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L.A. Riots 20 Years Later: How Things Have Changed

Patch rounds up assessments of how much things have changed in the 20 years since the worst civil unrest in American history.

Today, Sunday, April 29, is the 20th anniversary of the 1992 L.A. Riots, in which neighborhoods across Los Angeles exploded in violence, looting, arson and murder that began in what was then predominantly black South-Central L.A (now named South L.A., a predominantly Latino area).

The unrest resulted in part from anger over the acquittal four Los Angeles police officers—three white and one Latino—who were accused of brutally beating an African-American man, Rodney King, in 1991.

According to one of the most reliable estimates, the rioting claimed 53 lives, left thousands injured and reportedly damaged property worth $1 billion. The riots  were widely considered the worst civil unrest in American history.

On this anniversary, it’s worth noting that the city of Los Angeles and surrounding communities have, by most accounts, transformed greatly, owing in part to shifting  demographics, a transformation of the Los Angeles Police Department and economic changes across the region.

Here’s a sampling of assessments. Please add your own impressions of how things have changed in the last 20 years in the comments below.

Nearly 20 years after Los Angeles was shaken by one of the worst outbreaks of civil unrest in U.S. history, residents say the city is safer and relations between its racial and ethnic groups are significantly better than they were in 1992.

Most also say L.A. is unlikely to see riots in the coming years like those that swept the city after the 1992 acquittals of four Los Angeles police officers charged in the beating of Rodney G. King, a new report shows. --Los Angeles Times

A succession of police chiefs – most notably William Bratton – have made reform a top priority. Eight years of federal oversight helped clean up the department. And the changing demographics of the LAPD – 37 percent white, compared with 59 percent in 1992 – has changed the character of the force, many say.  --Christian Science Monitor

The biggest change has been the Los Angeles Police Department's approach to policing in our neighborhoods. The relationship between police and the community is far from perfect. Racial profiling, police brutality and general harassment of young men of color is still a significant problem in South L.A. as it is in South Florida, New York City, Pasadena, etc. ...

And the liquor store problem that became such a high-profile and visible target during the riots? While South L.A. still has too many liquor stores there has been a more than 20 percent reduction in alcohol outlets since 1992, thanks mostly to community activism. --Marqueece Harris-Dawson, president and CEO, Community Coalition, blogging on The Huffington Post

In many areas where urban blight and hostility between the Los Angeles Police Department and mostly African-American residents contributed to the urban unrest in 1992, businesses and shopping centers have replaced entire corridors once reduced to ashes. --CNN

In the 1990s, black residents made up roughly half the population in South Central. Today, Latinos account for about two-thirds of the residents in what is now called South Los Angeles — “Central” was officially scrubbed from the neighborhood’s name by the City Council in 2003. In the 20-some square miles that make up the area, stretching southwest of downtown from the Santa Monica Freeway to the Century Freeway and as far west as Inglewood, there are 80,000 fewer blacks than there were in 1990.  ...

The new buildings that have gone up are mostly thanks either to government or to projects financed by nonprofit or church groups. Crime is down as it is throughout the city, but the dropout rates at high schools remain persistently high. Residents complain of a lack of public transportation and healthy food, though they succeeded in shutting down some of the liquor stores. --The New York Times

Here’s a list of links to other coverage of the 20th annivesary of the Los Angeles Riots. Please add your own in the comments.

The Los Angeles Times looks back at its coverage and the changes that have taken place in the city.

L.A. Observed’s list of media coverage of the anniversary.

Steven Hanson April 30, 2012 at 06:20 PM
Nothing will change my perspective. I don't have a need to change your mind. I am fine that as Americans we have the right to disagree with one another.
Bill C. April 30, 2012 at 10:13 PM
I agree with most of what you write B.K. but like most you don't understand the tactical responses made by police officers in shooting situations. I know every shooting isn't a good shooting but the vast majority are. To say that this moron on the freeway was "gunned down by over zealous police officers" was beyond the pale. To not take into account his postioning, actions, the lighting situation and many other factors makes your comment, in my opinion, not well thought out. You're right, no need to engage me on this.
Ian May 01, 2012 at 01:05 AM
I get so tired of the various "unless you've gone thru police training" blatherings. Susan, I'll be sure to drop off your Police Simulator Brownie Button as soon as possible. As for the cops who let hundreds of bullets fly through the air, wasn't there a Glendora PD officer who, at the Ralphs recently, took out a bad guy with one shot who was actively shooting at him?
Steven Hanson May 01, 2012 at 01:38 AM
I do agree with you Bill ,in that when a shooting by the police goes wrong it is usually an aberration. I support the police and believe in them. I'm grateful for what they do. Life is full of situations that don't always turn out well. We just have to learn what we can from those unfortunate events and move on and hope that if a situation is repeated, that results will be better next time. Ideally , I would like to see police be able to neutralize a person with three bullets or less and wound instead of kill. However; I am not naive. I know that's not always possible.
John May 01, 2012 at 06:52 PM
I am not really sure how you would change the incident you were speaking of in light of the information that came out after the incident was over, BK. The only thing that I get out of it is that it is sad when someone tells the police they have a gun and will shoot them over the phone and then stops and points something at them in a gun motion and forces the police to shoot them. As for shooting someone, those who have not been in that situation and think reasonably can only say that they do not know how they are going to react until they are put in that position themselves. Do I think that a hundred rounds being fired at someone seems to be a bit much? Sure, but do I know why that many were fired? No. There may be a perfectly logical reason for it. Since none of us have the police report in our hands, nobody can really judge. In Vietnam US forces fired over 50,000 rounds per enemy combatant killed. Is that over zealous and kill happy? Or is it a matter of self preservation? How many of those VC did not have guns in their hands? Does it matter?........

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