L.A. Riots 20 Years Later
Gathering for Unity
People of faith gathered with other city leaders and community members at Glory Church of Christ in Los Angeles Sunday “to bring a message of remembrance, faith and hope” on the twentieth anniversary of the L.A. Riots, Annenberg Digital News reported. The 1992 riots were set off in the Los Angeles area by the acquittal of four police officers in the videotaped beating of Rodney King, an unarmed black man. Sixty-three people died in six days of rioting and more than $1 billion of damage was done.
“I’m sure many of us have different colors and maybe even different looking eyes. It shows that we are living in a community of diversity,” said the mother of 18-year-old Edward Song Lee, who was mistaken for a looter by a Korean store owner and shot to death. “Twenty years ago if we had this type of gathering, this kind of diversity in relations and in connections, I think my son would be still living today.”
An Influential Minister Remembers
The Rev. Dr. Cecil “Chip” Murray was in attendance, ADN reported. USC’s Center for Religon and Civic Culture says Murray, a fellow at the center, played a vital role in quelling strife before, during, and after the riots. It published a round-up of links to his commentary on the anniversary. Murray told Reuters, for example, that “he has seen enough improvement in the police mentality to give him hope for the future.”
Trying to Understand the ‘Other’
At Patheos, Jerry Park took a sociological look at why African Americans and Latinos targeted Korean-owned businesses for looting. He writes: “As a Korean American Christian this incident in history helped raise my own awareness that social problems felt by one racial minority are problems that affect me and the minority group that I belong to as well. And it reminds me that social inequality in America is far from color-blind.” Park promises to follow this post with one that highlights the perspective of the business owners.
From Church to Looting and Back Again
The Daily Beast looked back at the riots through the lens of two former gang members who discuss the truce it inspired among rival gangs. One of them, Skipp Townsend, was in church when violence broke out, but got caught up in the looting nonetheless. Now he is executive director of a youth gang intervention group. Townsend was “less upset by Rodney King than he was by the shooting of Latasha Harlins, a 15-year-old black girl who was killed with a single bullet by a Korean convenience-store owner who suspected her of shoplifting” one day after the police officers who beat King pleaded not guilty. “The liquor-store owner said she had stolen a bottle of orange juice,” Townsend told The Daily Beast. “That penetrated my heart.”
Economic Realities No Better for L.A. Blacks
Erin Aubry Kaplan, an L.A. Times columnist, was also on her way to church when violence broke out, but she never made it because her route was blocked by rioters. She writes that she was struck that day by the number of black men in the street and links it to the high rate of black unemployment. “Everybody agreed back then that the root of the unrest was economic, yet 20 years later, blacks are still the ethnic group in Los Angeles County most likely to be unemployed or underemployed.”
The Role of Rap in Rioting
At The Grio, Ice Cube reflects on the role of rap music in the riots. He and others brought “the context of economic turmoil and youth indignation into the limelight with their expressive beats and rhymes,” the article said.
Where Are They Now?
The Root has a “Then and Now” slideshow of the major players in the story, if you’d like to know where they are now, but the 63 people who died in the riots can no long speak for themselves, so the Los Angeles Times has published a searchable database of their names with links to their individual stories and Fox News highlighted 22 victims for whom justice has yet to be served.
Among them was Anthony Lamarr Netherly, a 21-year-old African-American who was shot and left to die in the street. “The driver who found him loaded Netherly into his car and took him to Martin Luther King Hospital, where he died in the emergency room.” There was also Thanh Lam, 25, who “continued to make deliveries to customers of his family’s small grocery store in Compton” until he was shot by an African-American man who yelled a racial slur as he drove by and killed him.
“Our detectives combed through every piece of footage to try and identify suspects or vehicles and witnesses, but we never got any leads from that work and we still haven’t 20 years later,” LAPD Detective Olivia Spendola told Fox. “But you never give up hope.”
Too Much News to Highlight
For more coverage L.A. Magazine has a nice story collection, as do The Huffington Post and NPR, and people who were children in 1992 share their memories at Colorlines.
What do you think?
Could we see urban rioting again if socio-economic conditions don’t improve?