L.A. Rebellion 1992--The Night the Police Killed DeAndre

by Michael Slate
Revolutionary Worker #887, December 22, 1996

It was the early edge of rush hour traffic and the streets were getting crowded. Garment workers hurried down the sidewalks trying to make it to the first bus out of the garment district in downtown Los Angeles. Shoppers searching for a good deal moved in and out of the wholesale clothing stores. And on the corner of Olympic and Broadway more than 200 people of all ages and all nationalities--all wearing black--came together for the National Day of Protest Against Police Brutality on October 22. As people waited for the demonstration to begin they passed out protest signs and chant sheets or talked with each other about the demonstration and police brutality.

It was a wild time. As I walked through the crowd speaking to people, I came up on a very moving and powerful scene that captured much of what the Day of Protest was all about.

In the middle of the crowd a few women from Watts--including Lela Lewis, the grandmother of DeAndre "Fango" Harrison--stood talking with the parents of José Antonio Gutiérrez. Tony Gutiérrez was killed by the LAPD less than a year earlier and DeAndre was gunned down by LAPD snipers in the Nickerson Gardens projects on the night of April 29, 1992--the first night of the L.A. Rebellion. Each family member held a red rose and a large picture of their murdered loved ones. They struggled to share their stories with one another through a translator. As each sentence was translated, tears and anger took over their faces.

A few nights earlier, Lela had been in a candlelight vigil against police brutality that wound its way through the streets of Nickerson Gardens. When the vigil reached the spot where Fango had been shot, Black and Latino people from the projects and the surrounding neighborhood testified about their run-ins with the police. Everyone joined together to sing Sam Cooke's song, "A Change Is Gonna Come." As 60 candles flickered in the cool night breeze, Lela stepped to the front of the crowd and struggled to tell how DeAndre was murdered by the LAPD. She denounced the police preying on the youth of the area.

As I watched Lela tell about Fango's life and death, I thought back to the following stories, which were first told to me by Fango's friends and family several years ago.

The following article is available in the collection Aftershocks: Post Rebellion Conversations in Watts and South Central Los Angeles, by Michael Slate. It can be ordered from RCP Publications. This article originally appeared in RW #764.


When you turn onto L.A.'s 110 Freeway, the most striking thing you see is the skyline of highrise downtown L.A. It sits out there shimmering like a mirage in the smog and dying sunlight. Very little else is visible. You pass right over Watts and portions of South Central L.A. without ever catching sight of them.

Over four years ago, on April 29, 1992, this vision of downtown L.A. was covered with soot. If the Freeway had been open that night you would have been intensely aware you were riding over South Central and Watts. Big chunks of Los Angeles were burning up. Upwards of a million people-- mostly Black and Latino but also including whites, Asians and the international mix that is Los Angeles--had risen up in a rebellion sparked off by the racist verdicts acquitting the cops who tried to beat Rodney King to death.

It was the largest and most intense uprising in U.S. history. Rebellions were sparked off in cities all over the country. Millions around the world were inspired by the uprising and voiced their support for it.

It took a combined force of the LAPD, other police agencies from all over the state, the FBI, INS, the National Guard, the U.S. Army and the Marine Corps to eventually impose an uneasy calm over the city. At least 55 people were killed in the rebellion and the clampdown that followed.

Thousands of people were arrested--it was the largest mass arrest in U.S. history. Although spurts of resistance continued here and there, by the end of the first week of May the L.A. Rebellion had ended.

In the wake of the Rebellion, Bob Avakian, the Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party, issued a statement of revolutionary greetings to the rebels of Los Angeles. Describing the rebellion as "the most beautiful, the most heroic, and the most powerful action by masses of people in the U.S. for years and years," Chairman Avakian went on to speak about some of the things the rebellion revealed. "This rebellion showed the tremendous strength of the oppressed people when they rise up against their oppression. It showed that the masses of Black people won't take this racist oppression and brutality anymore, and that when they strike back against it, there will be people of all different races and nationalities who will join with them. It showed that the way the oppressed people can get out of the trap of fighting and killing each other is to rise up and fight the system.

