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Perspectives on the L.A. riots, 20 years later

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A building damaged by fire during the 1992 Los Angeles riots

During the last month, KPCC brought together four panels of Angelenos to share their recollections of the deadly riots that began April 29, 1992 in an informal series of private conversations, led by journalists and other members of the staff.

The panelists were people from throughout the city, of different ethnicities and socioeconomic backgrounds. Many had little in common save for having been old enough 20 years ago to remember the rioting began that day, after a jury acquitted four Los Angeles police officers of savagely beating black motorist Rodney King. In the violent, confusing, smoke-filled days that followed, more than 50 people died and property damage mounted close to $1 billion as arson fires and looting spread. To this day, the riots remain a defining moment in L.A. history.


Recollections of the riots, 20 years later

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What do you call what happened in L.A. 20 years ago in April-early May, and how did you come to learn about what happened back then?

This was the question to the audience that kicked off a community town hall event on the 1992 Los Angeles riots at KPCC's Crawford Family Forum last week. It was the preamble to a long and nuanced conversation about where the city has gone since, with a panel presentation from the moderators of several KPCC focus groups addressing the riots (the results of which be shared next week on Multi-American) and the results of a survey from Loyola Marymount University, which took the temperature of race relations in L.A. twenty years later.

But it was that initial question asked of the audience by senior news editor and moderator Cheryl Devall - what we remember of those confusing days that began April 29, 1992, and how their legacy has stuck - that defined the evening.


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A month from tomorrow will mark the 20th anniversary of the 1992 Los Angeles riots, which began on April 29 that year after a jury acquitted four L.A. police officers accused of beating Rodney King, a black motorist pulled over after a pursuit. Over the next few days, parts of the city burned in arson fires as Angelenos rioted and businesses were looted. Fifty-three people died in the violence, thousands were injured, and property damage mounted close to $1 billion.

A large amount of the damage was sustained in Koreatown, one of the epicenters of the violence. As businesses went up in smoke, some Korean immigrant shop owners took up firearms. In the end, many of those who were uninsured or underinsured lost their life savings. To this day, the riots remain one of the defining events of the Korean American experience.