Los Angeles Fire Department
Historical Archive

    Los Angeles Riots

    April 29, 1992

The Los Angeles Times
April 29, 2002

An Anniversary of Sadness, Pride and Anger

By LISA RICHARDSON, Times Staff Writer Community groups and churches spent the weekend commemorating today's 10th anniversary of the Los Angeles riots, with pointed differences in historical interpretation. Where some mourned three days of random anarchy and some praised economic development, others celebrated rebellion or remembered reasons they thought justified the deadly rage.

Saturday, a group of Koreans, Latinos and whites assembled for a candlelight vigil and march at First AME Church and called for interracial unity, love and healing.

First AME was where Los Angeles' black establishment gathered during the riots in an attempt to quell the violence. It also will be the one stop President Bush makes in deference to the riot anniversary today when he visits Los Angeles on a political fund-raising trip.

On Friday, First AME leaders began their three-day commemoration of the riots by leading the media on a tour of sites that had been rebuilt or renovated in the last decade.

The Rev. Mark Whitlock, executive director of the church's economic-development wing, FAME Renaissance, narrated as the church bus wove through a network of neighborhood economic projects, business initiatives and employment training services that he said has generated nearly 6,700 jobs.

South-Central still contains a disproportionate number of desolate parcels whose businesses were burned down during the riots. But Whitlock cited a variety of properties the church has reclaimed in the last 10 years from drug dealers, gangs and prostitutes. It also has built affordable housing units for families as well as for people with AIDS.

The church handed reporters its 2002 printed analysis of the riots, which broke out after a predominantly white jury acquitted four white police officers accused of beating black motorist Rodney G. King: "Feeling the pinch of a depressed economy and the insulting slap of discrimination, the trial's outcome pushed residents past their boiling point," it read in part. "Torching neighborhoods, looting businesses and assaulting passersby, the community found solace in a senseless bout of self-destruction."

Sunday morning at First AME, politicians and celebrities who had joined in the original cleanup effort were greeted by television cameras and reporters. The first hour of the service was a celebration, religious as usual, but also civic. Continuing with the church's theme of rebirth and renaissance, the congregation and leadership thanked those who had taken the first steps to clean and heal the city.

Actors Edward James Olmos and Lindsay Wagner received standing ovations and gifts from the church, an African mask for Olmos and a silken scarf for Wagner. Also present were two dozen civic leaders or their representatives, including former mayoral candidate Antonio Villaraigosa, County Supervisor Yvonne Brathwaite Burke, City Atty. Rocky Delgadillo, City Council President Alex Padilla and Councilman Nate Holden.

"April 29th, the not-guilty verdicts sparked pain and anger, and the fires that devastated L.A. also devastated hopes and dreams," said the Rev. Cecil Murray, the church's pastor. "But out of the ashes came a renaissance, a revival."

A different riot was remembered Saturday on a parched grass field behind the gym of a Watts housing project. Activists, church leaders, poets, rappers and residents paid tribute to the people who took to the streets.

To this gathering at Normont Terrace, what happened that April 29 was not a riot, but political action born of outrage. Some wore black T-shirts warning "Police nearby." Others wore shirts with the face of Gonzalo Martinez, shot and killed by police last February after a car chase in Downey. In Spanish, shirts said: Se Justifica La Rebellion!

About 50 African Americans, Latinos and a few white people gathered. A police car pulled into the field to watch the demonstration, then another and another. It was a politically radical crowd that included the Revolutionary Communist Party and a coalition against police brutality.

Finally, six squad cars parked a few hundred feet from the demonstrators and the crowd began to chant "Oink! Oink!" and "No justice, no peace, no murdering police."

"Are all police bad? No," said the Rev. Richard Byrd of KRST Unity Center, who also calls himself Meri Ka Ra. "Are there some bad ones? Yes. And we are here to speak out against their brutality."

Normont Terrace was chosen as the site for the event because the economic boom of the late '90s brought no economic boom to Watts, Byrd said. The same poverty that existed in 1965 and in 1992 still exists today. "Where is the infrastructure? Where is the beauty? Where are the trees?" Byrd asked.

On a nearby cinder-block wall, the coalition has erected a makeshift gallery of images from April 29, 1992, and events leading up to the city's explosion: There is a portrait of a thoughtful Rodney King, hand to his chin; the Rev. Murray weeps at the verdicts acquitting the four officers; an angry man with dreadlocks yells at a line of impassive police officers; and a young woman gingerly walks through debris in a store, carrying out bags of groceries.

"This rebellion was the most beautiful, the most heroic" civil action in the history of the United States, said Joe Veale , spokesman for the Revolutionary Communist Party.

Rappers and poets likened blacks and Latinos to Palestinians, calling them besieged and oppressed peoples living in police states.

Mistakes were made in 1992, many said, alluding to hundreds of millions of dollars in damage to Korean-owned stories, much of it from bitterness over the killing of a black teenage girl by a Korean grocer during an altercation. Koreans are not the enemy, they said, and neither are white people. "The system" is.

At Chesterfield Square on Sunday afternoon, "the system" was given a pat on the back: The square, a large retail development in South-Central that opened last year, was formally dedicated, as developers took symbolic advantage of the riot anniversary, and civic dignitaries turned out.

At Faith United Methodist Community Church about fifty blocks south, no politicians or actors visited the chapel that was home to the committee supporting the six black men charged with beating white trucker Reginald Denny on the first day of the riots.

A burning building was on the church program cover with the words "Lest We Forget." The six defendants were dubbed the L.A. Four+.

"We did not condone what happened," Dorothy Freeman, a committee member, told the congregation, "but we felt like the crime didn't meet the time" the defendants served in prison.

One of the six charged in the Denny assault, Lance Jerome Parker, 36, briefly took the podium and along with his mother, thanked the church for its support after he was arrested in 1992.

Parker, a former semiprofessional football player whose family owns a nightclub, was charged with two counts of discharging a firearm with gross negligence and faced a 15-year prison term. He was given three years' probation and said the intervening 10 years have softened his heart and firmed his political resolution.

"If you're a black man you know why it happened, you were beaten, you were ridiculed and you were told you were nothing," he said to a chorus of "Amens."

Post-riot progress was acknowledged in this chapel, but in grass-roots terms. Nana Gwamfi, a civil-rights attorney, put it this way: The Crips and Bloods gang truce in Watts, forged after the riots, has largely held to this day, participants said. Local organizations that did not exist are now active and people who once thought the city ran on its own have become politically involved.

There are new housing and new job training programs, but the state's three-strikes law has produced higher rates of incarceration.

Parker, who spent six months in jail before being placed on probation, still believes the riot was necessary.

"I'd do it all over the same way," he said.

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This article appeared in the April 29, 2002 issue of the Los Angeles Times.


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