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LEGACY OF THE RIOTS: 1992-2002

An Anniversary of Anger, Sadness and Pride

April 29, 2002|LISA RICHARDSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Community groups and churches spent the weekend commemorating today's 10th anniversary of the Los Angeles riots, with pointed differences in historical interpretation. Where some mourned three days of random anarchy and some praised economic development, others celebrated rebellion or remembered reasons they thought justified the deadly rage.

On Saturday, a group of Koreans, Latinos and whites assembled for a candlelight vigil and march at the First AME Church and called for interracial unity, love and healing.

First AME was where Los Angeles' black establishment gathered during the riots in an attempt to quell the violence. It also will be the one stop President Bush makes in deference to the riot anniversary today when he visits Los Angeles on a political fund-raising trip.

On Friday, First AME leaders began their three-day commemoration of the riots by leading the media on a tour of sites that had been rebuilt or renovated in the last decade.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Friday, April 13, 2012 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 Advance Desk 1 inches; 43 words Type of Material: Correction
L.A. riots: An April 29 story incorrectly referred to the April 1992 Los Angeles riots as the 'deadliest in the 20th century.' In 1921, a riot by a predominantly white mob in Tulsa resulted in the deaths of an estimated 300 black residents.

The Rev. Mark Whitlock, executive director of the church's economic-development wing, FAME Renaissance, narrated as the church bus wove through a network of neighborhood economic projects, business initiatives and employment training services that he said has generated nearly 6,700 jobs.

South-Central still contains a disproportionate number of desolate parcels whose businesses were burned down during the riots. But Whitlock cited a variety of properties the church has reclaimed in the last 10 years from drug dealers, gangs and prostitutes. It also has built affordable housing units for families as well as for people with AIDS.

The church handed reporters its 2002 printed analysis of the riots, which broke out after a predominantly white jury acquitted four white police officers accused of beating black motorist Rodney G. King: "Feeling the pinch of a depressed economy and the insulting slap of discrimination, the trial's outcome pushed residents past their boiling point," it read in part. "Torching neighborhoods, looting businesses and assaulting passersby, the community found solace in a senseless bout of self-destruction."

On Sunday morning at First AME, politicians and celebrities who had joined in the original cleanup effort were greeted by television cameras and reporters. The first hour of the service was a celebration, religious as usual, but also civic. Continuing with the church's theme of rebirth and renaissance, the congregation and leadership thanked those who had taken the first steps to clean and heal the city.

Actors Edward James Olmos and Lindsay Wagner received standing ovations and gifts from the church, an African mask for Olmos and a silken scarf for Wagner. Also present were two dozen civic leaders or their representatives, including former mayoral candidate Antonio Villaraigosa, county Supervisor Yvonne Brathwaite Burke, City Atty. Rocky Delgadillo, City Council President Alex Padilla and Councilman Nate Holden.

"April 29th, the not-guilty verdicts sparked pain and anger, and the fires that devastated L.A. also devastated hopes and dreams," said the Rev. Cecil Murray, the church's pastor. "But out of the ashes came a renaissance, a revival."

A different riot was remembered Saturday on a parched grass field behind the gym of a Watts housing project. Activists, church leaders, poets, rappers and residents paid tribute to the people who took to the streets.

To this gathering at Nickerson Gardens, what happened that April 29 was not a riot, but political action born of outrage. Some wore black T-shirts warning "Police nearby." Others wore shirts with the face of Gonzalo Martinez, shot and killed by police last February after a car chase in Downey. In Spanish, shirts said: Se Justifica La Rebellion!

About 50 African Americans, Latinos and a few white people gathered. A police car pulled into the field to watch the demonstration, then another and another. It was a politically radical crowd that included the Revolutionary Communist Party and a coalition against police brutality.

Finally, six squad cars parked a few hundred feet from the demonstrators and the crowd began to chant "Oink! Oink!" and "No justice, no peace, no murdering police."

"Are all police bad? No," said the Rev. Richard Byrd of KRST Unity Center, who also calls himself Meri Ka Ra. "Are there some bad ones? Yes. And we are here to speak out against their brutality."

Nickerson Gardens was chosen as the site for the event because the economic boom of the late '90s brought no economic boom to Watts, Byrd said. The same poverty that existed in 1965 and in 1992 still exists today. "Where is the infrastructure? Where is the beauty? Where are the trees?" Byrd asked.

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