La Riots Essay, Research Paper
Believe it or not, Los Angeles was just waiting for an event like the Rodney King verdict to explode. All that was needed was that one spark to ignite the anger in the citizens of South Central and cause the area to explode. One of the recent and most significant riots took place on the streets of Los Angeles on April 29, 1992. The case was controversial because Rodney King was a black male beaten with excessive force by four white Los Angeles police officers. The not guilty verdict of the four officers may have been the initial cause, but the riots were not about Rodney King and the issue of racism; rather they were more about the class tension between poor and rich. The riots were due to all the underlying festering rage that had been building up in the residents of Los Angeles and the disbelief that police, even when caught on tape, could get away with such brutality. Although many people believe the riots were caused solely by the King verdict, in reality, these widespread brutal actions were a justified protest to the social injustice and economic inequality in which people live.
It was obvious that the media focused on the issue of discrimination and portrayed the riots as black rage on the streets due to the not guilty verdict of the four Los Angeles policemen that were facing excessive force charges. As we saw in the TV news channel: The live broadcast from a hovering TV news helicopter of a black man striking unconscious with a brick, kicking, and then dancing over the body of white truck driver Reginald Denny (Whitman). The bloody images of the riots indeed proved the violent side of it. In addition, the six days of rioting resulted in the death of 52 people, the injury of 2,383 people, and the arrest of 16,291 people. There was an estimated around $1 billion in property damage in Los Angeles County, not since the Watts riots of 1965 was there so much damage (USA Today). Just to look at the figures and the media reports, many people believe the riots were a direct result of the King verdict, rather than a result of building tension over time.
However, according to the history, the community of South Central had been dealing with significant underlying racial and economic problems in the years since the Watts riots in 1965 that caused by an event that was similar to the Rodney King incident. As a result, the Watts riots left 34 dead and more than 1,032 injured (USA Today). Although the city has changed in those years since the Watts riots, unfortunately, many of the unresolved issues have remained the same and one of them is the city of Los Angeles is not a unified city. Indeed, Los Angeles consists of too many large sub cities or communities to speak with one voice. There are many sub cities in LA such as Westwood, Hollywood, Beverly Hills, Downtown, and of course, South Central. While South Central LA has a high population of blacks, Hispanics and Asians, it has a low percentage of whites. The anecdotal evidence suggests, at least 25% of the young black males in South Central Los Angeles have had a brush with the law (Oliver, Johnson and Farrell 127). Certainly, the lack of contact with other communities limits the opportunities for the children in the neighborhood to learn and work, but rather encourage them to follow in the footsteps of their troubled old peers. South Central is just a shining example of a community divided.
At the same time, the city s minorities are engaged in racial warfare. Blacks and whites, other minorities and whites have engaged in conflict, yet blacks and Koreans have drawn the largest battle lines. Divisions with whites rise out of the fact that Blacks in LA do not like the image that they are given through the media and this is only one of the reasons that due to our system of inequality. Tensions between Koreans and blacks had been building for years before the King verdict until they finally exploded. One of the them was the Latasha Harlins case: A black teenager girl named Harlins who was a honor student at local high school and she was shot in the back of the head by a Korean shopkeeper because of an quarrel of a carton of orange juice. Controversially, the shopkeeper received only a six month suspended sentence and was ordered to do six months of community services (Oliver, Johnson and Farrell 121). Again, just another verdict that led and worsened the conflict between the Koreans and Blacks. There were countless acts of violence committed between Koreans and blacks that ranged from not only looting and burning of Korean stores but to gun battles and shootings. Thus, the riots arose out of the frustration of minorities being overlooked and not properly represented.
It is this fact that a large percent of LA citizens: mostly minorities, has their own stories of police brutality and injustice in the system that caused such uproar after the Rodney King verdict. People identified with Rodney King s struggle as a minority against the LA police force. The civil rights activists said, the log shows that LAPD offers apply a different set of standards when dealing with minorities (Serrano). It was this problem over the years that had been festering in minorities and lower income areas that stood behind the No Justice, No Peace outcry of LA people and rioters. Thus, the injustice system within the LAPD must be changed if we are to move on and avoid such tragedy to happen again in the future.
Economic differences among citizens of Los Angeles were perhaps the largest contributing factor to the riots. As John Edgar Wideman states, Race fear is the public face of economic war. And economic war hides race fear (153) Indeed, South Central LA as a higher overall poverty rate than does its surrounding communities. The three major ethic groups in South Central including Blacks, Latinos, and Koreans have even worsened the problem of poverty because they were in the competitions with each other over jobs, housing, and scarce public resources (Oliver, Johnson and Farrell 121). It is clear that people in the neighborhood suffer from poor standard of living generated resentments to the society, as they believed they were a group of abandoners. A writer named Morales Soja points out: the Los Angeles economy has undergone a fairly drastic restructuring over the last two decades , South Central Los Angeles in particular, lost 70,000 high-wage, stable jobs between 1978 and 1982 (Oliver, Johnson and Farrell 121-122). Economic problems seem to be drawn along racial lines in Los Angeles and many minorities feel neglected by the government.
The Los Angeles riots in 92 were not just about Rodney King, they were about more significant underlying issues of economics and race that had been existing and growing ever since the Watts riots in 65. Perhaps if these issues had been addressed adequately and repaired, then the destruction and violence that occurred on the streets of South Central Los Angeles in 1992 would not have to have been endured. An expert witness for the defense during the Rodney King federal civil trial states, the King incident will become one of the classic case studies that public administration students consider to learn the consequences of policy making (Meyer). Thus, learning from the important chapter of our history textbook, we cannot afford to make the same mistake by overlooking the racial and economic problems facing Los Angeles citizens. We must make sure that we take care of the social injustice and economic inequality in our society, so that future generations of Los Angeles citizens do not have to suffer the same fate.