L.A. Riots: Memories Of The Trial Fade In Simi Valley
This story is part of a special Neon Tommy series revisiting the upheaval 20 years ago surrounding the Rodney King trial. See more of our anniversary coverage here.
“It was pretty scary. The town became really quiet and every body was on high alert because of the spread of violence [in LA], and the case was held here,” she said.
She lived across the street from the courthouse. She remembered at that time, some of the plazas were shut down, and a lot of police were coming down.
Simi Valley was quite peaceful after the verdict, she recalled. But fear was there.
“I didn’t want to drive to LA with my license plate that says Simi Valley because we were scared that we would get into trouble,” she said.
Located in the southeast corner of Ventura County, bordering the San Fernando Valley of the Greater Los Angeles Area, Simi Valley has been a commuter town feeding larger cities in both Ventura and Los Angeles areas, a quiet and nice middle-class city surrounded by mountains.
The verdict 20 years ago brought disgrace to the city’s name. With a predominantly white population, Simi Valley was quickly branded as “a lily-white community.” Its residents had to repeatedly point out that only two of the 12 jurors that acquitted four white LAPD officers of beating King, who is African American, were from Simi Valley. Yet terms like “the Simi Valley trial,” “the Simi Valley jury,” “Simi Valley justice” appeared repeatedly in media coverage.
Twenty years later, as media attention declined and memories faded, there is hardly any trace of the trial or the rioting left in this city.
“Simi Valley was just like any other cities in the country,” City Manager Mike Sedell said. “That’s all it is.”
Sedell said it took Simi Valley some time to correct its name. Simi Valley invited media all over the world to interview city residents and officials right after the verdict.
“We opened the windows to the world to show what Simi Valley was,” he said. “Now I think very few people know Simi Valley for that reason anymore.”
Amiq Atutubo, who just moved to Simi Valley, said she didn’t know it had anything to do with the Rodney King trial.
Richard Bush and Sally Bush, a couple in their 70s, moved to Simi Valley four years after the trial. They did know all about the trial and the rioting, and they knew that Simi Valley was accused of being biased, but they said it was just in the news.
“No, never bad things, not from the people we associated with. I’ve only heard good things about it,” Sally said.
Both of them didn’t concern the case when they decided to move in, and they were proved right after all these years living in Simi Valley.
For outsiders, the stereotype doesn’t seem to have existed either.
Camille Endress, who has lived in San Fernando Valley in most of her life, said she didn’t know any body accusing Simi Valley of anything, and she “didn’t realize they had a problem.”
City Councilman Mike Judge was born and raised in this town. He said the trial and the riots hardly changed anything in Simi Valley. Probably people were more sensitive to race issues, but it was just more aware of it, rather than being careful. For him, it has always been the same quiet and friendly middle-class small town with a low crime rate.
“Simi Valley is much sure to be known as the home of Reagan Library than the home of Rodney King trial,” he said.
Pravjit Jhuman, a 29-year-old Indian American who grew up in Simi Valley, agreed that the Rodney King trial didn’t have much impact on the city. But he did feel the changes happening to it.
He said as the city becomes more and more diverse, people are getting more educated about race issues.
“It was totally different growing up in Simi Valley being a minority,” he said. “I won’t say every one was at a box, but it was just they hadn’t been really exposed to the real world out there.”
He had never been mistreated, but he said he sometimes could sense something “subtle.”
"That different look, and what’s your name and where are you from, and make an Osama joke here and there, which actually has nothing to do with who I am. It’s out there,” he said. “But it’s changing, more and more.”
Yet he said he didn’t think it could be attributed to the Rodney King trial. He seldom heard any body talking about it. Instead he felt 911 had contributed more to the discussion on race issues.
Nikki LaCrosse, 43, a long-time Simi Valley resident, also said the trial hardly had any more impact on people in Simi Valley than on residents in other areas of the country. Though trialed here, it was more like “a Los Angeles thing,” she said.
But she had the feeling that generally people are getting more sensitive to racial issues.
“I think that it has made people more political correct,” she said. “People tend to keep their thoughts about racial issues to themselves more, and I think it’s still the fear about seeing neighborhoods that are specifically to a certain race or to a certain religion for those areas can become hot bets of chaos.”
In fact, it is a different city in racial demographics compared to 20 years ago.
Residents and real estate brokers said Simi Valley becomes more and more diverse.
The 1990 census showed that 80 percent of its residents were white, 13 percent were Latino, 5 percent were Asian American and 2 percent were African American.
In 2010, the percentage of white persons dropped to 63 percent, 23 percent were Latino, 9 percent were Asian and 1.4 percent were African American, according to U.S. Census Bureau.
“This is really a good melting pot type city, and every one seems to get along fine,” said Wayne Evans, Chairman of Simi Valley Neighborhood Council Four. “I don’t see any problem in this city.”
Sedell said it probably took three or four years for all the blame on Simi Valley to fade.
Councilman Judge recalled the days after the verdict.
“Residents were kind of upset when everybody was blaming them for the verdict, which like I explained, really wasn’t their fault. Other than that, I haven’t witnessed anything else,” he said.
“But tell you the truth, I didn’t have any adverse comments from anybody. I didn’t know anybody who thinks badly of Simi Valley because of the verdict,” he said.
Residents of Simi Valley didn’t pay much attention to it, Judge said. Instead, they moved on.
“Twenty years now, people in this town probably, I would say, for the most part, forget about it,” Judge said. “And people who have moved here from outside, I don’t think they would give a second thought when they moved here.”
Reach Staff Reporter Kay Chinn here.