The Los Angeles Times
April 29, 2002
An Anniversary of Sadness, Pride and Anger
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
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
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
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
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.
"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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