South L.A. unites to reflect on ’92 Riots

SOUTH LOS ANGELES — The mood was festive. The tone of the rally, march and community festival April 29 marking the 25th anniversary of the Los Angeles riots in 1992, was about being uplifting while still being reflective.

Smoke, fire and property destruction was not what hundreds came out on this day for. They came out, instead, to dance, sing, perform the spoken word and to embrace one another and their fellow man. That’s a far cry from what took place 25 years ago on April 29.

Gloria Walton, president and CEO of Strategic Concepts in Organizing and Policy Education (SCOPE), said the South Los Angeles Is the Future Rally and March was a point for those affected by the riots to come out and share their stories from that time period, but also cultivate narratives about what’s happening now in the community.

“We’re a community organization that came out of the 1992 uprising,” Walton said. “We formed, really as a space to galvanize all that anger and frustration into organization and power. All of us South Los Angeles community organizations are coming together to really to tell our own stories and tell our own narratives, and talk about the problems and conditions from our perspective, and more importantly, to talk about the vision and solutions we have for South Los Angeles.”

Twenty-five years ago, Los Angeles experienced an uprising that resulted in 53 lost lives and an estimated $1 billion in property damage. Businesses were destroyed and never replaced. Rundown and empty lots now occupy parts of South Los Angeles as a result of the upheaval that rocked the nation.

Encountering homelessness in and around the community is about as routine as a student walking to school. Economic development has been slow.

But a 10-year, $1 billion initiative (Building Healthy Communities) created by the California Endowment seven years ago to offset health and employment disparities affecting residents in South Los Angeles, is a start.

“Over the past 25 years, the people of South L.A. have developed models of community building to address the root causes of social unrest and health disparities,” said Tamu Jones, program director of South Los Angeles Building Healthy Communities. “They are creative and resilient and self-directed. Their innovation in community organizing is built on the larger social justice movement that folks in South L.A. have been engaged in for decades. It is bigger than the 35 organizations and has great implications for the whole city and even beyond.”

The 1992 Riot began with the beating of white truck driver Reginald Denny, who was pulled from his truck at the intersection of Florence and Normandie in South Los Angeles.

Members of Strategic Concepts in Organizing and Policy Education (SCOPE) were among the many South Los Angeles organizations that turned out to mark the 25th anniversary of the 1992 Los Angeles Riots. (Photo by Dennis J. Freeman)

On the 25th anniversary of that incident, members of the South Los Angeles community re-visited Florence and Normandie, now a hub of liquor stores, small vendors and empty lots that once housed thriving businesses.

From there the group marched to 81st Street and Vermont Avenue for a community festival outside the headquarters of the Community Coalition, a group that got its start from the ashes of the 1992 Riots.

Throngs of people took to the streets and attended the festival. This time around, the elephant in the room for the South Los Angeles community was health care and the ability to gain access to it.

The Rev. Lewis E. Logan II, co-founder of the Ruach Christian Community Fellowship, said the explosion of the riots was not a matter of it would happen but when.

“The uprising was only a matter of time,” Logan said. “When you occupy a community with occupational forces like law enforcement officers who disrespect the community, it’s only a matter of time. When you have a judicial system that does not respect human life, especially African-American human life, it was just a matter of time. And when you have deplorable housing [and] no economic investment in the community, it’s only a matter of time.”

Not only was the occasion an opportunity to re-examine the Rodney King beating by four white police officers and the sequence of events that preceded that infamous moment, the march and rally was also a chance for organizers to lift their voices in solidarity against a climate of storied inequity for residents living in South Los Angeles.

“We recognize that a lot of people attribute what happened in 1992, what we call the rebellion, to the acquittal of those four police officers who beat Rodney King,” Walton said. “But for us, we know that our communities have been fed up with all the injustices we’ve been living with for 25-plus years, and that comes from the criminalization of our communities, struggling to make ends meet, no access to health care, privatization, our city officials moving a corporate agenda versus a people-centered agenda.

“So all these organizations are saying enough is enough. That was what the 1992 rebellion was really about. Rodney wasn’t really the offset of the rebellion. He was really the last straw that broke the camel’s back.”

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