Riots20 - History, voices, lessons of the Rodney King Riots - Off-Ramp for April 28, 2012

Sonny Kang reflects on his experience during the LA Riots

Korean Market Self Defense

Dark Sevier/Flickr

Korean Americans are standing in front of a barricaded Korean supermarket during the LA Riots.

During April of 1992, Sonny Kang, a Korean-American from Koreatown, was in his college dorm room in San Diego when he first heard about the LA Riots. He turned on his TV and saw his hometown in a chaotic state.

When he heard Koreans specifically were being targeted, he called his friend, Tim Lee, whose parents owned a dry cleaning store in South Central. Kang asked “is everything okay?” and his friend said, “they got everything.” Lee told him the store was burned to the ground, but if he wanted to help out, Radio Korea announced that they needed Koreans to come and protect the community.

Kang immediately jumped on the opportunity. He and his friends drove to downtown LA equipped with guns. They arrived at a hotel where Korean volunteers were assembling. Kang said he saw that “in the lobby, there were mostly gang members and men in their 30’s and 40’s.” And remembered “everyone running around, loading up shotguns.”

The volunteers were assigned teams to patrol Koreatown. They would listen to Radio Korea to hear distress calls from shop and business owners whose businesses were being looted. Kang and his team would go and help out in anyway they could. I asked Kang several times what exactly he and his team had to do to protect the businesses, and Kang was reluctant to answer the question.

After the riots, Kang hated everyone, “and eventually I had hatred towards Koreans. When the report came out that we needed Koreans, on the first night, there were only 40 of us.”

Over time, Kang learned to forgive others and wanted to build bridges among all communities of Los Angeles. Just last year, Kang started to volunteer at an elementary school in Watts. Kang said he wanted to volunteer because he believed if “I could go into this community in Watts, and change one person’s mind on how they view Korean Americans, then I feel like I’ve done my job.”

After reflecting on the riots, Kang believes there is still work to be done to improve the community of Los Angeles, but he feels that “we are moving forward in the right direction.”


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