Washington DC 1968 Riots

Washington DC 1968 Riots Until today the images and sounds of the 1968 DC Riots echo the fears and insecurities that are formed in my psyche.  What I witnessed at the age of five truly was frightening.  My parents who struggled with the English language and were relatively new to this environment had nothing but the look of fear and confusion on their faces on that night of April, 4th 1968. 
 We lived at the top floor apartment at 1916 17th Street NW, Washington DC, we sat with the lights out looking out of our 5th story window as flames shot into the sky and the yelling of people running in the streets, the piercing sound of shattering glass that seemed to come from all around.  My young mind could not comprehend what was happening, I remember the chatter on the radio and television fueling the sense of pandemonium. 
  
 
I remember my father saying in Spanish, "they're burning buildings down, they're mad", I replied by asking if they're going to burn our building down, and as he gazed out of that living room window, he said  with a tone of despair "I don't know".  As I remember, these nights ran together and in one instance I recall stretching my neck to look out of the window and seeing military tanks, trucks, jeeps and soldiers marching in a V formation down the street.  Upon seeing this I can't forget the feeling of doom and destruction, thinking it was an apocalyptic end as I gave in to slumber in my mothers arms.
 
On one of the mornings after, the sun was brightly shining bringing a fleeting sense of calm as my mother and I ventured down the block on 17th and U street where soldiers stood on the four corners of the intersection, to me they were real live GI Joe's. Some had masks hanging from their necks standing with, what looked like to me, a rifle with a knife at the barrel of the weapon.  Soon I was succumbing to the overwhelming smell of gas and the burning of my eyes.  I was very sensitive of the residue of tear gas that was in the air from the night before.  It didn't seem to affect my mother but my eyes watered to the point I had to close them as tears kept flowing out.
 
Understanding that I wasn't discerning racial prejudice at an adult level, or inner city poverty, low income housing, civil rights, the impact of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. in Memphis, Tennessee.  My parents relatively new to America looking forward to live in "the land of milk and honey",  were instead met with a whole new face of oppression and civil unrest.  Coming from an economic oppressed country, (See Origins of this Giron) violence and poverty was nothing new to them.  
 
After the dust settled I recall being driven through the streets, mainly the area of 14th and U streets where the main corridor of the riots begun earlier that day then spread to the northeast side of the city at 7th avenue and H streets.  There I saw boarded up homes and businesses, buildings completely burned to the ground. The graffiti on the walls and wood, I couldn't read at the time, however, I could tell they weren't nice things. Later I learned that Lyndon B. Johnson's Administration had the Marines surround the U.S Capitol and the White House. There was a high caliber automatic machine gun on the steps of the U.S. Capitol, if the protesters and looters would have reached the Capitol there would have been some serious devastation and loss of human life. The damage, at the time, was estimated at approximately $27 million and by today's standards it would sum to $150 million.
From Washington DC Riots of 1968

Ironically, even today I can appreciate the experience, being a witness of that history in the city that I consider my hometown. Washington D.C. Unlike New York city and other surrounding northeastern cities cultures migrated and lived for generations. D.C. has become a transient city, an everchanging city. Growing up in the District of Columbia a predominantly black city in the 60's and 70's, the migration of Hispanics in the 80's along with a diverse range of other cultures, has enriched my life experience.

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