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L.A. Riots: Civic Leaders Talk About Tough Times Today in Los Angeles

West Adams Boulevard near Crenshaw Boulevard in 1992
West Adams Boulevard near Crenshaw Boulevard in 1992
Ted Soqui

Read L.A. Weekly cover story about the 1992 Los Angeles Riots, featuring then-and-now photographs from that devastating time.

With the 20th anniversary of the April 29, 1992, the Los Angeles Riots, also known as the Los Angeles Uprising, L.A. civic leaders are reflecting about the racial and economic conditions of Los Angeles today.

"There is a lot more tension between the browns and blacks over jobs," says Bernard Kinsey, a former Xerox executive and co-chair of Rebuild Los Angeles, which was created by former L.A. Mayor Tom Bradley in response to the 1992 riots. "That's something that goes under the rader, and I'd like our [political] leaders to talk more about that."

The tension makes perfect sense. According USC sociology professor Nina Eliasoph, the Great Recession of today has only further created less opportunities for the poor and minorities to take part in the American Dream.

"There's been some improvement in race relations in this country," says Eliasoph, "but the economic inequalities have gotten worse, particularly in the black community ... The big picture is that poor people are getting poorer, and the rich are getting astronomically richer."

Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, a leading Jewish human rights organization that operates the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles, adds, "We have to do a better job of providing economic security and jobs, especially for our young people. Or else you will have a powder keg go off again."

It's been a theme many Angelenos have been expressing to L.A. Weekly: no jobs and low quality of life along with some kind of political outrage can easily set off another riot in Los Angeles.

"A burgeoning poor, disenfranchised population with a disintegrating middle class is what made for the [riots] 20 years ago," says Blair Taylor, president of the Los Angeles Urban League, an African American civil rights group. "And we're facing that now ... People feel disconnected from the American Dream."

What are such local politicians as Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and mayoral candidate and former L.A. City Council Eric Garcetti doing about it? According to some community activists, not much.

"We now have a City Council that thinks more about business owners and less about the constituents they're supposed to serve," says Mid-City activist Robert Portillo, who's battled City Hall over an over-sized development project in his neighborhood. "We have a mayor who's more concerned about stepping stones for his political future."

Read the L.A. Weekly cover story for more thoughts about the 1992 riots and the conditions of modern day L.A., in which we talk to neighborhood people across the city.

Contact Patrick Range McDonald at pmcdonald@laweekly.com.