LA Before It Erupted
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All week we've been airing programs about the Rodney King riot of 1992, America's worst civil disturbance in the 20th Century. Now, we're just three days away from April 29, exactly 20 years since four white LAPD officers were acquitted of charges of using excessive force. We hear about the mood of tension that pervaded the city at that time and how various people reacted, including some of our listeners. (For additional KCRW coverage of the 1992 riots, go to http://KCRW.com/LARiots.)
Banner image: National Guardsmen and a police officer take up security positions in front of a burned and looted shopping center, May 1, 1992 in central Los Angeles. Photo by Hal Garb/AFP/Getty Images
The Rodney King beating was videotaped by a bystander and broadcast on newscasts worldwide. Two weeks later, a 15-year-old black girl, Latasha Harlins, was shot to death by a Korean-American liquor-store owner, Soon Ja Doo. That incident was also videotaped by a surveillance camera and was repeatedly broadcast. Soon Ja Doo was convicted of second degree murder and granted probation.
After the Rodney King beating, Mayor Tom Bradley appointed a commission headed by former Secretary of State Warren Christopher, which recommended reforms of the LAPD. Then came the verdicts and the rioting. It became clear that the LAPD was completely unprepared for the violence and had no plan. Governor Pete Wilson called in the National Guard, which patrolled the streets for 17 days.
After the riot, it was Rodney King who asked the most important question, "can't we all just get along?" Since then, two of the LAPD officers — Lawrence Powell and Stacey Koon — were convicted of federal civil rights crimes. King received $3.8 million in a settlement with the City of LA.
We've heard about the mood of tension that gripped Los Angeles in the late 80's and early 90's, for a multitude of reasons. Today, we speak with four "survivors" of the riots. (We also hear the voices of poet Wanda Coleman, Congresswoman Karen Bass, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck, former Mayor Richard Riordan, Rodney King and others.)
(L-R) Warren Olney, Raphael Sonenshein, Erin Aubry Kaplan,
Bonghwan Kim and Rubén Martínez
- Erin Aubry Kaplan: journalist and author
- Bonghwan Kim: Los Angeles Department of Neighborhood Empowerment
- Ruben Martinez: Loyola Marymount University
- Raphael Sonenshein: California State University, Los Angeles, @PBI
Which Way L.A.? is made possible in part by the Ralph M. Parsons Foundation, the Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Foundation, the Nathan Cummings Foundation, and the John Randolph Haynes and Dora Haynes Foundation, which supports study and research into policy issues of the Los Angeles region.
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