April 29, 1992 is a day that will remain etched in the history of Los Angeles. The events of this date served as a watershed. Looking at them two decades later, we realize they had a positive impact on our city, although there is still a long way to go.
It is impossible to forget the shock, fear and the deep sadness felt by millions as they watched a part of our city erupt with the announcement of the verdict that the police who brutally beat Rodney King were found innocent. Frustration, poverty and abuse by Los Angeles police pushed the crowd into the streets, where they destroyed businesses in their neighborhoods and attacked people from other racial groups that they crossed paths with. Among them, many Latino immigrants from South and Central Los Angeles took advantage of the chaos to loot stores in a shameful way; on the other hand, Korean business owners defended their stores at gunpoint.
During those days, Latinos and African Americas fell into the tragedy of destroying their communities to express long-brewing discontent. There were moments of sadness and others of nobility, like when an African-American minister placed himself between a Guatemalan immigrant and his attackers, saving his life.
At that time, from this editorial page we called for everyone to regain their good spirits and generosity. Today, from a distance, we can see that the riots led to major positive changes for the city.
First, internal communication in municipal institutions has improved. Because of lack of coordination, they reacted poorly at the first sign of street disturbances.
The LAPD, one of the protagonists, underwent a long period of internal and leadership changes. The arrogant, abusive LAPD of former Chief Daryl Gates gave way to a police force that was more aware of the importance of forging strong relationships with minority communities. This path is tread and tested on a daily basis.
The area hardest hit during the riots has slowly been rebuilt. Construction has filled empty lots, while investment has created jobs. However, the African-American community’s tough socioeconomic conditions haven’t improved significantly. This is a pending debt that can’t be ignored.
As for the Latino immigrants, we think they have been integrating into their new society during these two decades. They felt uprooted 20 years ago, which led them to loot neighborhood stores. Now, they instead have a feeling of belonging to the community where they live.
As a result of the riots, efforts to bring the African-American, Latino and Korean communities closer together have been implemented. Until 1992, these three groups only recognized their differences and conflicts. After the riots, they discovered the importance of getting to know the others and working together.
The Los Angeles of today is a better city than the one that spiraled into violence 20 years ago. Some institutional factors changed drastically to ensure the past won’t repeat itself. Despite this, socioeconomic circumstances remain terribly similar.
The 20-year lesson is that we can’t remain complacent-that we must recognize we Angelenos live in a city that is enriched by its diverse population. This multicolored mosaic makes us stronger while at the same time forcing us to be more generous and tolerant.