L.A. Marks 25th Anniversary of 1992 Riots With Diverse Events

LA 92 Still - Publicity - Embed - H 2017
Courtesy of National Geographic

With panel discussions on art and race, a march at Florence and Normandie, and a Memorial at Oriental Mission Church, the city looks back on one of its darkest hours.

For anyone living in Los Angeles in 1992, the outrage over the verdict in the Rodney King beating was understandable. For some, the rioting that followed was a shock to the system, for others it was a long time coming. The world had seen the videotape of King on the ground being savagely beaten by police, and wondered how a jury could acquit three officers, Sgt. Stacey Koon, Theodore Briseno and Timothy Wind, and fail to reach a decision on a fourth, Laurence Powell.

For many in the African-American community, this outcome confirmed what they already knew about a justice system that was more just for some than others. Demographic shifts after the 1965 passage of the Hart-Celler Immigration Act brought an influx of Asian and Latino groups that portions of the city were still reckoning with 20 years later. 

For six days in April 1992, blocks burned, the air smelled like fire, and gunshots and sirens were the soundtrack to a chaos that left 55 dead, more than 2,000 injured, and created $1 billion in property damage. Now, as the 25th anniversary of the events approaches, the questions that remain to this day about race and justice in L.A. will be addressed by a wide variety panel discussions, marches in the streets, and, of course, movie screenings taking place through the weekend.

Re-imagine Justice is an art and installation show at Community Coalition that chronicles the history of South L.A. from the period leading up to the event and its immediate aftermath, through April 29.

Documenting the L.A. Riots – 25th Anniversary is a discussion with award-winning photographer Bart Bartholomew who will recall his experience at Florence and Normandie on the day of the event. Providing perspective will be Media Studies Professor Tim Conley and History Professor Sang Chi at Santa Monica College, April 27.

Forward LA: Race, Arts, and Inclusive Placemaking after the 1992 Civil Unrest brings together activists, artists, community members and academics in a series of panel discussions on topics like demographic shifts, how art engages local communities, food equity, diversity in cinema, and the future of Los Angeles. April 27-28.

Future Fest is a public rally and march open to all at the infamous intersection of Florence and Normandie, where trucker Reginald Denny was savagely beaten. Planners expect a "mass mobilization" themed "The Future of L.A. is in South L.A.," including musical guests like Al Jackson, DJ Phatrick and a drum invocation, from 11 a.m., April 29.

SAIGU is the Korean word for the event, but it is also an anagram for the "Serve, Advocate, Inspire, Give, Unite" campaign whose various community outreach events in recent weeks culminate at Oriental Mission Church with a gathering of politicos, celebrities, police, community and business leaders, and of course music along with an estimated 1,200 attendees on April 29.

It comes as little surprise that a city like Los Angeles has produced at least six documentaries on the subject, most of which have already premiered, with some still available for streaming:

Let It Fall: Los Angeles 1982-1992, from Oscar-winner John Ridley, engages multiple perspectives on the event, from law enforcement and government to people from white, Latino, African-Americana and Asian-American communities. It airs April 28 and screens at Laemmle's Music Hall today and tomorrow.

L.A. Burning: The Riots 25 Years Later, produced by John Singleton — who was fresh off the success of his breakthrough movie, Boyz 'n the Hood, at the time of the event — features interviews with first responders as well as Edward James Olmos. It aired on A&E April 18.

L.A. 92, by Dan Lindsay and T. J. Martin, gives audiences footage and radio transmissions only, without narrator or interviews, presenting a multifaceted mosaic of the chaos. It opens Friday at Laemmle Noho and premieres April 30 on Nat Geo.

Burn, Motherf**ker Burn! is director Sacha Jenkins’ examination of one of the event's root causes — the fraught relationship between LAPD and the city's African-American community. It premiered on Showtime April 21.

L.A. Riots: 25 Years Later, by filmmakers Jenna Rosher and Mark Ford, looks at racial injustice in the city leading up to the event through the eyes of people on all sides of the issues. It aired on History April 23.

The Lost Tapes: L.A. Riots, by producers David Royle, Charles Poe and John Cavanagh, views the event entirely through archival materials, including newly released dispatches from the Fire Department asking for backup while being targeted by gunmen. It premiered on Smithsonian Channel April 23.