The New Ecology of War

Mattias Hagberg interviews Mike Davis in Eurozine:

It is three minutes past midnight on the 3 March 1991. When the film stops, Rodney King is lying motionless on the ground.

Slightly more than a year later, on 29 April 1992, the four policemen who assaulted King are cleared of all charges by a unanimous jury. That same day, Los Angeles erupts in violent riots, the most brutal in US history. Riots lasting six days. Entire blocks are burned down, more than 50 people are killed and thousands are injured. Not until the National Guard seizes the streets of Los Angeles does the violence come to an end.

Two years earlier, in 1990, the then fairly unknown historian and urban theorist Mike Davis published his analysis of the history and future of Los Angeles, City of Quartz. His excavation of social and ethnic tensions in Los Angeles suddenly seemed prophetic. In a stroke, Davis was transformed into an internationally established and esteemed social critic, his books and articles gaining readers far beyond the academic world.

Now, I am sitting in his kitchen in a small villa in central San Diego. Scratching away on his grey beard, he takes some vigorous sips of coffee and points out that the riots are still an open wound in the history of Los Angeles. Instead of trying to find explanations, most people in power have tried to forget.

“All we got was a story of police brutality which triggered the black community in Los Angeles to violence. But that is just a small part of the truth. It wasn't primarily African Americans who were looting stores and starting fires around the city. If you look at the arrests made by the police it appears that principally Latin Americans were responsible for the riots. And a closer look at the causes shows a web of explanations where police brutality is only one background among others.”