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Readers look back on unforgettable scenes

For some, it was a life-changing experience

April 29, 2012

'End of the world'

I was assigned to Wilshire Division as a second-year officer in the LAPD. I remember standing in formation in the station parking lot listening to the sergeant barking out our assignments, all the while watching and feeling the heat of 200-foot flames as they engulfed a swap meet next door.

It appeared it was the end of the world.

— Alex Salazar

Los Angeles

'Ready to shoot'

Twenty years ago I was ready to shoot the first LAPD officer that I came in contact with after previous negative encounters with them. One night I was stopped by a LAPD officer for some traffic issue and I immediately thought out a scenario to harm him. But the officer was a true professional and explained why he stopped me.

It taught me not to broad-brush them.

— Bass Reem

Los Angeles

'Empathy supersedes hatred'

I was 11 years old, living in an apartment in the Crenshaw district on Florence and 10th Avenue with my mom, siblings and stepfather. My mom had scheduled a maintenance visit from Pacific Bell. A tall, slender white man with shoulder-length blond hair, blue eyes and a thick mustache came to work on the phone line. He finished repairs exactly at the moment of the not guilty verdict announcement.

The technician packed his tools, walked out of our apartment and was immediately attacked in the courtyard by members of Rolling 60s Crips. They broke his nose as they punched and kicked him to the ground. Miraculously, he escaped and ran back to our apartment. He banged on the door screaming for help.

As my mother opened the door, he fell inside to the floor and cried out, "They broke my nose!" My mom got some towels and showed him to the bathroom, while she called 911. Paramedics came to get him.

During the six days of rioting, firecrackers were ignited at our door to scare us and we received death threats. When the rioting declined, threats died down, but taunting continued well after the incident, until finally my family moved to another neighborhood.

My mom's decision to help the technician was a pivotal moment in my life. I witnessed my mother's outrage at the Rodney King beating and the officers' acquittal. But she taught me how empathy supersedes hatred.

Because my mother came of age during the civil rights movement, and experienced countless incidents of discrimination, she has a heightened sensibility to injustices inflicted on African Americans. However, she never let it compromise her humanity.

— Mia Lawson


'Massive failure'

I was a high school freshman living in the suburbs. My father, my older brother and I went out to help our cousins protect their stores in South L.A. We had two pistols for protection.

Some of our cousins' stores were burned down and others had the windows smashed. I remember one uncle looking at his decimated store and laughing. I guess that was the only way he knew how to react.

For three days I didn't see any police, just firefighters doing their best. Everyone on the streets was armed with guns or knives. It was absolute chaos.

I can't help but think that this was a massive failure by law enforcement and local governments to protect and serve.

— James Cho

Los Angeles

'I insisted we move'

My husband and I were a young family, pregnant with our first baby. We lived in a rough part of North Hollywood. I remember hearing gunshots and the smell of our city burning. We slept on the floor next to our bed, away from the windows, for fear of stray bullets. We were terrified, and armed ourselves with a shotgun.

We stayed home for days, glued to the television in disbelief as the city boiled over in crime and rage, fires and bullets. The National Guard was brought in, and a sundown curfew set. Driving through the streets of the San Fernando Valley, and seeing armed Guardsmen looming in shop doorways, and patrolling the streets in military vehicles was almost other-worldly. Instead of feeling safer, it just brought home how out of control the riots were.

My first son was born a few months after. I was so traumatized by the riots that I suffered panic attacks when I drove anywhere with my newborn. I insisted we move shortly thereafter.

We've been back many times, but it has never been the same.

— Tracy Moore

San Diego

'Shooting at airplanes'

I worked in the Delta Air Lines' control tower atop Terminal 5 at LAX. We operated 110 flights a day. With the fires raging across the city, rioters began shooting at airplanes approaching the airport. We canceled 55 flights the second day. Airplanes leaving LAX were taking off toward the ocean, as normal, but flights coming into LAX were approaching from the ocean simultaneously.

— Sheila Fox


'Asking if I knew how to use a gun'

I was Gov. Pete Wilson's deputy press secretary.

I remember flying in a National Guard helicopter over the city, seeing fires and mile-long lines of CHP coming down from the north.

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