Daily News newspaper – Analyzing the 1992 L.A. Riots

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Things have improved, but there’s still a long way to go

By Randy Jurado Ertll

LA Daily News

IF the beating of Rodney King had not been captured on video, the same brutality and insanity would probably still be a normal occurrence in L.A.’s poor areas, even today.

In the 1980s and early 1990s, countless individuals were beaten by rogue Los Angeles police officers who were influenced by then-Chief Daryl Gates. Gates liked to portray himself as a tough-as-nails, no-holds-barred cop. He was willing to use force by any means necessary against the so-called bad guys.

During that time, the LAPD’s mission became murky and blurry. Some LAPD officers who were fighting against the thugs became thugs themselves – engaging in unethical and illegal activities, under the protection of a badge. Many felt unrestrained power with the badge, baton and gun.

Many officers were seen as an occupying force who did not live in the areas that they patrolled. Racism was not subliminal but obvious.

Then the officers who savagely beat Rodney King on a traffic stop the year before were acquitted. People in South Central and Central L.A. were outraged. They were all-too familiar with such inequities and injustices.

The rage exploded in one of the most destructive riots in U.S. history.

A few of the positive outcomes of the riots were that the LAPD was forced to reform, Gates resigned as chief, and the Christopher Commission was created. The Christopher Commission came up with many proposals for reform, including revising the City Charter to make the chief of police subject to term limits.

It is also important to point out that the media chose to portray the L.A. riots as a white, black and Korean issue.

The Latino community was mostly ignored in the coverage. The main Latino spokesperson to emerge was actor Edward James Olmos, who on live television decided to take a broom and asked others to join him in cleaning up Los Angeles after the looting and out-of-control fires initiated by arsonists.

Despite Latinos’ invisibility to the media, the riots served as a wake-up call to the broader Latino community. It ignited concern largely from Central American immigrants who had quietly endured abuse by police for years. Street vendors, day laborers and youths began gathering at community meetings, telling their stories of harassment and abuse.

The fear of the LAPD was particularly pronounced among school-age teens (who were frequently profiled as gang members, even if they were just walking home from school with their friends). The fallout of the verdict meant elected officials would now have to begin hearing concerns raised in Latino neighborhoods about police misconduct. It spread to questions not only about the LAPD, but criticism of how the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department treated Latinos as well.

Also, the real underlying political and socioeconomic issues were finally addressed by political and business leaders.

Two decades later, we now have a Latino mayor, a chief of police who believes in community policing, and a City Council that actually acknowledges certain social justice issues. However, we still have a long way to go and the injustices of the past still linger.

Areas such as South L.A., Koreatown, Pico-Union/Westlake, and other high poverty communities continue to be neglected. Liquor stores and cheap motels are still commonplace in South L.A. and other poor areas. The business leaders of Los Angeles have not done enough to bridge the gap between rich and poor.

The real question going forward should be, how will future elected officials help to create real jobs and opportunities in poor, neglected areas that have not improved much since 1992? We need to hold the current mayoral candidates’ feet to the fire in regards to what they propose to do to help revitalize South L.A.

The continual challenge is to educated youths and train them in leadership positions.

Otherwise, the same vicious cycle of poverty will continue and the city’s poor areas will remain neglected, dangerous and with no real hope.

Let’s just hope and pray that real change will one day arrive. Let us not wait another 20 years.

Randy Jurado Ertll grew up in South Central Los Angeles. He is the author of the book “Hope in Times of Darkness: A Salvadoran American Experience.” Readers can find out more on his website www.randyjuradoertll.com.

Copyright ©2010 Los Angeles Newspaper Group.

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