The Rodney King Riots, “Which Way, LA?” and the Start of A Conversation

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Last week we aired special programming on Which Way, LA? about the the causes and the aftermath of the Rodney King Riots that devastated Los Angeles twenty years ago. The…

Which Way, LA? about the the causes and the aftermath of the Rodney King Riots that devastated Los Angeles twenty years ago. The shows also marked the anniversary of Which Way, LA? itself, begun shortly after the uprising as a temporary program driven by a sense of urgency. But Warren’s dialogue with and about Los Angeles, became must-listen radio and a permanent fixture on our air.

The riots were a force of destruction that birthed, to some extent, a sense of renewal and possibility for Los Angeles, expressed in the months and years of Which Way, LA? shows. . . and  explored in last week’s broadcast about the rebuilding in Los Angeles over the last 20 years. One of the guests on that show, Michael Maltzan, architect of Inner City Arts, talked about how his career and attitude to LA were utterly transformed by that moment in late April, 1992.

And he was not alone. Many were deeply affected – from those devastated by the destruction to those who were galvanized into changing their lives. Carolyn Hull, for example, a guest on the rebuilding show, talked, off-air, of how the experience inspired her to change direction and become an urban planner; Jackie Dupont-Walker, a South LA community developer and member of Rebuild LA, spoke of learning lifelong business lessons from Rebuild LA Czar Peter Ueberroth.

Another guest, Kai Ma, a teenager in LA in 1992 with extended family in Koreatown, was politicized by her community’s devastation, into becoming a writer and, more recently, a filmmaker. You can see a short movie that she wrote and starred in here (click on Love Lost on the 405). This film, about LA and traffic congestion as a metaphor for failed love, is not about the riots but about a feature of LA life that can cause tremendous stress: driving on the 405 (see Ma in a still from movie, right). Coincidentally, it was featured in Rethink LA, an optimistic exhibit about ideas for a future Los Angeles, that was discussed last year on this DnA.

I too was changed by that uprising, transformed from a newbie in LA, editing a small architecture publication and possessing a limited understanding of what made LA tick, to someone who determined to better understand and engage with my chosen home. And how did I plan to do that: through becoming involved with a show that I found a total inspiration at the time: Which Way, LA?

On All Things Considered, we’ll air an interview Wednesday by KCRW’s Avishay Artsy with Warren Olney (seen top left, with Reverend Cecil ‘Chip’ Murray), together with Ruth Seymour, KCRW’s then general manager, and Sarah Spitz, former communications director for the station and one of WWLA’s first producers.

We hope you enjoy this moment of reflection for the station and for Los Angeles.