Photojournalist Recalls the LA Riots at SMC

It was the 25th anniversary of the Los Angeles Riots that brought accomplished photojournalist Bart Bartholomew to SMC on Thursday, April 27. He covered the riots as they developed in South Central LA in 1992.

Bartholomew tells his young audience, most of whom were not yet born before the riots, that he was initially in South Central to investigate MS-13, a notoriously violent street gang.

“At [that] time 25 years ago, they [MS-13] were a Salvadorian gang that was making in-roads into the drug trade in Los Angeles… The FBI particularly wanted a story in a national publication that showed MS-13 was in Los Angeles. Graffiti was going to be the easy way to do that. That just put me in South Central and on the radio in the squad car comes this announcement that judge Stanley Weisberg is going to announce the verdicts in the Rodney King beating trial,” Bartholomew said.

Later at the 77th division Police Headquarters in South Central, Bartholomew was denied a ride-along. The Lieutenant on duty told him he had enough to be responsible for that day and that he didn’t want to be responsible for Bartholomew. He was on his own.

Outside the police headquarters, buried in the wheel well of his car, was a bulletproof vest he had from the 1984 Olympics. Bartholomew put it on and while he did, he heard a voice from over his shoulder that told him that was a good idea. Squinting into the sun, he could only make out his silhouette but the same officer was setting up a sniper rifle up on the roof.

After taking blow after blow to his kidneys and a rock to his jaw after the riots kicked off, it was the bulletproof vest and the guidance of retired military pilot Tim Goldman that Bartholomew credits for his survival.

Joining Bartholomew in the speaker series were faculty members Timothy Dong, who lived in South Central in 1992, and Gerard Burkhart, who was an intern for the LA Times that same year.

Dong recalled his mother yelling at him to get away from the windows as his eyes were glued to an armored police vehicle rolling down his neighborhood street at the height of the rioting.

Burkhart recounted following the columns of smoke to Koreatown where he documented the looting of local businesses.

Also present at Thursday’s event was Dr. Sang Chi, who interviewed Korean community and gang member for his documentary, “Sa-I-Gu Korean America & Faces of L.A. Riots,” which will be screening on May 25th at Santa Monica College.