The collective trauma of the Los Angeles riots

This morning on “AirTalk,” we spoke with contributors to our Public Insight Journalism program about the riots 20 years later. We’ve been hearing a lot from academics and civic leaders, each of whom has an institutional reason for why the city exploded and why rioters and looters behaved as they did. However, I wanted to hear from folks who could offer a more personal way to talk about the toll of the rioting.

What has seemed missing to me in the anniversary coverage is the pain, shame, and embarrassment over our city behaving in the way that it did.The civic institutional and academic narrative has been that the riots were an inevitable outgrowth of a militaristic LAPD and a lack of justice from criminal courts. There’s no doubt that public anger erupted over the acquittals in the Rodney King beating trial, and that it epitomized, for many, the perception that police officers didn’t have to be accountable for their actions. However, there’s also an important group dynamic that came into play.

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