Los Angeles 1992: A Personal Reflection on the Riots

Aging is strange. It’s strange to have memories that are decades old – older than the very lives of many people I know, work with and pass on the streets. I’m still getting used to the fact I know things from firsthand experience, not just books or elders. I’m still getting used to my memories being a part of history, the subject of documentaries.

Yesterday marked 25 years since the start of the Los Angeles Riots/Uprising. I remember Wednesday, April 29, 1992. At 3:00 pm a mostly White jury in a mostly White neighborhood absolved four White officers of any responsibility for sadistically beating Rodney King like a defenseless animal. An hour later the Black community’s shock, rage and despair boiled over into violence in what was then called South Central Los Angeles, near the intersection of Florence and Normandie.

I would get to know South Central intimately over the next two years as a social worker, but when the riots started, I was a UCLA student two weeks from graduation. Confident of my acceptance, I’d eagerly applied to join the new Teach for America corps, and had just been rejected. I was stressing over final exams, scrambling for a job, and mourning graduating before my friends.

The verdict shocked me, and brought all my other concerns to a halt. I could see the plumes of smoke from the one bedroom apartment near campus I shared with two other students. I watched TV for hours, and heard my African American mayor refer to the rioters as “thugs” and “hoodlums.” I listened to journalists express horror and decry the “lawlessness,” the looting, and the beating of Reginald Denny. I worked radio dispatch one evening during the riots at the UCLA Police Department (I was a student security officer) and got to hear all the chatter. I did all of this in mostly silent shock, confusion and anger. On Friday I joined a large group of fellow students protesting the verdict. We wove our way through vacant Westwood streets past broken windows and boarded up trendy shops to the Federal building on Wilshire.

Two memories stand out most clearly for me about the Riots, and the first happened during that protest.  Keep reading on The Huffington Post!

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