Beyond the Bubble: Looking Back at the LA Riots of 1992
You want to know what makes a reporter feel old? Looking for a story you know you did and failing to find it because the digital archiving system at your former place of work doesn’t have it.
Bear with me, dear reader: Today, looking back to the Los Angeles riots of 1992, I will be taking you back in time to RealAudio and what we in the “biz” call “crunchy” sound.
The riots that we in publicly minded media are all talking about this week were sparked by the acquittal 20 years ago of four police officers in the beating of an African-American man named Rodney King.
King was driving under the influence when police pursued him, pulled him over and proceeded to kick him and beat him with batons. Some officers just stood by and watched. The incident was caught on video by a civilian bystander and quickly went viral. (Yes, videos went viral even in 1992, albeit not on the Internet.)
The officers, who were tried for excessive force, were acquitted on April 29, 1992, igniting an urban riot that would ultimately claim 54 lives.
That acquittal was just the spark, of course. As civil rights attorney Connie Rice put it in a recent panel discussion covered by the LA Times, the kindling for the fire was laid over decades by hostile policing in black neighborhoods.
“It was kindling built on kindling built on kindling.”
One documentary called” Uprising: Hip-Hop & The LA Riots” includes interviews with rappers (as the name suggests), the aforementioned Connie Rice, police officers, and rioters. That’s right: rioters. In the trailer on YouTube, one guy speaks with compelling candor about how he assaulted “anybody that wasn’t Black.”
The interviewer asks about one incident, “Were you looking at him like a human being at that time?”
The guy, 20 years older, his brow furrowed, shakes his head. “No.”
“What was he?”
“Uprising” premiers on VH1 on May 1st.
Have things changed? In short, yes.
As former LA County DA Gil Garcetti noted on the same panel, the LAPD was 59% white in 1992. Now, 37%.
And The California Report has been following up on the story for years…
- KPCC’s Debra Baer took us back in time in 1992 and also explained what didn’t happen in the inner city afterwards.
- Then-Police Chief Daryl Gates, who was forced to resign after the riots, died in 2010. Scott Shafer reviewed his legacy with KPCC’s Frank Stoltze.
- It took years for the LAPD to turn around, and most credit then-Mayor Jim Hahn for the first real change, with his appointment of William Bratton as police chief in 2002.
- Over the years, we’ve talked a few times with Connie Rice, who has sued the department multiple times over its policing of minority communities. She recently released a memoir, Power Concedes Nothing: One Woman’s Quest for Social Justice in America, from the Courtroom to the Kill Zones.
South LA (please don’t call it South Central anymore) has changed a lot, too, in the last two decades. The neighborhood has seen a huge influx of Latino immigrants that’s shifted the food scene, among other things; LA’s Korean community has come into its own, and the Subway to the Sea promises to do a better job of connecting at least the north side of South LA to the rest of the city.
That story I couldn’t find?
Ten years after the riot, I interviewed an African-American woman in South LA who had owned an office above a Korean dry cleaners. On the day of the turmoil, she came home, turned on the TV, and found that mobs were going door to door torching Korean-owned businesses.
This woman grabbed her gun, drove back to the mini-mall, parked in front of her downstairs neighbors, and waited.
When the mob arrived, she said something to the effect of “If you burn them down, you burn me down.”
And they moved on.