Twenty years ago today, four police officers were acquitted on all charges in the beating of black motorist Rodney King, and Los Angeles was soon on fire. After three days of some of the worst race riots America had ever seen, 55 people were dead, 2,325 people reported injuries, 1,573 buildings had been damaged or destroyed, and the total cost of the riots was estimated at $1 billion.
This past week, news outlets from across Los Angeles County have commemorated the 20th anniversary milestone with scores of pieces that range from a celebration of how far the city has come since the riots to questions about the economic woes still plaguing South LA.
At HuffPost Los Angeles, we published a round up of the most shocking videos from the LA Riots, as well as a story about how community recording has empowered victims and changed policing for the better.
We also took a look at how the LA riots have impacted Los Angeles culture. We compiled 10 references to the riots in pop culture and took a look at VH1's upcoming rock doc, "Uprising: Hip Hop & the LA Riots," about the connection between rap music and rage among South Central residents.
On the blogs, KoreAm writer Alex Ko celebrated the resurrection of Koreatown but confessed that he still can't bear to return to parts of town where his parents' businesses once stood. Marqueece Harris-Dawson, president of Community Coalition in South LA, called attention to the fact that the median income for black and latino families in the area has decreased since 1990. Author Earl Ofari Hutchinson wrote about the tremendous strides that the Los Angeles Police Department has taken since the riots, and journalist Leslie Griffith blamed the overhead newscopters, in part, for fanning the flames of rioters and giving them an audience for which to perform.
On that note, stay tuned Monday for our interview with Bob Tur and Marika Gerrard, the then-husband and wife team who captured unforgettable footage of the riots, including the beating of white truck driver Reginald Denny, from their helicopter.
For now, here's a round up of some of the coverage that caught our eye as we looked back on the LA riots this week.
RETURNING TO RODNEY KING:
- Rodney King is happy. This interview with the Associated Press details the ups and downs his life has taken since the beating and verdict. From reality TV star to record company executive to boxing match promoter, King says, "This part of my life is the easy part now."
Rodney King has a new book coming out, called The Riot Within: My Journey From Rebellion To Redemption. Neon Tommy covers the panel King spoke at during the recent LA Times Festival of Books, where he said, “I was one of the lucky ones." Did you know that one of the jurors at the Rodney King trial is half-black? The Ventura County Star went on a mission to track down all 12 jurors and found that Henry King Jr. (no relation), who has blue eyes and light skin, has a black father.
REGINALD DENNY, RECLUSE: In the years since his 1992 beating at the hands of four South Central residents on Florence and Normandie avenues, Denny has withdrawn from the spotlight to live a quiet life in Arizona. He refuses all media interviews, but that hasn't stopped others from reflecting on his assault.
Henry Watson, one of the four men convicted for Reginald Denny's beating, attempts to explain why he took part in the assault. Now the owner of a successful limo company, he tells the Associated Press about the time he offered to send a limo to Denny so that they could return to Florence and Normandie and then talk it over at a bar. Denny declined. In the VH1 rock doc, "Uprising: Hip Hop & the LA Riots," Watson is more frank. "There's no way that 400 years of the white folks' bullshit is going to be justified by this one ass whooping," he says in the film. Read more about it on The Huffington Post.
- Call transcripts and audio recordings reveal the pivotal role radio station KJLH played as a community connector throughout the riots. The station, which usually played R&B and soul, halted all music programming and commercials in order to take calls from residents caught up in the riots, and they eventually won a Peabody award for their coverage. Read about it on The Huffington Post.
Photojournalists Francine Orr and Hyungwon Kang recall what it was like to cover the riots as young, sometimes unpaid people new in their field. Inexperienced at the time, Orr remembers allowing a woman to finish crying before taking her photograph. Kang emphasizes maintaining "reverence" for the people in the community. LA Weekly photographer Ted Soqui returns to the exact same spots he photographed twenty years ago. The differences are stark, but perhaps what's most shocking are the areas that haven't changed all that much. The LA Times counts 63 people that died as a result of the LA Riots, and they have a database of all of them broken down by age, race and neighborhood. The LA Times has a slideshow of all of their front pages from their groundbreaking coverage of the LA riots. The LA Times won a Pulitzer Prize for the second day of coverage. After 19 years, former South LA resident Tim Goldman breaks his silence about the footage he was able to film at Florence and Normandie during the riots. Now a Florida resident, Goldman muses, "The Trayvon Martin case is the next Rodney King case, but this time we have a death." Going beyond "victims or vigilantes," KoreAm collects oral histories from dozens of Korean-American Angelenos about the days leading up to, and during, the riots.
HOW HAS LA EVOLVED SINCE THE RIOTS?
LA Times food critic Jonathan Gold makes the case that the LA riots inspired a culinary upheaval. "After the riots, L.A.'s insularity somehow fostered restaurants with a strength of purpose, even stronger and more specific than they had previously been," says the Pulitzer Prize winning critic. South LA's schools are the lowest-ranked in the school district, the unemployment rate is at 20 percent and lots of the money that was promised to the community after the riots never materialized, reports CBS. The "empty lots have remained as scars 20 years later." LAPD reform after the LA riots: In a live chat for the LA Times, civil rights attorney Connie Rice says, "When I look at Oakland, we’re light years ahead." A survey from the Center for the Study of Los Angeles at Loyola Marymount University shows that Angelenos think racial groups are getting along "very well," and that riots are unlikely to break out again like they did in 1992. Skid Row reformer General Jeff says that while Downtown LA has improved since the riots, Skid Row and South LA haven't. “You start to wonder, is it because those communities' majority is African American? Are African Americans doing it to themselves?" Jeff asks Neon Tommy. "Or is the funding not reaching the people?”