25 Years After LA Riots

LA Riots

1992 LA Riots after the LAPD Officers/Rodney King verdict.

Community march will mark the past and look to the future

The Rev. K.W. Tulloss was a 9th grader at Locke High School in South Los Angeles in April 1992 when a jury, with no black members, acquitted four white police officers of beating Rodney King.

That verdict touched off days of rioting, looting and violence that left more than 55 people dead.

The riots were concentrated in South L.A. but spread to other communities including downtown L.A., Koreatown, Hollywood, Pasadena and the San Fernando Valley.

That tragic stain on the area is something Tulloss will never forget.

“I remember walking home the day of the verdict and the tension in the air. I remember it like it was yesterday,” he said Monday.

Tulloss went on to recall watching a gas station, supermarkets and other buildings burn in the unrest that caused an estimated $1 billion in damage.

“I felt the heat from the fires, literally, that penetrated my mother’s car as we drove by,” he said.

Tulloss, now 39, serves as the western regional director of the National Action Network, a civil rights organization. He said members of the group’s Los Angeles chapter will join a rally, march and festival planned for April 29, the 25th anniversary of the start of the riots.

“This march will hopefully serve as a reminder to our community of where we’ve come from but also a reminder of where we need to be going as a people,” Tulloss stated.

The public event called Future Fest is being coordinated by Building Healthy Communities — South LA, a program funded by the private nonprofit California Endowment.

The march is expected to begin at 11 a.m. at the intersection of Florence and Normandie avenues, the original flashpoint of the unrest. It will end at 81st Street and Vermont Avenue, capped by an afternoon of entertainment from 1 to 5 p.m. featuring yet-to-be-announced talent.

“Marches and rallies, certainly we’ve had a number of them in the last 25 years through South L.A. for everything under the sun”

“Join us in committing to working towards a future that is innovative, inclusive and rooted in community-led transformation,” organizers wrote in an online announcement.

While some in the community welcome the event, others are skeptical it will really accomplish anything. Among the skeptics is community activist Earl Ofari Hutchinson, president of the Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable.

“Marches and rallies, certainly we’ve had a number of them in the last 25 years through South L.A. for everything under the sun,” Hutchinson stated.

He said it was essential for event organizers to adopt a strategic approach that would force business and government leaders to take concrete steps toward rebuilding South L.A.

“Challenge all of them, as they said they were going to do 25 years ago, to actually fulfill some of the promises,” Hutchinson urged. “Business development, hiring, contracting … providing more low-income senior housing — these are the kinds of things that make a difference in South L.A.”

Statistics show much of South L.A. continues to suffer from economic hardship. The poverty rate in the area stands at 33.6 percent, more than double the rest of California, according to the latest data from the U.S. Census Bureau. Per capita income is $11,145, almost two-thirds lower than in the rest of the state.

Since 1992 the demographic makeup of the area has shifted from majority African American to 74 percent Latino, according to U.S. Census figures.

“You have to ask yourself what’s changed, other than the color of poverty,” Hutchinson said.

Hutchinson and Tulloss did cite some improvement in the last quarter-century in one key point of conflict behind the riots — relations between the African-American community and police.

“We can point to some progress, ironically, with the LAPD, a much more ethnically-diverse and gender-diverse LAPD than was certainly there 25 years ago,” Hutchinson noted. “Use of deadly force — it’s been up and down — but not to the extent that we saw 25 years ago. There’s much more community engagement.”

Despite that improvement, Tulloss said some scars remain.

“I remember the buildings being burned down,” he said. “There’s a whole lot of empty lots still that serve as reminders of the tragedy of that civil unrest.”

Matthew Carey
Los Angeles Daily News