By Hal Collier
The following story is true. The riots are winding down. Some calm has returned to Los Angeles and the politicians are coming out from under their expensive tax-paid desks. The Mayor has a bandage on his index finger from pointing the blame at everyone but himself. The media is blasting the L.A.P.D. and the jury from Simi Valley. I’ll learn that this will be just the tip of the iceberg. Politicians have appointed investigative commissions and the L.A.P.D., once considered the finest police department in the world, is about to be destroyed. We are still recovering from the aftermath. Think how politicians handle everything. Appoint a group of liberal politicians who know nothing about what their investigating and come up with resolutions that only please the politicians and the ACLU.
Blocks of business were burned and it was a common sight to see armed businessmen standing on their rooftops protecting what wasn’t burned. I can rationalize people taking goods they couldn’t afford, but why burn down the buildings where they work and shop.
During the first days, most businesses were closed, including restaurants. Even cops need to eat. The Department began delivering box lunches. They contained a cheese sandwich, an apple, and a cookie. I’m guessing they were left over from the last riot in 1965. The local businessmen who were still open began delivering food to the station. We had stacks of bread, fruit, sandwich meat, and condiments. We even had trays of cooked meat. The Spaghetti Factory was closed but opened to feed all National Guard soldiers and police officers one day. The box lunches were given to the Salvation Army to feed the homeless. No one went hungry.
A lot of officers were on fixed posts throughout the division. I know that the Sears had a group of 8 to 10 officers. They were protecting what was left of the building and any inventory not taken by looters. I remember one young officer had 200 rounds of ammunition stuffed in his pockets. Custer’s men didn’t have that much ammo. I prayed the officer didn’t fall into deep water.
Hollywood Division had its own small command post, to monitor incidents occurring in the division. The command post was staffed with young officers and a senior Sergeant. They remained in the station and never got their fingernails dirty. One day, long after the dust had settled, they all went out in riot gear and had their pictures taken in front of burned out buildings. I can imagine the stories they tell their kids. “What did you do in the riots?”
Hollywood Division was the only division that I know of that actively recovered looted property. Officers drove U-Haul trucks around neighborhoods, when they spotted old couches and chairs sitting on the curb they would go into the apartment building and knock on doors. Guess what, a brand new couch and table inside. The new owners of this windfall gladly gave up the loot to avoid arrest. The officers would take a couch downstairs load it into the truck, re-enter the apartment building and find 4 couches in the hallway. It went on this way for days. I heard of one incident where the officers took some property down in an elevator, loaded it onto the U-Haul truck. They returned and punched the button for the elevator, it was already full of stolen property. I just hope the citizens got their own furniture back. Hollywood Division recovered more stolen property than any other division in the city.
Early one morning I was southbound on the Hollywood freeway. The sun was just rising. I saw a line of National Guard soldiers walking on the Western Avenue bridge above the freeway.
They were silhouetted against the sky, their rifles gleaming in the sunlight. If I had a camera, I would have made a fortune selling that picture. I made 4 hours of overtime a day for weeks, unfortunately it took the city 8 months to pay us our money. Even the cops got looted, no interest.
I’m sure I’ll hear stories from other cops, with their experiences, and some contradictions. This is how I remember the Second Annual Los Angeles Riots. 16 years later I was the Watch Commander in roll call, and telling stories of the riots. One of the senior officers sitting in the back row, asked, “Was that the ‘65 Riots, Sarge? I was 16 years old during the ‘65 riots.”
I can’t get any respect. “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times”.
It was also a lot of fun.