While the acquittal of police officers who were caught on video tape sadistically beating black motorist Rodney King may have been the catalyst that sparked the Los Angeles riots on April 29, 1992, the conditions in South Los Angeles are arguably what caused them.
The fury and the public outrage led to days of looting and burning, 54 deaths and $1 billion in property damage to the city. A state of emergency was declared in South Central Los Angeles.
The area was dominated by gangs, poverty and little to no prospects for the future. Crack cocaine use was rampant and young people found sense of belonging and security in joining like the Bloods or Crips their best bet for survival.
What was clear was that things had to change. And in the wake of the riots the Los Angeles Police Department was forced to change.
Members of the predominantly white, male LAPD said it was “gallows humour” when they regularly described African Americans they swore to protect and serve as “monkeys” and “gorillas”, and used code for disturbances in the South Central neighborhood as “NHI,” meaning “no humans involved.”
“[After the riots] was the first time the black community’s complaints [about police brutality and abuse] couldn’t be denied and swept under the rug,” explained civil rights attorney Cindy Rice.
But what of South Central today? There have been changes, for one the area is no longer predominantly African American, it’s Hispanic. The crime rate is down and the area is now called South Los Angeles and proudly boasts neighborhood names, to erase the toxic stigma of “South Central” and the accompanying images of gangs and violence.
And where is Rodney King the man at the center of the storm, know as the LA Riots. King although he had subsequent personal problems and run ins with the law kings says he is at peace now. He has written a book, The Riot Within: My Journey From Rebellion to Redemption. He has been enjoying a book tour with his fiance Cynthia, aka ‘Juror Number Five’ from his civil trial, which ordered the city of Los Angeles to pay him $3.8m. King says the book helped him recover.
“In that first Simi Valley trial, when I went to Simi Valley I never got on the stand to testify. This is like my chance to testify,” King told the BBC, referring to his trial which was held outside Los Angeles in a predominantly white area. “I didn’t feel like I was a part of that first trial so it was good for me to write this.”
Los Angelinos continue to keep an eye on police proceedings and remain vigilante in making judicial equality the standard rather than the exception. -roz edward