"This rebellion brought out more forcefully into the open that the U.S. is a society based on class exploitation, and it showed the tremendous potential of the proletariat, the exploited class of all races and nationalities, to unite all the `have-nots' and lead all the oppressed to make revolution, overthrow this `modern-day' system of slavery called capitalism and sweep away all forms of slavery and oppression."

In the years since then, there has been much talk and controversy about the rebellion and what it accomplished. Despite many promises, South Central L.A. and Watts is even worse off than it was. People in these sections of the city spit out a bitter and angry laugh when they talk about all of the promised changes. There has been no rebuilding, no reinvestment, no new investments, no new jobs, no new housing--no new nothing. This has been a rude awakening for anyone who even momentarily believed that somehow the capitalist system would be moved to meet the needs of the people.

But the rebellion did bring real changes--transformations that have to do with people's ability to end the system, not figure out ways to help it get over one more time. These changes--among the oppressed and other sections of the people all over the city--are part of the process of moving from rebellion to revolution. A new generation of rebellion--and all that comes with it--rose in the flames of Spring 1992. A new day in which people on the bottom refuse to just accept the suffering brought down by the system was born.

It is there in the minds and actions of the proletariat and the oppressed. It is there in the voices of the proletarians and others of all nationalities who rose up in 1992 and shook Amerikkka to its roots. These are some of those voices. And in those voices this new day, and future possibilities, can be heard.

Pride and Pain at 114th and Central

A few blocks east of the Nickerson Gardens housing project there is a brand new structure that towers over the surrounding rundown, matchbox-size houses and motel-style low-rise apartment buildings that make up the various neighborhoods in Watts. This is the only major new construction in Watts. It's a state-of-the-art prison. Everyone knows it and everyone hates it. It's like some huge science fiction type monster planted in the hood to stand guard and enforce the downpression of the people. But it is a fitting symbol and constant reminder of how the system deals with the Black and Latino proletarians in Watts.

The intersection of 114th and Central Avenue is part of the western boundary line of Nickerson Gardens. Like every other intersection in Watts things seem bleak at first glance. Up and down the street there are vacant buildings, storefront churches, a few shops and some greasy-spoon restaurants. The new freeway interchange shoots up on the horizon and over the neighborhood adding to the pressed-down sense of things. Small clumps of men and women spend the day hanging out in front of the stores and vacan t buildings on Central. Fifty feet off of Central Avenue, inside the projects, a large group of young men shoot dice against one of the project walls. Young women dis and joke with the men from a porch across the street. Little kids are everywhere.

This spot in Nickerson is also a symbol--a people's symbol. To many people in Nickerson and many others who know what went down here, the intersection of 114th and Central stands for the people's refusal to submit to the system. And more, it's a symbol of the fierce resistance--in action as well as attitude--of the people against the repression by the system and its police.

On the evening of April 29, 1992--just a few hours after the racist verdicts in the Rodney King beating case and first outbreaks of the L.A. Rebellion--the people of Nickerson Gardens and the LAPD had a major gun battle. At least 30 cops were sent down to Nickerson to supposedly guard firefighters sent into the area. According to the police reports, the cops came under heavy gunfire from snipers as soon as they came into the area. According to many people in the projects and newspaper reports at the tim e, the police were never really able to go all the way into Nickerson that first night--at least not in the way they had set out to do it.

There were a number of fierce confrontations between the people and the police reported in different parts of the city during the Spring Rebellion--including a number of reports of people shooting at the police. But Nickerson Gardens was one of the most intense of these scenes.

The battle and the heroic actions of some of the people involved in it have become legendary inside Nickerson. People, especially the youth, really seem to come alive when they talk of this battle. They talk of how the youth who were on the frontlines of combat that night competed with one another over who could perform the boldest and most daring acts against the police. Their laughter celebrates the people's victory in this battle. The police were completely pinned down and, in the end, they only esca ped from Nickerson after being rescued by an armored car.

