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With today being the 23rd anniversary of the start of the Rodney King Riot in Los Angeles, I was watching footage out of Baltimore and recalling that long-ago night when the world’s attention turned to the intersection of Florence and Normandie Avenues in South Los Angeles. As was the case in Los Angeles then, the city leaders in Baltimore this past week failed to see the signs of impending trouble that were clear to cops on the street. In both cities, the higher up the chain of command you looked, the more obtuseness you seemed to find. And in both cities, the mayors were complete failures when the crisis came. (Five years ago, I wrote on PJ Media about the failure of some LAPD managers – I refuse to call them “leaders” – to take charge and do what was necessary in those first early hours of the riot. You can find that piece here.)
There are many analogies to be drawn between the L.A. Riot and the one in Baltimore, but one that stands out in particular is the way firefighters in the two cities were treated by the mob. “If you wanted to be loved,” I was told as a young cop, “you should have joined the Fire Department.” As a general matter that saying is true, but not when the rioting starts, apparently.
Images from Baltimore of fire hoses being cut, and of fire engines being pelted with rocks, bricks, and bottles as they sped to a fire reminded me of what I saw in Los Angeles on the second or third night of the ‘92 riot. At the intersection of 108th and Main Streets in South Los Angeles, a fire station stands on one side of 108th and a police station stands on the other. As the rioting grew more intense — and as resources from beyond Los Angeles County were brought in to assist — 108th Street between Main and Broadway was blocked off to serve as a staging area for police cars and fire apparatus. (If you’re wondering, Broadway in South Los Angeles is nothing at all like Broadway in New York.)
As I walked the line of fire trucks and engines (did you know there’s a difference?) parked in neat rows in the street, I a saw there wasn’t a single one that didn’t have some kind of damage from having rocks or what have you thrown at it. I was most struck by a fire rig from Newport Beach with a windshield that must have been smashed with cinderblock. If you’re unfamiliar with Newport Beach, it’s an affluent city on the coast in Orange County, about 40 miles from Los Angeles. I suspect it’s a very pleasant place to be a firefighter. I imagined these guys sitting comfortably in their firehouse watching the news as large sections of Los Angeles went up in flames, when suddenly the bell rings and they’re told to get their gear on and head on up the freeway to the place they had just seen on television. And head on up they did, only to have some thug throw a cinderblock through their windshield when they got there. It’s a wonder none of them was killed.
But one firefighter nearly was. A few miles to the north, Scott Miller was driving an LAFD hook-and-ladder rig code-3 up Western Avenue when a car pulled alongside and an occupant opened fire with a handgun. Miller was hit in the face but somehow managed to keep the rig under control and bring it to a stop. (Miller made a remarkable recovery, and the man who shot him was arrested, convicted, and sentenced to 16 years in prison. Doesn’t seem long enough, does it?)
What makes this targeting all the more perverse is that the hoodlums committing these acts are far more likely than others to need the services of these firefighters someday. As things return to normal in Baltimore, remember that it’s “normal” for people to shoot each other with some regularity there (Baltimore has the fifth-highest homicide rate in the country). The Baltimore Sun reported that four people in the city were shot on Tuesday and five more on Wednesday. At least two of the victims died. (I didn’t hear of any protests.)
Some might want to ponder these grim facts before heaving bricks at a passing fire engine. When it’s you lying in the gutter with a bullet in your belly, that firefighter might be the last man standing between you and the Grim Reaper.
Never send to know for whom the siren wails; it wails for thee.
Image Credit: “Baltimore City Fire Department ” by Baltimore Fire Department – http://www.baltimorecity.gov/Government/AgenciesDepartments/Fire.aspx. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.