LOS ANGELES-As much as things change, some things remain the same. When you drive through South Los Angeles these days, some 25 years after the monstrous race-tinged eruption that shook the city and the nation to its core, there are reminders that suggest much haven’t change.
Employment opportunities are needed. Healthcare remains an issue. Crime is an unfortunate constant. Full-throttled economic development is lacking. Except for a few empty lots giving way to tumble weeds, the corner of Manchester Ave. and Vermont Ave. still resemble a community swallowed up in poverty, homelessness and a few shuttered businesses.
Taking a stroll down to Slauson Ave. and Western Ave., you’re likely to see an improvement of a once ignored area. That’s a good sign, but that’s only one step of positive news the South Los Angeles community have embraced over the last two decades.
Twenty-five ago, race tension came boiling down to a head when four white police officers were acquitted in the videotaped beating of a black man. The community now is more of a melting pot of races meshed with cultural appreciation. That picture was painted vividly in a march and rally marking the 25 years since the city of Los Angeles went up in smoke.
The mood was festive. The tone of the rally, march and community festival Saturday in South Los Angeles marking the 25 years of the Los Angeles riots in 1992, was more about being uplifting while still being reflective.
Smoke, fire and property destruction was not what hundreds came out on this day for. They came out, instead, to dance, sing, perform the spoken word and to embrace one another and their fellow man. That’s a far cry from what took place 25 years ago on April 29.
Gloria Walton, president and CEO of Strategic Concepts in Organizing and Policy Education (SCOPE), said the South Los Angeles is the Future rally and march was a point for those affected by the riots to come out and share their stories from that time period, but also cultivate narratives about what’s happening now in the community.
“We’re a community organization that came out of the 1992 uprising,” Walton said. “We formed, really as a space to galvanize all that anger and frustration into organization and power. All of us, South Los Angeles community organizations, are coming together to really to tell our own stories and tell our own narratives, and talk about the problems and conditions from our perspective, and more importantly, to talk about the vision and solutions we have for South Los Angeles.”
Twenty-five years ago, Los Angeles experienced an uprising that would result in at least 53 lives reportedly being taken and an estimated $1 billion in damages. Businesses were destroyed and never replaced. Rundown and empty lots now occupy the normality of life in parts of South of Los Angeles as a result of the upheaval that rocked the nation.
Encountering homelessness in and around the community is about as routine as a student walking to school. Economic development has been slow. So how much have changed for residents since South Los Angeles burned with rage over perceived inequities? Not a whole lot.
But a 10-year, $1 billion initiative (Building Healthy Communities) created by the California Endowment seven years ago to offset health and employment disparities affecting residents in South Los Angeles, is a start.
“Over the past 25 years, the people of South LA have developed models of community building to address the root causes of social unrest and health disparities,” said Tamu Jones, program director of South Los Angeles Building Healthy Communities. “They are creative and resilient and self-directed. Their innovation in community organizing is built on the larger social justice movement that folks in SLA have been engaged in for decades. It is bigger than the 35 organizations and has great implications for the whole city and even beyond.”
The riots of 1992 was set off by the beating of white trucker Reginald Denny, who was snatched from his truck at the intersection of Florence and Normandie in South Los Angeles.
Well, 25 years later, the South Los Angeles community, along with a plethora of community organizations, re-visited Florence and Normandie to make a statement about the now and future of this congestive hub of liquor stores, small vendors and empty lots once thriving with businesses.
The South LA is the Future event, highlighted by the partnership of 35 South Los Angeles (SLA) organizations, began earnestly with a rally at Florence and Normandie before turning into a march, and later, community festival at 81st and Vermont.
Throngs of people took to the streets and attended the festival, which was put on to mark the 25-year anniversary of the civil unrest. This time around, the elephant in the room for the South Los Angeles community is healthcare and the ability to gain access to it. Rev. Dr. Lewis E. Logan II, co-founder of the Ruach Christian Community Fellowship in Los Angeles, said the explosion of the riots was not a matter of it would happen but when.
“The uprising was only a matter of time,” Lewis said. “When you occupy a community with occupational forces like law enforcement officers who disrespect the community, it’s only a matter of time. When you have a judicial system that does not respect human life, especially African American human life, it was just a matter of time. And when you have deplorable housing no economic investment in the community, it’s only a matter of time.”
Not only was the occasion an opportunity to re-examine the Rodney King beating by four LAPD police officers and the sequence of events that preceded that infamous moment, the march and rally was also a chance for organizers to lift their voices in solidarity against a climate of storied inequity for residents living in South Los Angeles.
“We recognize that a lot of people attribute what happened in 1992, what we call the rebellion, to the acquittal of those four police officers who beat Rodney King,” Walton said. “But for us, we know that our communities have been fed up with all the injustices we’ve been living with for twenty-five plus years, and that comes from the criminalization of our communities, struggling to make ends meet, no access to healthcare, privatetization, our city officials moving a corporate agenda versus a people-centered agenda. So all these organizations are saying enough is enough. That was what the 1992 rebellion was really about. Rodney wasn’t really the offset f the rebellion, he was really the last straw that broke the camel’s back.”