This week brought with it the 27th anniversary of the Los Angeles Riots, when our city was on a razor’s edge after four LAPD officers stood trial for the horrendous beating of an African-American motorist, Rodney King, and it was all caught on film. Their subsequent acquittal, along with decades of racial strife and police abuse boiled over on April 29, 1992, and continued for nearly a week.
A young auteur by the name of John Singleton was at an L.A. courthouse when the verdict was read, leading him to state, “By having this verdict, what these people done, they lit the fuse to a bomb.” Singleton, who passed away on Monday, also looked back at the verdict that created upheaval across the city in L.A. Burning: The Riots 25 Years Later for A&E in 2017 (watch it here). So it is rather poignant that a man who did so much to capture the humanity, truth and love within the inner city community should leave us on this solemn day of reflection.
He could not have been more correct in his prediction either. All hell broke loose. An overwhelmed LAPD stood down and Los Angeles was burned and looted for six days. It was not Police Chief Daryl Gates’ finest hour, nor was it for Angelenos as they were forced to hunker down in their homes and many local businesses burned.
The final toll: 63 dead, 2,383 injured, 12,000+ arrests, and over an estimated $1 billion in damages. It took six days to get the city under control, as California Pete Wilson sent in the California Army National Guard and President George H. W. Bush enacted Operation Garden Plot (created after the Watts, Newark and Detroit riots to deal with domestic civil conflict), deploying the 7th Infantry Division and the 1st Marine Division.
What has changed since then? Very little and quite a bit. On one hand, the economic strife that has plagued the inner city is still largely unresolved. On the other hand, the riots led to an eventual draw down in gang violence (though of course, violence has not ceased, as Nipsey Hussle's recent murder at his store in the Hyde Park area sadly illustrates). Hussle of course, did a lot to improve life in his L.A. neighborhood, including creating a major initiative called “Destination Crenshaw” which sought to improve the community and show people from surrounding areas that there are alternatives.
Skipp Townsend, leader of the gang intervention organization, 2nd Call, looked back at the changes brought on by the Riots and discussed how they are more relevant than ever, telling KCRW this week, “Before you know it, we now have probably the biggest peace agreement to cease fire and stop the murder of each other. We can't stop the fighting, the anger, the animosity. But can we stop the murder… that's the movement that's going on now.”
Check out “L.A. Riots Then and Now” featuring Ted Soqui's photos for L.A. Weekly from 1992 during the riots and 20 years later, and “From the Archives: LA Weekly's Original Coverage of the L.A. Riots May Surprise You,” which takes a critical look at our publication's coverage of the riots as they happened, in words and images.