This weekend marks the 20 year anniversary of the Los Angeles riots, and many news organizations are wondering how race relations have changed.
Msnbc.com tells the story:
Twenty years ago this weekend, riots broke out in Los Angeles – and spread to other cities – after a California jury acquitted three white and one Hispanic Los Angeles police officers in the videotaped beating of black motorist Rodney King.
The riots that erupted on April 29, 1992, were among the most lethal in U.S. history. By the time order was restored, 53 people had died, nearly 3,000 people were injured and thousands of businesses were damaged or destroyed.
In one of the most searing images beamed into living rooms across the country from the disturbance, a mostly black mob enraged by the acquittal dragged white truck driver Reginald Denny from his cab at a south Los Angeles intersection and beat him unconscious while news helicopters hovered overhead.
Race relations in Los Angeles had been a simmering cauldron for many years before these riots broke out.
The Washington Post highlights the insights of Keith Henry Watson, one of the men responsible for the beating of white truck driver Reginald Denney:
[Watson] was at home that day like thousands of others when he heard the news that was racing across Los Angeles: A jury with no black members had acquitted four police officers in the videotaped beating of Rodney King, a black man stopped for speeding nearly 14 months before.
“I got caught up in the emotions like everyone else,” Watson says 20 years after a riot that would leave 55 people dead, more than 2,300 injured and himself forever recognized as one of the attackers of white truck driver Reginald Denny, who himself became the enduring image of the innocents victimized during the chaos.
South Los Angeles, where the riot began, has changed considerably two decades later, as has Watson. But many things remain the same.
While racial tensions fanned by the verdict and the general feeling of disenfranchisement and distrust of police among LA’s black population have moderated, residents of the city’s largely black and Hispanic South Side complain that the area still is plagued by too few jobs, too few grocery stores and a lack of redevelopment that would bring more life to the area.
One resident was quoted by the Post as saying, ““Have things changed? Not really. People are just more mellow these days.”
But according to a Los Angeles Times article, things are worse for residents of South LA. At least financially:
Two decades after the L.A. riots brought pledges of help to rebuild South Los Angeles, the area is worse off in many ways than it was in 1992.
Median income, when adjusted for inflation, is lower. Many middle-class blacks have fled in search of safer neighborhoods and better schools.
And the unemployment rate, which was bad at the time of the riots, has reached even more dire levels. In two areas of South Los Angeles — Florence Graham and Westmont — unemployment is almost 24%. Back in 1992, it was 21% in Florence Graham and 17% in Westmont.
Now South Los Angeles is 30% African American, according to U.S. Census data, and black-owned businesses that once had a stronghold in the area have declined steadily.
…The demographic shift has made it even more difficult for African Americans to find good jobs, said Vernon M. Briggs Jr., a Cornell University labor economist who has studied the effect of immigration on blacks for more than three decades.
Latino immigrants, he said, tend to form tight-knit job networks. “What employers learn to do, if they find workers they’re content with, they ask those workers to bring any relatives or friends and become more dependent on them.”
What do you think? Have race relations in the U.S. changed? Has our judicial system progressed? Or are we just another acquittal away from a riot?
What memory of the LA Riots most resonates with you?
Below: MSNBC video of Rodney King, who has penned a memoir, The Riot Within: My Journey from Rebellion to Redemption,about his life and being at the center of one of the most famous race-relations case in the last 100 years.