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Neon Tommy - Annenberg digital news

L.A. Riots: 20 Years After The Unrest

Staff Reporters |
April 22, 2012 | 11:25 p.m. PDT

Photo by Dark Sevier, 1992. (Flickr)
Photo by Dark Sevier, 1992. (Flickr)

On April 29, 1992, a county clerk in a Simi Valley courthouse read the verdict deciding the fate of four officers accused of brutally beating Rodney King a year earlier. All four were acquitted. Within hours, South Central Los Angeles was on fire.

Riots, violence and looting continued for days throughout the city, On the third day, the man whose suffering had started it all appealed to the masses by way of a cluster of reporters. His voice shaking, starting and stopping, he asked simply, "Can we all get along?"

As the smoke began to clear, the city asked itself that question and began to assess the damage. Fifty-four people were dead, with another 2,400 injured. Some 3,000 businesses were vandalized or destroyed.

Physically, the community had a long road ahead to rebuild. Organizations like Rebuild L.A. stepped forward to aid in those efforts, which were in some cases less effective than hoped. But more desperately, residents called for a deeper overhaul—systemic reform beginning first and foremost with the LAPD.

Two decades later, the LAPD still treads softly. Deputy Chief Pat Gannon of the Southwest Bureau remembers that long process. But the 20th anniversary of the L.A. riots provides opportunity for more than a rehashing of the past failures.

Here, we attempt to gauge the progress of a city that purports to have come a long way since the night the riots began. We talk with the people who lived through that upheaval—in the heart of the conflict on the streets of South Central L.A. or from the elevated offices of city leadership. Anna Deavere Smith, a cultural icon whose one-woman play captured the raw emotion of that upheaval, remembers the 300 people she interviewed who all tried to show her "their L.A." Rev. Cecil Murray, then-head pastor of First African Methodist Episcopal Church, watched as his efforts to calm the city came too late. Storeowners and residents in Crenshaw and other key neighborhoods still struggle to rebuild.

We spoke to the witnesses of a city torn apart. We asked them what they saw during the unrest and in the years following. Through their eyes, we reflect on the city then, compare it to Los Angeles today, and look forward to the changes still left to be made. 

Neon Tommy remembers the riots:

A Timeline Of Events Set Off By The Rodney King Beating by Jacob Chung

Challenges Still Ahead For Crenshaw Businesses by Matt Pressberg

Rebuild L.A.'s Ambitious Attempts To Revive The City by Catherine Green

Crenshaw Shopping Mall Finds Footing Two Decades Later by Danny Lee

Rev. Cecil Murray Sees Progress In Inclusive Society by Catherine Green

Rodney King Reflects On 20th Anniversary by Tracy Bloom

20 Years Later, Still Trying To Heal by Paige Brettingen

A Conversation With Anna Deavere Smith by Catherine Green

Koreatown Earns Its Place In City History by Paige Brettingen

Memories Of The Trial Fade In Simi Valley by Kay Chinn

Baldwin Hills Bus Tour Drives 'From Chaos To Community' by Gracie Zheng

Florence And Normandie: 20 Years After Rodney King by Lauren Foliart & Benjamin Gottlieb

Former City Council Members Reflect by Judy Wang

Deputy Chief Aims Not To Repeat LAPD's Mistakes by Agnus-Dei Farrant

Tim Goldman Revisits His Footage Of The Destruction by Aaron Liu

LAPD's Terry Hara Highlights Department Changes by Rosa Trieu

20 Years Later, No Rearview Mirror For Joe Hicks by Paige Brettingen

'From The Ashes' Conference Remembers Past, Looks To The Future by Jackie Mansky

Photographer Ted Soqui Remembers Covering The Unrest by Ryan Faughnder

Little Change For South Central's Pipeline To Skid Row by Angela Blakely

Former L.A. Times Photojournalist Remembers Koreatown by Gracie Zheng

LAPD Commander: That Day, It Felt Like Everybody Hated Us by Agnus-Dei Farrant

City Leaders Mourn, Celebrate The Anniversary by Judy Wang


More anniversary coverage from around the web:

The New York Times

Los Angeles Magazine

The Los Angeles Times

The Huffington Post

Southern California Public Radio - KPCC

LA Weekly



Craig Gillespie directed this true story about "the most daring rescue mission in the history of the U.S. Coast Guard.”

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