25 years after Los Angeles riots,
progress and distrust live side by side
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[April 29, 2017]
By Alex Dobuzinskis
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Twenty-five years
after deadly riots erupted in Los Angeles when four white police
officers were acquitted in the videotaped beating of black motorist
Rodney King, an undercurrent of distrust pulses in a city that says it
has worked hard at police reforms.
South Los Angeles, the mostly African-American area where the violence
started in 1992 - including the brutal beating of a white truck driver
that was broadcast live on television - is still plagued with many of
the economic problems that contributed to the unrest.
Long before the advent of the Black Lives Matter movement, the name
Rodney King became synonymous with the use of excessive force in
policing minority groups. King, who was then 25, was battered by a squad
of officers after a traffic stop in March 1991, an incident that was
caught in graphic detail on a bystander's video.
Residents of South Los Angeles will gather on Saturday to mark the
anniversary with a march starting from the intersection of Florence and
Normandie, where the violence broke out when a crowd attacked truck
driver Reginald Denny.
A separate commemoration on Saturday at a prominent South Los Angeles
church will bring together the African-American and Korean-American
communities. Korean-American-owned businesses were particularly targeted
by rioters in 1992, ransacked at a disproportionately high rate.
The rioting killed more than 50 people and caused an estimated $1
billion in damage over six days.
Current and former city officials point to changes that they say have
reduced strains between police and the community. But blight still mars
South Los Angeles, where many residents struggle to find work and earn
enough to live on, and many in Los Angeles think that riots are not just
a thing of the past.
The last quarter-century has brought sweeping changes to the way the Los
Angeles Police Department operates, according to current and former city
officials, reducing some of the mistrust many residents feel toward law
Bernard Parks, the city's police chief from 1997 to 2002 and later a
city councilman, said one of the most important changes he made was
taking away the power of supervisors to quash misconduct complaints
"I found the greatest complaint people had about the system wasn't
necessarily the outcome but that they weren't necessarily able to make a
complaint," Parks said in a phone interview.
More broadly, Mayor Eric Garcetti and other current officials credit a
federal consent decree imposed on the Los Angeles Police Department in
2001 with helping to reform it.
"Los Angeles in 1992 was a different place," Garcetti told CBS News on
Friday. "It was much more segregated."
But in an indication of strained relations, the last two years have seen
a number of Los Angeles police shootings culminate in protests at police
[to top of second column]
Civil rights lawyer Do Kim speaks during a panel discussion about
the 25th anniversary of the 1992 Los Angeles Riots, "Sa-I-Gu: The
Los Angeles Uprisings 25 Years Later" at UCLA in Los Angeles,
California, U.S., April 28, 2017. REUTERS/Hyungwon Kang
"The police department has definitely changed. There's still a lot
of work to be done, but I credit a lot of the changes to the
community and those activists who have picked up the mantle from the
activists in 1992," said writer and commentator Jasmyne Cannick, who
has been a high-profile critic of the LAPD.
Unemployment in South Los Angeles, the epicenter of the 1992 riots,
stands at 13 percent, compared with 10 percent for all of Los
Angeles County, according to the UCLA Center for Neighborhood
Knowledge. In 1990, the closest year to the riots for which data is
available, unemployment in South Los Angeles was at 15 percent.
In some residential blocks of South Los Angeles, storefronts that
were destroyed are still vacant, highlighting the morass in the
Many residents are worried about a recurrence of rioting, especially
after the destructive unrest that broke out in Baltimore, Ferguson,
Missouri, and other U.S. cities after police killings over the past
Nearly 60 percent of Los Angeles residents think another riot is
likely in the next five years, according to a survey released this
week by Loyola Marymount University. It was the first time in 20
years researchers found an increase in the share of residents who
gave that answer.
Henry Keith Watson, 53, who took part in the beating of Denny, the
truck driver, as the Los Angeles riots began and who was later
convicted of misdemeanor assault, is among those who see the city as
still dealing with the same problems as in 1992.
"What do you think has changed?" Watson said in an interview at his
house in South Los Angeles. "Please tell me."
(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis; Additional reporting by Ben Gruber;
Editing by Leslie Adler)
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