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Twenty-five years ago, a jury acquitted four white police officers in the beating of black motorist Rodney King, sparking looting and violence that would turn into one of the deadliest race riots in American history.
On Saturday, hundreds of people marked the anniversary with marches advocating peace and hope.
A “Future Fest” began at Florence and Normandie avenues — the South Los Angeles intersection where rioting erupted in 1992 — and was followed by a community festival.
Organizer Eric Ares, 34, is a lifelong resident of the area. He remembers the electricity going out in his house at the start of the rioting, leaving his family essentially cut off from the outside world without lights or a TV.
“For the next couple of nights, there was this fear going on,” he said. “We were huddled up in the living room.”
When he did venture outside, Ares saw plumes of smoke coming from places where buildings had been torched. But a small restaurant on the corner, a liquor store and other local businesses were untouched, he said.
People had a “real feeling of anger and frustration,” but it was mainly directed at police, politicians and businesses they believed oppressed, neglected or exploited them said Ares.
Graffiti on walls warned: “No justice, no peace,” he said.
“I remember being at the park on the third day, people screaming: ‘We’re not gonna let them do it to us anymore,’ ” said Ares.
But while the march and festival mark the events of a quarter-century ago, the commemoration also looked to a future where community organizations are working to deal with problems still confronting South L.A., said Ares.
“There’s still extreme poverty. There’s still issues of law enforcement … education and health care and access to good jobs,” he said. “But the difference is, we have a plan.”
About 5 miles north of the intersection, a peace parade was held in the Koreatown neighborhood, where tensions between black residents and Korean-American immigrant storekeepers had led to markets, shops and gas stations being looted or burned. At the time, some merchants stood guard with guns to protect their stores.
In the wake of the riots, community groups reached out and tried to mend fences.
On Saturday, several hundred people marched in an enthusiastic show of unity that included Korean drummers in traditional costume, a South Los Angeles drum line, tae kwon do students and schoolchildren from Watts.
K. Choi, 73, of Arcadia, was among the marchers. He helped organize the original peace march days after the rioting and said he believed racial relations had vastly improved.
“At that time, it was different,” he said. “The politics and the social problems, whatever, all comingled together, and then things exploded.”
“But now is a very different situation,” he said. “All those relationships are getting better between [the] Korean and black community, including [the] Spanish community. … We’re getting along very good, and I hope we’re getting a better future.”
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