aviewfromthebrink.typepad.com > Los Angeles uprising/riot 1992

This week marks the 17th anniversary of the uprising and rioting against the acquittal of four Los Angeles Police Department officers, who were accused of using excessive force in the beating of Rodney King. More than 50 people were killed and more than $1 billion worth of property was damaged. *** This was not just a chance for looters or thugs to cut loose with impunity, although it was also that, and it wasn't just a rebellion against a single verdict or incident but against a whole system that clearly made sure some people count for more than others and some people have more rights than others. Incidents of brutality by the Los Angeles Police Department against citizens, mostly black and brown citizens, had been piling up for decades, one on top of another, creating widespread bitterness, hard and brittle, while tensions mounted higher and higher like dry tinder just waiting for hot wind and a spark. *** Much of the fuel for this social conflagration was created on March 16, 1991, about two weeks after the Rodney King beating had been broadcast coast-to-coast, when a 15-year-old black girl named Latasha Harlins was gunned down by a Korean immigrant store owner, allegedly for attempting to steal an orange juice. Harlins had no weapon and there was controversy about whether she was really attempting to steal the item or in fact intended to pay for it because she put it in her backpack with one hand but had cash in the other as she approached the counter. During the trial of Soon Ja Du, the 49-year-old woman seen in the store security video pulling the trigger, the Korean community came out in force, protesting in her defense and this was seen on televisions across the Los Angeles area during the evening news. When all was said and done, Soon Ja Du was convicted of voluntary manslaughter and sentenced to probation, community service and a $500 fine. For many people in the black community of Los Angeles, it seemed that even Korean immigrants had more rights than them and the life of a black person was worth less than an orange juice. *** When the beating of Rodney King by Los Angeles police officers made headlines, many people across the country reacted with shock at the brutality. Yet, for many in the non-white community of Los Angeles, and even to some white people in LA, there was nothing all that surprising about it; The LAPD had a reputation for frequently dealing out harsh punishments before and after the booking process. Then in the late afternoon of Wednesday, April 29, 1992, a jury in Simi Valley found the LAPD officers 'not-guilty,' acquitting them of all charges stemming from their attack on King. This was the proverbial straw which broke the camel's back. For at least the next 72 hours the city of Angels fell into de-facto anarchy, as control of large sections of this megalopolis slipped beyond the grasp of law enforcement or any authority. More than 2,000 California National Guard were ordered to the city but the men sat in barracks for more than a day because of a breakdown in communications and a shortage of ammunition. In Berlin, the German capital, a May Day parade also turned into a riot, with anarchists waving banners saying "Congratulations Los Angeles!" As many as 10,000 businesses were estimated looted or destroyed by May 2, while President Bush ordered an additional 4,500 federal troops and nearly 6,000 National Guard troops under federal control to the area that same day. Officially, at least 3,700 fires were suspected arson, police had arrested 5,200 people in connection to the uprising by May Day and the population of LA County Jail set a new record at 25,000 on May 3, 1992. By May 6, it was estimated that somewhere between 20,000 to 40,000 people had just lost their jobs because the riots had left them with no place to go to work. *** Eventually, inevitably, order was restored by Sunday morning and the city found itself exhausted, shocked and waking up to a scene as bad as any tinseltown disaster flick; with miles and miles of decimated, burnt and flattened buildings still smoking, like gargantuan metal and brick insects that had been left on a barbeque way too long. Former warehouses and retail stores were now just massive, coal-black monoliths standing between streets of broken glass, seared by the worst inferno Angelinos had ever seen. It was hard to believe that so much could be destroyed in just a few days. *** Metaphorically, many Angelinos also felt a little burned and gutted by the experience. But perhaps this also should not come as a surprise. Destruction, after all, is often necessary to sweep away well-established illusions and injustices. The greatest lessons are sometimes taught through pain and suffering, not pleasure.

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