is almost a “get out of jail free” card when court proceedings take place later.
The Rodney King Verdict Riots
A friend with whom I have shared preparedness interests since the 1980s and who worked in South Central Los Angeles (LA) for years for the phone company, sent me this link. It is two hours long, and it is a comprehensive compilation of Los Angeles television news coverage of the Rodney King Riots in 1992. More recent events in Ferguson, Missouri, and Baltimore pale by comparison to the LA Riots. There were estimates of property damage as high as a billion dollars (yes, billion with a “B”) as people in certain neighborhoods turned on commercial enterprises nearby, whether they were Korean “mom and pop” stores, major supermarkets, electronics stores, clothing stores, or furniture stores.
LA burned and, as is shown in the video, its denizens celebrated the chance to get “free” stuff before setting the stores on fire as they left. LA burned and, as is shown in the video, its denizens celebrated the chance to loot before setting the stores on fire as they left. Asked by a television reporter why he was running away from a shoe store with several boxes of running shoes in his hand, the looter responded, “Because it’s free!”
The riots spread to Pasadena, Pomona, and as far away as Las Vegas as opportunistic rock throwers and looters joined in. Rodney King, of course, was beaten by LAPD officers after a high speed freeway chase in LA and a chase through residential neighborhoods at night at speeds up to 80 mph. Exactly how Pasadena, Pomona, and Las Vegas rioters thought their behavior was going to improve their lot in life in their cities is something someone else will have to explain.
What began as a political protest or demonstration concerning the Rodney King verdict, turned into a riot, and then turned into what was simply a massive looting opportunity in which the participants lost all interest in protesting, if they ever had any interest in protesting in the first place. Indeed, as one black LAPD officer said toward the end of the video, “I haven’t heard anyone yelling out anything about Rodney King as of this point. It’s just people taking advantage of an opportunity.” Indeed, not one time while I watched the two hour long video did I hear anyone scream, “Rodney King!!!” I am reminded of what a co-worker related to me one time. He said that he watched a television reporter approach an individual who was laughably outfitted in an obviously new suit that was two sizes too big for him, and he was also wearing leather shoes that didn’t match. The reporter asked him what he thought about the Rodney King situation. The individual responded, “Well, to tell you the truth, I don’t follow sports much.”
Appropriately, the LAPD was heavily criticized later for its failure to act quickly to shut down the situation the first night. By falling back and letting the mob have its way, it served to inspire many others to join the effort because it was obvious that the chances of being punished were very low. If you watch the video, you will see LAPD officers in patrol cars slowly passing looters coming out of stores. The officers do nothing. You will see groups of LAPD officers standing together within 50 feet of stores as they were being emptied, again, doing nothing. The excuse offered was that the legendary LAPD did not have “enough” officers on the scene. (In California things are different. The LAPD obviously does not follow the historic Texas Ranger rule, i.e., “One riot, one Ranger.”)
In reality, I strongly expect that the Mayor Tom Bradley administration simply did not want the LAPD to use more harsh measures due to the political blowback that would occur during the next election cycle. Bradley and the City’s “powers that be” understood the underlying truth–which was, to paraphrase the old NRA expression, “I’m a looter and I vote.” Just as the clueless and impotent woman mayor of Baltimore said her city was doing a few years ago, they gave the rioters “space” to express themselves–which, in reality, meant, that the rioters could wear themselves out looting.
Meanwhile, In Beverly Hills
The police force for the City of Beverly Hills, on the other hand, was not troubled by such political restraints. Video of Rodeo Drive at the time shows that it was untouched. Beverly Hills residents (and, more particularly, Beverly Hills voters) weren’t rioting and wouldn’t be complaining about “excessive force” used on looters. Therefore, the Beverly Hills PD was able to insulate the city’s population from the troubles in LA, the enclave city of Beverly Hills is surrounded by LA.
What is notable in listening to the news anchors’ and reporters’ commentary is that they are much less concerned about “politi-speak” during the early ’90s, a time when the country’s population looked very different than it does today. While the television screen, itself, provides easy identification of the racial and ethnic groups involved, anchors and commentators come right out and say it at times. (Notice how reticent reporters are to identify by race or ethnicity the rape suspects being sought by police today, even when the description of the suspect is being given by a radio reporter and with obviously no ability to broadcast a police artist’s rendering? Political correctness and the fear of offending a certain bloc of listeners usually mandate that the racial or ethnic description of the suspect be left unmentioned, so the public is left to guess about the perpetrator’s appearance.
Television News Reporting Highlights
Here are some issues and points that stand out to me in the video:
- A witness account of a mother who sat in her car and was heard sending her children into the store to get her “something good.”
- Korean store owners standing their ground and exchanging repeated gunfire with looters in cars and on foot. (The looters apparently failed to consider that most Korean immigrants were new arrivals from Korea at that time. Korean males have a mandatory military service obligation.)
- Correspondents’ reports that some arson teams were driving around the city with a goal of setting ten fires an hour.
- Firemen attempting to suppress fires being shot at, and one being wounded with a blast from a shotgun. As a result, firemen were issued “bulletproof vests.”
- Reporters saying repeatedly that looters tended to scatter when the LAPD showed up, but when the officers were dispatched elsewhere, the looters were returning.
