LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — Thousands of people gathered Saturday to mark the 25th anniversary of the Los Angeles riots, with events including a community festival and a teach-in.
A coalition of groups came together at 11 a.m. for a rally, march and “Future Fest” community festival at Florence and Normandie avenues, ground zero for the riots that began on April 29, 1992. The event was held with the theme “South LA is the Future: A Community Vision for a healthy and just future for Los Angeles.”
Marcher Mark Craig told CBS2’s Greg Mills, “It was war that night.”
Craig had just returned from the Persian Gulf and Operation Desert Storm. He’s now a business owner.
“Come home and be able to fight for my rights was much easier,” he said, “than me being overseas and fighting for oil.”
He remembers the verdict — not guilty — in the trial of the officers accused in the beating of motorist Rodney King.
“It was a slap in the face,” he recalls.
Craig made the cover of Newsweek. “I was willing to die that night.”
Today, thousands tried to put the ugliness of that time behind them and to look forward.
The group marched to 81st Street and Vermont Avenue for the afternoon community festival.
“This march will hopefully serve as a reminder to our community of where we’ve come from but also a reminder of where we need to be going as a people,” said the Rev. K.W. Tulloss of National Action Network.
At 6 p.m., Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas and Rep. Karen Bass, D-Los Angeles, took part in a “teach-in” and vigil to mark the anniversary.
The event will include a discussion focusing on recovery efforts over the past 25 years. Ezra Edelman, producer/director of the documentary “O.J.: Made in America,” was also expected to attend.
The discussion at 1999 W. Adams Blvd. will be followed by a 7:30 p.m. candlelight vigil.
Within hours of the acquittals of the four officers 25 years ago, fires were breaking out across the city and Reginald Denny, a white truck driver, was beaten mercilessly at the corner of Florence and Normandie on live television. The LAPD was nowhere in sight, sending a message to anyone considering joining the lawlessness that it was open season and that the cops were not going to try to stop it.
More than 50 people were killed in the riots, 2,000 people were injured and more than 1,000 buildings were destroyed by fires in violence that lasted for six days and resulted in the National Guard being called in to restore order.
LAPD Chief Daryl Gates, who had led the department since 1978, stepped down a few months after the uprising and is widely viewed as the man most responsible for the mayhem, after bringing a military mentality to policing that left minority communities feeling brutalized.
Gates also was criticized for a slow response to the initial outbreak of violence and for pulling his officers from key areas where the unrest was starting, including Florence and Normandie, allowing the violence to spread.
Twenty-five years later, the carnage that was wrought in the city, and the sweeping changes to the LAPD that came after, are well-known, having been exhumed and turned over each time the calendar hits April 29.
Several other 25th anniversary events took place in other areas. They included:
— Korean Churches for Community Development hosted a 2 p.m. reception and commemorative service at Oriental Mission Church, 424 N. Western Ave. The service is expected to include 1,200 business, community and faith leaders from various ethic communities “to remember the series of injustices” that led to the riots and to “reaffirm our shared values in hopes of never letting it happen again.”
— At 11 a.m., First AME Church and the Korean Federation of Los Angeles joined forces for a unity event. The event will be held at the First AME Church Allen House Gardents, 2249 S. Harvard Blvd.
— At noon, Lynwood Union Gallery, 3780 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., will present an exhibit titled “L.A. Riots: Lynwood. The Riots Changed A Lot of Communities. This is OUR Story.” The event will include the premiere screening of a documentary titled “We Used to Go to Clark’s Drugs: Lynwood During the L.A. Riots,” featuring interviews with residents, community leaders and business owners.
“We have new generations growing up not knowing about the 1992 L.A. riots, and why they happened, let along how they affected Lynwood,” said Rowland Becerra, chair of the gallery’s board of directors. “It’s important to remember, not to judge, but to shed light on a piece of ouru history that changed our community forever.”
Mills talked to Rodney King’s daughter Lora Dene King, and asked if she thought the officers would have also walked today. She was 8-years-old during the riots.
“It probably would have played out the same way it did,” she said, “and we probably would have had the same thing.”
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