The youth aren't alone in their excitement about this scene. One of the first people I interviewed in Nickerson Gardens shortly after the rebellion was a 45-year-old meatcutter who could hardly control himself as he told me the story of the war in the projects. "Look here, when this riot first started the cops could not come in here. The projects would not let the police come in here. A lot of people say that some of the people were armed and they would not let the cops come in.

"The cops, they lined up on the perimeter and they shot two homeboys that died right there on the scene and they shot another one that died later on that day. But the people would not let the cops in the projects. They set up their own perimeter and would not let the cops past. The cops was even going backwards trying to get out of these projects when they saw how the people were. The people would not let them in. People were saying, let's take our freedom, let's take our justice, let's take our equalit y. We saw the enemy--we saw that we are not enemies among ourselves. The enemy is the one who is keeping us down. When we saw the cops that night we were looking at them like they had on KKK helmets and they were the enemy. We would not submit to anything more. We was gonna stand up and let everybody know that."

The Night
the Police Killed DeAndre

The battle at 114th and Central continues to inspire many youth and others in Nickerson Gardens today. Many people are proud of the history that was made on that corner on April 29, 1992. But people also remember the battle with an intense anger. At least three people in the area of the battle were shot to death by the police on the opening night of the rebellion. A number of other people were wounded here on that same night.

There are different versions about what happened when the brothers were killed that night. A lot of people, especially the youth, say the deaths happened in battle. Others, including some of the relatives of the people killed, say the brothers were murdered by the police in cold blood after the battle.

But no matter which version people talk about, it is clear that many agree on a couple of important points. First, the police murdered these brothers and nothing has ever been done or said about it. And everybody is angry over this. And, among many people, especially those who see the importance of what came down in Nickerson that night and are inspired by it today, there is a growing sentiment that these brothers gave their lives in the cause of the people--and no one should ever forget that.

One of the young brothers killed that night was 17-year-old DeAndre Harrison, known throughout the projects as Fango. I met with a couple of DeAndre's friends on a warm spring afternoon. Before we started to talk, I was introduced to DeAndre's grandmother and grandfather. People wanted to let them know what we were doing. Fango's grandparents were retired now--after working 50 and 45 years in their factory jobs. The living room in their tiny house is stuffed with pictures of DeAndre and all of his diffe rent sports trophies. DeAndre's family and friends remember him as a youth who loved to play sports and just hang out with his friends. They also talk about how Fango was out in the streets scuffling to make some money to help out his grandparents and to help support the baby he and his girlfriend were expecting.

DeAndre's grandparents are furious about the death of their grandson at the hands of the police. His grandmother is especially angry about the fact that nobody has ever said anything to them about the murder. There was no investigation or anything. The cause of DeAndre's death is still listed as unknown. And when DeAndre's family tried to get some financial assistance from the Victims of Crime fund in order to give him a decent funeral, they were brushed aside with a cold comment that DeAndre was not a victim of crime.

After we left DeAndre's grandparents, Tim and Tisha walked out to the front of the house and sat on the curb. Tim, a guy in his 40s who works in a hospital laundry room and who knew DeAndre and his mom for a long time, opened up the conversation. "DeAndre would see the police harassing folks and he did not like the way the police was harassing the other guys. Now, see he was big and he stands out. And in those situations he might hold his hands up or something and you know the police don't like you to e ven look at them. The police want to let you know they the law, they the big chief and that they can do this or that to you."

Tisha, who was a long time friend of the family and someone who hung out with Fango, joined in here. "DeAndre didn't like them and they didn't like him. Whenever they would see him across the street they would just stop and come over to him and throw him up against the car. They'd be feeling all on his pockets and he be asking what did he do. They tell him to shut up and they handcuff him and put him in the back of the car.

"That afternoon when the verdicts came out, DeAndre ran into the house saying `Did you see that!' He was mad! Then he went on around to his girlfriend's house. He came back here one time that night and the next thing I knew later on that evening somebody come back around and tell me that DeAndre was shot over there by the church.