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L.A. Riots: City Leaders Mourn, Celebrate The Anniversary

Judy L. Wang |
April 29, 2012 | 8:49 p.m. PDT

Staff Reporter

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.

Councilman Tom LaBonge was among the city officials in attendance Sunday. (Judy Wang/Neon Tommy)
Councilman Tom LaBonge was among the city officials in attendance Sunday. (Judy Wang/Neon Tommy)
Twenty years after the Rodney King verdict, community members, and faith and city leaders gathered at Glory Church of Christ to bring a message of remembrance, faith and hope to the future of Los Angeles. 

Hosted by the SAIGU 4-29 Campaign, the event began with a fierce tone of unity, recognizing people of all ethnicities, faith and social economic circumstances. 

“Even though we are diverse, we are one. Under the sky of Los Angeles, we are one family,” opened Rev. Young Ik Byun, President of the Council of Korean Churches. 

SAIGU, in Korean, simply means four, two, nine, the date that began the L.A. riots. The campaign has been touring L.A. for five months to promote unity through prayer breakfasts, art projects, documentary screenings and more. 

Today’s commemorative service exemplified that unity with a diverse crowd of attendees from major city officials to community faith leaders that included Rev. Cecil Murray, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and California State Assembly Speaker John Perez. 

Throughout the service, the speeches shifted from tones of mourning to celebration, but the focus was always on moving beyond Los Angeles’ dark past to bring a better future for younger generations.

Even 20 years later, the 1992 riots remain a burden for the children of the past and future. The service held a moment of silent prayer for the 53 lives lost as their names were slowly listed on a screen. There was a special recognition of Edward Song Lee who was killed amidst the confusion of the riots. He was mistaken as a looter by a Korean business owner and was shot to death. He was only 18 years old. His mother slowly took to the stage, with the rest of the family standing behind her in support. 

“I’d like each of you to look to your side, to your back and to your front, your neighbor who is sitting next to you,” she said. “I’m sure many of us have different colors and maybe even different looking eyes. It shows that we are living in a community of diversity. Twenty years ago if we had this type of gathering, this kind of diversity in relations and in connections, I think my son would be still living today. As I think about my son, that he could still be living, I ask each of you that we may truly be the city of angels. I believe that is leaving a legacy for our next generation, your generation.”

However, Jimmy Lee, co-chairman of the Korean Churches for Community Development said that part of leaving a good legacy is educating the younger generation. 

“The scary thing is, my son is 12, and he doesn’t even know about the riots. They don’t teach it in school. I spoke at a youth group [of junior high students] and I asked for a show of hands, how many in the room knew what the L.A. riots were. Two hands went up.” 

At the end of the event, community members reflected on where 20 years has brought Los Angeles. Carlos Colocho was 19 years old when the riots broke out near his home on Vermont. 

“We ran out of food and we had to go to a different city because the area where I lived was really going crazy back then,” Colocho said. “Driving on Washington Boulevard and Hoover, and that [Pep Boys] building was breaking apart. Everybody was coming in and out stealing a lot of things, which was shocking.” 

And now 20 years later, he said he's unsure of the future. 

"I believe the only way we can make a change in our city is if we bring faith in our families," Colocho said. "[Things] have changed a lot, but there’s still a lot to do.” 


Reach Staff Reporter Judy Wang here; follow her on Twitter.




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