Within Five Blocks – The LA Riots

The evening of April 29, 1992 marked the start of the LA Riots.

I remember the LA Riots as scenes of smokes, fires, and violence on TV from being a kid. As a five-year-old I had no concept of Los Angeles outside of it. For me, they marked the city as a place of unrest and gang activity, an image that took years to erase.

Twenty-five years later, I live at the northwestern edge of Koreatown in Los Angeles. I was surprised to learn that some of the more iconic images from the riots were taken within blocks of where I now live.

Brief Background of the Riots
    After the acquittal of the LAPD officers involved in the excessive force during the arrest and beating of Rodney King, anger and unrest erupted into violence in South Central Los Angeles. Police officers who initially responded to reports at the corners of 71st & Normandie and Florence & Normandie were unprepared to handle the aggression and violence of the crowds and backed down. They fled, leaving these parts of the city undefended to the rioting and looting that followed. 
   Over the next 48 hours, much of the violence went uncurbed until the California Army National Guard and Marine Corps arrived. 
     The riots lasted from April 29-May 4 and took the lives of more than 55 people, injured over 2,000, and cost the city of Los Angeles more than $1 billion in damages. 

South Central, where the riots started, lies directly south of Koreatown. During the rampage of looting and burning, the rioting moved north into Koreatown, and businesses owned by Korean Americans were among the hardest hit. However, just as no one race or color were completely to blame for all of the rioting, there was no color, race, or creed left unprotected by the wake of mindless violence that characterized the riots.

Here is a map of some of the major scenes of the riots.

Since the police weren’t generally coming to anyone’s rescue in the first days, many Korean business owners armed themselves with handguns and rifles, and barricaded their stores. Dozens of unprotected stores in Koreatown were looted and burned.

Video of the Riots


Among the photos that are used to mark the riots, the picture taken at the top of the California Marketplace struck me the most. It was taken just two blocks from my apartment. Men with rifles wait on top of the store to make key the peace. Though the store has since gone through a tremendous remodel, it’s still there on the same corner. I shop there several times each week. The Carl’s Jr. is still there. Below, behind the orange California Market sign you can see the blue-gray façade of the Wiltern on the left picture. In the right photo it hides to the right of the new skyscraper.

Things have gotten touched up over the years, but most of the basics remain the same.

Photo on left taken May 1, 1992 by Hyungwon Kang of the Los Angeles Times. Photo on right taken by Michael Treadway on April 27, 2017.

It makes me wonder, twenty-five years later, are the underlying issues that started the riots the same? Are the things that made people so angry, so violent, gotten any different? Obviously Ferguson and other scenes of violence aren’t identical to the LA Riots, but surely it’s safe to posit that they stem from some of the same cracks that still exist in our system.

I hope that this anniversary of the riots promotes conversations and healing among different communities.

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