- Half of Southwest Airlines flights into LAX being canceled, and, instead of landing with an approach over Inglewood, an area adjacent to South Central, aircraft were landing at LAX using an ocean approach due to actual sniper fire–or the risk of it.
- Hours passing before National Guardsmen arrived to support the LAPD, and then arriving without ammunition. Yet, they were sent to the streets without ammunition, their ammunition arriving hours later.
- A line of white Scientologists guarding the Dianetics Center on Hollywood Boulevard, apparently successfully, some with baseball bats in hand.
- After the looting of the stores in some neighborhoods, some looters turned to apartments and homes.
Over a quarter century has passed since much of LA burned. If anything, the potential for chaos has worsened with the shift in LA demographics since then. Those who live in what was formerly called “South Central” complain about the fact that there are so few grocery stores available now, and that so many find it necessary to eat fast food and unhealthy food from “mom and pop” markets and convenience stores. High prices and the lack of fresh vegetables are singled out as a problem with these stores. For a great part of the population in these areas, the only choice is to take long trips on mass transit to find suitable food elsewhere.
Of course, the risk of rebuilding in what is called “South Los Angeles” now has provided plenty of incentive for the major supermarkets to avoid operating in such neighborhoods. While there are numerous individuals on the public stage who criticize the supermarket chains’ reluctance to return, they almost always seem to avoid criticizing those who burned the markets over 25 years ago. Odd, that. (A few years ago, the LA City Council changed the name of the area known as South Central to South Los Angeles in an effort to avoid the stigma of “South Central.” Voilà! No more problems in South Central!)
Some What-If Questions
For many of the younger readers of this article, the LA Riots seem to be almost from ancient history. Yet, it is said that “the best predictor of future behavior is usually past behavior.” While on any given day, a riot could break out across the country due to social, political, or racial conflicts (yes, we’ve all heard the discussion about “Civil War II”), what if an EMP attack occurred, or to a lesser extent, a Coronal Mass Ejection (CME)? While tensions with North Korea have arguably lessened, the situation with Iran is heating up. With an EMP or CME as a possibility, ask yourself the following:
- What would happen if police and fire units could not operate because their electronics were fried?
- What would happen if credit card and debit card transactions could not be processed because the grid was down?
- What would happen if EBT cards (modern food stamps) could not be used because the grid was down?
- What would happen if every National Guard unit was located in areas in which their own localities were overwhelmed by their own problems? (One National Guard officer being interviewed in the video said that she lived 300 miles from LA.)
- What would happen if the National Guard could not appear at the scene because Guardsmen had no transportation to get to their armories? (National Guardsman often live quite far from their unit armories.)
- What would happen if National Guardsmen decided to stay home to protect their own families?
- What would happen if statewide/regional mutual support agreements among fire departments were not honored because every fire department was overwhelmed by its own problems? (After the November fires here in Southern California, I talked to men in my neighborhood from the Texas A&M University Forestry Service. I heard on the radio that units from Indiana also responded to the California fires.)/li>
- What would happen if law enforcement, firemen, and National Guardsmen decide to stay home and protect their families?
- What would happen if municipal workers (water, power, sanitation, etc.) were rendered useless because, without power, there wasn’t much to run anyway?
- What would happen if municipal workers couldn’t get to work because they had no transportation to get to work?
- What would happen if municipal workers decided to stay home to protect their families?
I could keep going, but I expect that most readers will comprehend the enormity of the situation.
No Trucks Rolling
Nevertheless, I will add one more category: What if truck drivers didn’t show up because: 1) their trucks weren’t working; 2) they, too, wanted to protect their families; or 3) they were afraid of the danger of being on the highway? How many truck drivers would refuse to report to work because they were fearful of winding up like Reginald Denny, the truck driver pulled from his cab during the LA Riots and brutally beaten within an inch of his life on national television? How many truck drivers would refuse to transport food into riot zones, thereby making the rioters, once their food supplies were exhausted, even more desperate and likely to engage in forays into areas well-removed from their own starving neighborhoods?
It’s just a hunch, but I would guess that the great majority of Survivalblog readers live outside the types of the neighborhoods shown in the video.
Coming to a Neighborhood Near You
Yet, if truck drivers refuse to make deliveries in riot zones, once the looters’ food supplies were exhausted, looters would become even more desperate and would become more likely to engage in forays into areas well-removed from their own starving neighborhoods. As the old movie trailers used to say, it is entirely possible that, if the calamity lasts long enough, similar troubles would be “coming to a neighborhood near you.” If anyone persists in their belief that the violence and mayhem shown in the video would be limited to places like Los Angeles, Ferguson, and Baltimore, all I can say is that I they are living in a Pollyana-style fantasy world, or in an alternate universe. It may also be that they are simply prisoners of “The Normalcy Bias.”
The knee jerk reaction of many readers is to say to those living in the risky areas, “Move!” Yet, as with many problems in life, the solution is often not simple. Many readers will have to deal with the risk because various circumstances, e.g., job, family, friendships, pension issues, etc., currently prevent them from moving.
The teaching point or takeaway point here? It is better to be very prepared to deal with the danger and, as a wise person once said, it’s better to be prepared “a couple of years too early than a couple of days too late.”