By Chet Yarbrough
Written by: Ryan Gattis
Narrated by: Anthony Rey Perez, Marisol Ramirez, Jim Cooper, Adam Lazarre-White, James Chen
Ryan Gattis’s novel, “All Involved”, is a “lock the doors-get the guns”’ tale of the Los Angeles riots in 1992. Four Los Angeles Police officers inflict a beat-down on Rodney King while arresting him after a high-speed chase. Sergeant Stacey Koon, the commanding officer at the scene is said to have tased King twice. Koon argues the tasing is ineffective and suggests King is “dusted”; i.e. meaning hyped by PCP. The four involved officers are white. Rodney King is black.
All four officers are indicted for “excessive force”. After acquittal by the State, six days of rioting begin. It is April 29, 1992. In the end, the four police officers are tried in a Federal court. Koon and Powell are convicted and serve two years in prison. Theodore Briseno and Timothy Wind, the other accused, are acquitted. Gattis does not dwell on the King’ beat down but infers it is the primer for society’s explosion in South Central Los Angeles.
Gattis’s novel looks at L.A’s riots through the eyes of minority communities living in the poorest parts of South Central Los Angeles. His story begins with the brutal murder of an innocent Latino by a Latin gang. The murder occurs just after the State’s acquittal of the four officers. Gattis infers the murder occurs because it could be disguised as a part of the Los Angeles’ riots.
The murder introduces a cast of characters that will scare most reader/listeners. Sadly, Gattis’s book will also energize gun-toting vigilantes, reinforce socioeconomic prejudices, and encourage right-wing pundits to argue socialism is ruining America. Fundamentally, Gattis’s novel exhibits the appalling consequence of America’s neglect of the poor.
One may argue there is no justification for rioting in America but current events and past history suggest otherwise. From the days of the American Revolution to the 2015 Ferguson and Baltimore riots, rule-of-law has been violated by both moral and miscreant Americans.
Every riot is justified and vilified in measures equal to the power and prestige of prevailing moneyed interests. Victims of riots range from rule-of-law enforcement agencies to all socioeconomic levels of American society. Men and women in police departments, fire departments, and the National Guard are in the middle of an uncontrollable fire fight. Every person on the street in a riot is at risk of death or injury. However, the powerless, disrespected, and poor often feel they have nothing to lose. They are recycled as perennial victims in every riot because the “wilding” will end and they will still be poor. Those who protect the general public suffer at the time of riot but, as peace is restored, the poor return to a life of quiet desperation and crime that is largely contained and hidden from public view.
Human self-interest is at the heart of what is good and bad in societies based on rule of law. The rich and middle class are served by rule of law while the poor are often left to fend for themselves. What Gattis shows in his story is that citizen’ self-interest in poor communities is the same as the general public’ but it takes a different form.
Money, power, and prestige are important to all human beings. However, the ways of making money in poor communities are often illegal because, just as Willie Sutton said about banks–gangs rob, murder, extort, and traffic drugs because that is where the money is when you are poor. Gangs proliferate in poor communities. They have their own rule of law because the general public’s rule-of-law does not equally protect the poor.
If the poor cannot find a job, they sell their bodies or their loyalty. Turning tricks for money buys food, clothing, and housing–the necessities of life. Being a gang member or leader becomes the primary ladder for success of the poor. The stress of being poor is a cycle of illegal selling and buying. With the sale of one’s body or the trafficking of drugs, the poor are employed in ways that satisfy human desire for money, power, and prestige. With the use of one’s body or drugs, the poor escape the mind-numbing reality of being poor in America; i.e. at least until they run out of money, are murdered, or die from life’s pestilences. American police and fire departments treat the poor less equally because the problems of the poor are increasingly unmanageable.
Gattis’s novel posits a solution for rioting. He writes about an anonymous American gang of Los Angeles’ mercenaries (former military and police department officers) to threaten poor community gang leaders by breaking legs, bashing faces, and busting ribs. This “law and order” gang of mercenaries threatens murder and mayhem if street gang’ leaders choose to persist in their murderous control of poor communities. The victims of this mentality are decent police and fire department operations that have sworn to protect life and property in the jurisdictions of all citizens of the United States.
Police and fire departments are caught in the middle of a war that cannot be won. It is the same war that defeated America in Vietnam. As a Pogo comic strip observed, “We have seen the enemy and he is us”. The solution for America is not for public safety departments to be drawn down to the level of gangs. The solution is to raise gangs to the level of good citizens by genuinely educating and providing equal opportunity for all.
Gattis tells a story that exposes poverty’s sharp edges and democracy’s vulnerabilities. The map for poverty’s elimination is a destination at the end of a long road. The road to a police state, a gang-like sanction of government enforcers, is a short cut to Democratic’ Armageddon.