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Sunday, January 3, 2016

Before Black Lives Matter--Alprentice "Bunchy" Carter's mother, and the long-term neglect of Watts.

Before there was Black Lives Matter, there was Rodney King, in the first beaten of an African American man caught on new technology. When his four police assailants were acquitted  there were riots. 

And before that, in 1965 in response to earlier police brutality, there were the Watts Riots, a six-day-long civil rights riot, with rioters burning a good part of this middle and lower class African-American community of Watts. 

When we talk about how the inner city should pull themselves up by their own bootstraps, I think we have to consider this, from an opinion piece in the LA Times, by Randy Holland, titled, "What About the Plan?" In the article, he interviews Alprentice "Bunchy" Carter's mother, Nola Carter, then in her seventies. Out of ten children, Nola lost Bunchy and his little brother Arthur (Glen) to violence and one child to the penitentiary, where he is, at the moment, leading a hunger strike. Here is Nola, talking about her community in that article: 

"One of the people I met in South-Central after the riots was Mrs. Nola Carter, who is the mother of Alprentice (Bunchy) Carter, who started the L.A. chapter of the Black Panthers in the 1960s. He was assassinated at UCLA by a rival black power organization, which I knew nothing about. It took me into an investigation of the role of the FBI and the LAPD in undermining the black community, which is a shocking but was very well-documented in government hearings in the 1970s by the Church Commission.

Bunchy Carter's mother said I should go look for the 25-year plan. I said, "What's the 25-year plan?" She said, "We have Rebuild LA now. After the 1965 riots they had the 25-year plan." It came out in 1967 and 25 years later we didn't have peace or social justice. Instead, we had another riot.
She took me out on a street corner, 79th and Central, and said, "I remember they showed us plans for the new community. There was supposed to be a park at 79th and Central." It was just a liquor store. She said, "They showed us a model of what the community was going to look like and there were no African American people in that model. It was all white mothers pushing their babies."

That got me started on this 25-year plan. What happened in 1965 that laid a fire bed for 1992? I went to the city archives and the plan is missing. There's a file card there but you can't find the plan. Then I went into City Council records and looked up the elements of the plan. You can still find them in notes of the City Council meetings. And sure enough, at 79th and Central there was supposed to be a park. And Gage Avenue and Main Street, and 108th Street and Main, and numerous other locations. I went to four or five of them and there was not one park or rec center.
So this became the basis of an investigation into how the city was not only neglected but sabotaged, either consciously or unconsciously, by the system. In some ways it was conscious, like the out-and-out sabotage of cultural organizations like the Watts Writers Workshop, which started in the wake of the '65 riots. It brought together creative elements of the community--writers, directors, dancers--and created this incredible performance space and beehive of cultural activity, which was infiltrated by the FBI and the LAPD. The sabotage was so thorough that the FBI, after the hearings by the Church Commission, publicly apologized.
The workshop was empowering the community, and when a community is empowered it coalesces. Diverse groups come together and they form a base of power. And that base of power can question policy decisions. Take the Century Freeway. It cuts through a wide swath of South-Central that was really the cultural nexus of the inner city. It was the center of a community, this long strip that was taken by eminent domain. If a community is strong and groups are together, they can fight those things. But if they're in disarray and fighting each other, they can't come together and question policy and authority.
The community was being undermined for economic reasons, and that's still happening. The land in South-Central is prime real estate. Nearby you have the Port of Long Beach, you have Downtown, you have the airport. It tops the Westside in investment opportunity because you can buy it so cheap. If you can get a block, and when something like the Alameda Corridor train project comes through from Long Beach to Los Angeles--whoever owns that land is going to make out very well.
When the Black Panther Party came into power--I'm not saying they were Boy Scouts--they had an empowerment aspect to them. They were providing breakfast programs and education programs and testing children for sickle-cell anemia and myriad of other programs, and that had to be stopped. So there was systematic elimination of the Panther leadership.

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