Rep. Karen Bass remembers the tragedy unfolding at Florence and Normandie avenues on April 29, 1992, shortly after a Simi Valley jury acquitted four Los Angeles police officers of charges in the videotaped beating of Rodney King.
She drove by the intersection — 20 years ago today — and saw the worst rioting in the nation's history beginning. Trucker Reginald Denny was jerked out of a big rig and permanently disabled by a blow to the head with a cinder block.
Bass (D-Los Angeles) said she felt "an overwhelming sense of grief that the many years of economic distress and racial tensions in South L.A. resulted in such negativity."
Despite the horror of those three days in which more than 50 people died, 2,383 were hospitalized and 600 fires damaged or destroyed more than 1,100 buildings, things have changed for the better since, she said.
"I can confidently say that a number of positive outcomes did results, including the emergence of several social justice organizations with multicultural membership working together to rectify conditions in the community," she said. "There is no doubt that progress is still needed, but with an ethnic rainbow of dedicated leaders in the community, I am sure South L.A. will continue to improve."
As the Southland marks the 20th anniversary of the riots that locked streets in fear and sent smoke billowing into the skies for three days, there is a push to highlight progress made in race relations, policing and civil rights over the past two decades.
This afternoon, officials from a variety of groups, including the Anti-Defamation League, Los Angeles Urban League, Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Korean American Coalition and Los Angeles Police Department, plan to formally release a "Statement of Unity," which includes condemnations of bigotry and hate crimes and pledges to support concepts of community policing and pride in community diversity.
Authors of the document say that while the concepts are broad, they are important statements about how the community and race relations have evolved.
"As we commemorate one of the most divisive times in our city's history, it is of utmost importance to unite against hatred and express our commitment to our work together to create a harmonious community," said Amanda Susskind, director of the ADL Pacific Southwest Region.
A series of events have been held over the past week as the anniversary of the riots approached, most with a focus on the evolution of race relations and the rebuilding of communities that has ensued.
"The civil unrest was a watershed moment for community activists," said Marqueece Harris-Dawson, president and CEO of Community Coalition, a South Los Angeles-based nonprofit created two years before the riots broke out. "The riots called attention to the issues of economic inequality and police abuse that our community confronted on a day-to-day basis."
The coalition will hold a community fair and rally themed "South L.A. Rises" on Vermont Avenue to not only mark the anniversary of the riots, but to raise awareness of vacant lots that remain in South Los Angeles and the work that still needs to be done to complete the rebuilding of the area.
"Even though we've made much progress in the past two decades, we know we still have more to do," Harris-Dawson said. "That's why we're taking the time to reflect during this weekend of commemoration and plan a vision for a brighter future."