Los Angeles Fire Department
Historical Archive

    April 29, 1992
    Los Angeles Riots


April 26 - May 2, 2002

Trouble With Angels

by Lovell Estell III

Photo by Ted Soqui


MAKING A RUN TO THE MARket wouldn't ordinarily be such a big deal. But this was less than 24 hours into one of the worst riots in U.S. history, so when my sister asked if I could try to find some milk for my 2-year-old niece, I got the big-time jitters. Of course I said yes, but only because I had no choice.

I drove around for 10 minutes before finding a shopping mall on Western Avenue. A crush of people ran in and out of a Safeway market, taking everything they could hold in anything with sides and a bottom. Water from the fire sprinklers flooded the aisles; smoke hung in air so thick you choked on it; people acted like frenzied animals, picking up anything without fire damage.

After a few minutes of frantic searching, I found a quart of milk and, without giving it much thought, caught a choice sirloin as it floated by the meat case. I made it to the door and had almost reached my car when a fusillade of gunshots erupted. I looked back and saw a shopkeeper standing in front of his business wearing a bulletproof vest, firing wildly into the air with a semiauto pistol. Apparently he wanted to send a message. He could not have been more than 30 feet away. I threw my steak and milk in the car, fumbled with my keys and the ignition for what seemed an eternity, and got out of Dodge City.

I made it home, but my niece wasn't the one who needed a diaper change.


LIKE EVERYONE ELSE WITH A TV, I'd seen my fellow Angelenos pilfering all sorts of inviting goodies during 1992's three days of unbridled lawlessness. I'd heard that looters cleaned out a Fedco Store two miles from my house in a matter of hours, and that some joker even borrowed a step van from his job to facilitate a "shopping" spree. I must confess, I was tempted -- man, was I tempted. But taking advantage of such a horrid situation is immoral, wrong, and in this case even dangerous, right?

After I'd watched everybody from giddy housewives to gangbangers make off with free stuff, the darker angels of my nature took over; my 16-year-old son and his friend talked me into taking a drive to check out the mayhem. We stopped at a liquor store near Adams and saw scores of people walking out with the inventory. What the hell, I thought, I could use a shot of J.D.; maybe I'll even score a case. Inside, it was elbowroom only and, for a looting scene, seemed unexpectedly quiet and orderly. People calmly placed their take in bags, purses, pockets, whatever. I didn't get my hooch, but did walk out with a nice portable black-and-white TV I grabbed off a top shelf.

We turned out to be lucky. As we drove off, a black-and-white pulled up, and three cops jumped out and started snatching things out of people's hands and proning them out. I went home and stayed there.

By the way, the TV still works fine. Looking back, I regret taking the damn thing, but it's nice to have. I enjoy watching sports while taking a bath.


Copyright 2002 All Rights Reserved.