In this Tuesday April 17,2012 photo a woman walks past an empty lot on Vermont Ave. between 85th St. and Manchester Ave. in South Central Los Angeles. Several large stores once occupied the lot that was looted and set afire during the riots of 1992.
Southland community leaders and residents marked yesterday’s 20th anniversary of the L.A. Riots with a number of commemorations in Los Angeles. Two South L.A. events took place: one at a church and the other in a couple of vacant lots.
As a community activist, the Rev. Al Sharpton traveled to Los Angeles shortly after the 1992 civil unrest began. On the 20th anniversary, Sharpton made that trip again to speak to a crowded morning service at First AME Church. On the first night of the L.A. Riots, city leaders met at that church to protest the police acquittals in the Rodney King beating trial.
Sharpton said L.A.’s still on the mend.
“Still have record unemployment," Sharpton told the congregation. "Still, we have a gap in the achievement and the education in our community. In many ways, some things have changed. Some things never changed.”
Members stood and applauded Sharpton several times, such as when he spoke of a need to fight injustice with activism, not violence.
“You wasn’t mad enough to register to vote. You wasn’t mad enough to support businesses in your community. You wasn’t mad enough to straighten out the schools that your little brothers and sisters was going to. You had a fit. You didn’t have a movement. You were not angry enough,” Sharpton said. "We’ve not arrived yet until the schools work, until the employment is straight, until the social conditions are right. We have not arrived yet.”
Dozens of state and local leaders listened on from the pews, including Congresswoman Karen Bass, L.A. City Controller Wendy Greuel and L.A. City Councilman Eric Garcetti. Garcetti — who wants to be mayor — visited another commemoration event later in the day.
“Twenty years later, yes, we get along better but we’ve added 800, 000 people and we’re down 166,000 jobs in the city,” Garcetti said.
Garcetti spoke at a rally in a South L.A. neighborhood hit hard by the riots. He said Los Angeles needs to get serious about attracting more businesses south of the 10 Freeway.
Carla Guerrero echoes that. She works with the grassroots nonprofit Community Coalition which organized the event.
“What we’re doing is we’re marching from one vacant lot on 81st and Vermont to a bigger vacant lot on Manchester and Vermont," said Guerroro. "So that’s the spot where President Clinton and a lot of other elected officials came and said we’re going to treat South L.A. like an emerging market. Twenty years, that lot is still sitting empty.”
Guerrero says South L.A. community members have pulled together over the years to rebuild what the riot destroyed. But she also speaks the silent message of that empty lot on Manchester and Vermont: After two decades, much more work is still needed.
“A lot of groups came together to really answer that call to action that the civil unrest raised," Guerrero adds. "That people here were living in very poor economic and social conditions. There’s a lot of police abuse. And we actually still have a lot of work to do but we’re going to do it together.”
The Community Coalition was only a year old when the L.A. Riots occurred.