LA Riots – 25th Anniversary
It’s Saturday April 29th, at 10:30 a.m.; on the corner of Florence and Normandie, a big crowd of people gathered on a very hot, sunny morning. A loud crowd of families, adults, kids of all ethnicities walk together in commemoration. Exactly 25 years ago, this same corner was probably a lot quieter. But later that evening, it became the site of the LA Uprising’s spring of fury after a Simi Valley jury acquitted four Los Angeles Police Department officers, charged with assault with a deadly weapon and use of excessive force, seen in the videotaped beating of motorist Rodney King.
For the many Santa Monica College students not born before April 29, 1992, let’s go back to the situation 25 years ago. At that time, the media repeatedly circulated, for over a month, the video of officers beating and arresting King. With the existence of the video, many people did not understand the officers’ acquittal, especially amongst the black community.
People from both inside and outside the neighborhood attended Saturday’s gathering, including Mark Craig, a 48-year-old man from Monrovia, California. Twenty- five years ago, 23-year-old Craig drove all the way to LAPD headquarters, Parker Center in downtown Los Angeles, with a couple of friends. A photograph of him published on the front page of Newsweek turned him into an icon of the LA Riots. “After serving in the United States Navy and serving in war, and coming back after less than a year to see the verdict, and being treated as a second class citizen, I needed to go down and protest. African-Americans have always gone to war for this country and they have come home to be treated as second-class citizens,” said Craig. Yet he found it ironic that this location at the intersection of Florence and Normandie was also where the tragic beating of truck driver Reginald Denny took place. News channels broadcasted the almost fatal attack all throughout the city. Media helicopters filmed scenes depicting areas completely deserted by police officers.
Last week on Thursday, April 28, Santa Monica College welcomed Bart Bartholomew, the photographer who took the first photos of the enraged crowd at Florence and Normandie that day. Bartholomew’s photos made the front page of the New York Times days later. When students asked him how he got there before everyone else, Bartholomew explained that he was with the police for another case that day. He was working on a gang story about MS 13 when he heard on the radio that the Rodney King verdict would be announced in a few hours. Bartholomew called his photo desk at the New York Times and said he would not leave South Los Angeles for Simi Valley, where the trial was held. His intuition was that if the accused officers were found not guilty, chaos would strike where he was. On that day, Bartholomew got lucky on different levels; he shot the photos that made him a Pulitzer Prize nominee and survived a deadly situation while surrounded by an angry crowd. Bartholomew says he heard a voice over his shoulder warning, “We need to get you out of here.” Bartholomew never properly saw his face and only met Tim Goldman, his savior, for the first time during a reunion for the A&E documentary “L.A. Burning in 2016.”
The riots were a historical moment for both Los Angeles and the United States — the community pulled the trigger in demanding for change. When asked about the possibility of future LA riots as tensions rise all over the country due to the current political climate, Bartholomew remains optimistic, saying, “I don’t think so. Things are different now.” He believes things changed with the LAPD. Now, he believes the police train their recruits and deploys a greater variety of officers. On the other hand, Craig gives the warning, “Absolutely. It’s still possible.” Craig feels that there is still a lot of work to do for different communities to be treated equally — both in L.A. and all over the country.
At the South Los Angeles rally on Saturday, young adults and kids focused on the present and the future, while still remembering the past. Megan McClaire, a participant of Advance Project California, said, “After the uprising in 1992, there were several community-based organizations that developed as a result.” A lot of people wore T-shirts and held boards with the slogan, “South Los Angeles is the future.” A coalition of these South Los Angeles community organizations made their message clear in the event. “We are here today to celebrate the resilience that these organizations and residents have been able to maintain over the course of generations,” says McClaire. In the crowd, people danced, sang and walked towards a better future, in sharp contrast to the fury that exploded here 25 years ago.