CAAM spotlights ‘No Justice, No Peace’

LOS ANGELES-The images say everything. There was pain. There was destruction. Desperation and overdue justice was thrown in the mix as well. There were no winners in the 1992 Los Angeles riots. April marks the 25th year that the uprising casted a dark pall over the city, which, to this day, still has not fully recovered from.

Just look around South Los Angeles. Buildings and businesses that were torched and burned to the ground, have not been replaced. Empty lots with overgrown weeds now call most of those spaces home. With the exception of a few new trendy spots, South Los Angeles remain an abyss of an island filled with high crime, devaluation of property, a community filtered with a plethora of beat up apartments and hustling street vendors.

The slogan “No Justice, No Peace” went to a different level after the jury trial verdict acquitted four white police officers charged in the brutal beating of black motorist Rodney King. The videotaped ambushed takedown of King by those four Los Angeles Police Department officers set in motion unleveled chaos that was to come.

Tyree Boyd-Pates, curator at the California African American Museum (CAAM), put together the “No Justice, No Peace: LA 1992” exhibit in several months. Photo by Dennis J. Freeman

And what was to come was six days of mayhem. Things officially got kicked off with the Reginald Denny beating. Madness took over, and Los Angeles paid dearly for it.          

The new exhibit “No Justice, No Peace: LA 1992,” currently displayed at the California African American Museum, introduces us to that period of intermittent anguish and backlash. The comprehensive exhibit, however, covers a lot more than that part of Los Angeles history. Instead, it is a trip down memory lane, a cascade of provocative events and incidents that sort of came together to form the perfect storm leading up to the  $1 billion unrest.

“This is the twenty-fifth year anniversary of the Los Angeles riots. When Tyree Boyd-Pates joined the staff seven months ago, he immediately told me this is the show he wanted to open his relationship with the museum with,” CAAM Deputy Director Naima Keith said. “It’s been twenty-five years. While there have been other exhibitions, there haven’t been a comprehensive exhibition. He said, ‘This is the right time.'”            

The murder of black teenager Latasha Harlins by a South Los Angeles grocer in 1991, may have been the tipping point in the search for justice by the city’s black residents. Display courtesy of California African American Museum

It took California African American Museum History Curator Tyree Boyd-Pates a couple of months to put together the startling and well-layered “No Justice, No Peace: LA 1992” exhibit that is now being showcased at the museum through Aug. 27.

For Boyd-Pates, a former professor of Africana Studies at California State University, Dominguez Hills, it was well worth the time invested in the project.

“It feels like my whole life,” Boyd-Pates said. “It was a labor of love.”   

The shock-and-awe display images, videos, and media compilation of events leading up to the deadly riots in 1992 that “No Justice, No Peace: LA 1992” offers, was one of several new museum pieces that previewed at CAAM on Wednesday, March 8.

Other exhibits making their debut at CAAM alongside “No Justice, No Peace: LA 1992,” include “Derrick Adams: Network,” “Keyatta A.C. Hunkle: The Evanesced,” and “Trouble Every Day: LA 1965/1992.”  “No Justice, No Peace: LA 1992,” however, is the museum’s headline exhibit for the next five months. And it has the juice to garner quite a bit of attention from all the archival artifacts and documents on display.  

The Los Angeles riots in 1992 galvanized media attention worldwide. Display courtesy of California African American Museum

The police badge of Tom Bradley, the city’s first black mayor, is part of the collection. The 1965 Watts Riot, another weeklong rebellion, is detailed in length through multiple media platforms. Latasha Harlins, the black teenager whose high-profile murder by a Korean grocer in South Los Angeles nearly two weeks after King’s beating took place, has been afforded a section in the exhibit.     

 Boyd-Pates also had the audacity to include information from the Zoot Suits Riots in 1943 as well. “No Justice, No Peace: LA 1992” is an exhibit that conjures up the painful relationship that have unfortunately bonded the city’s law enforcement community with that of African Americans and people of color.

“I made sure that every single major ethnic group in Los Angeles is represented,” Boyd-Pates said. “In this exhibition, you have obviously, the African American community, but you also have the Korean community, the Asian community. You also have the Mexican American community. You’ll have the white community, and their response to the uprising. And then you’ll have law enforcement, which I also included as well, combined within the other different groups as well.”              

The twenty-five year anniversary of the 1992 Los Angeles riots is sure to shake the memory banks of a lot of the city residents. Boyd-Pates’ excellent touch on CAAM’s exhibit that highlights the discourse makes you stand in wonderment of what took place during those six days. You didn’t have to be a Los Angeles resident to be affected by the riots, which claimed 53 lives and ended with thousands of people arrested.

If you were a Southern California resident you were affected by the riots. The mandated curfew and the California National Guard, standing armed to the nines, stepping in to re-enforce that curfew, made it all even more surreal. 

The destructiveness of the uprising still reverberates as evidenced by the many unoccupied spaces and rundown buildings trolling South Los Angeles. Boyd-Pates beautifully underscores this in the “No Justice, No Peace: LA 1992” exhibit.

Instead of just focusing on the 1992 riots themselves, Boyd-Pates retraces the history of race, law enforcement, more specifically the Los Angeles Police Department, and the oftentimes turbulent engagement with the city’s black citizens.

Inspired by the Academy Award-winning documentary “OJ: Made in America” and its racial storytelling elements, the riots of 1992 is a narrative Boyd-Pates said he was compelled to tell.

“I was inspired by Ezra [Edelman],” Boyd-Pates said. “I saw how he beautifully and cinematically told this powerful story about O.J. (Simpson) and his rise to prominence and his fall. But it wasn’t solely about O.J. It was about the social factors that contributed to O.J.’s life. He was a USC student who had no inroads with the black community during the Black Panthers era and all of this different ebb and flow. I was fascinated by this, so when I had the opportunity to do this exhibition, I was like Rodney King is equally as a polarizing figure, a black figure like O.J. But Rodney King isn’t just Rodney King. There were social factors that contributed to Rodney King, like interaction with the police. I wanted to tell a story that built up to that.”                  

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