Teaching to avoid riots

This article was produced for Watts Revisited, a multimedia project launched by the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism that explores challenges facing South L.A. as we commemorate the 50th anniversary of the 1965 Watts Riots. Learn more at www.wattsrevisited.com.

Jay Davis stands in front of his class at Augustus Hawkins High School. | Photo by Anna-Cat Brigida

Jay Davis stands in front of his class at Augustus Hawkins High School. | Photo by Anna-Cat Brigida

When Jay Davis talks to his students about the 1965 riots, which broke out all around his South L.A. campus, he wants to make sure it is not just a history lesson. Instead, he pushes his students to use the images to talk about the history, understand the factors that provoked rioting and decide what role they would play in history. [Read more…]

Cecil Murray, South LA’s civic leader and spiritual guide

The respected pastor who helped put out fires of the 1992 riots now fosters religious dialogue at USC.

Cecil Murray

Cecil Murray gets settled in his USC office. | Jordyn Holman

Since late November, residents from South Los Angeles have been peacefully protesting courthouse decisions to not indict police officers in Missouri and New York who killed two young unarmed Black men in the line of duty.

For Rev. Dr. Cecil Murray, the former pastor of South L.A.’s First African Methodist Episcopal Church, the demonstrations in memory of Michael Brown and Eric Garner bring to mind L.A. protests of days gone by in that they aimed to shed light on the disconnect between police officers and the people they serve.

[Read more…]

OpEd: The Accidental Hero - Remembering Rodney King

By Jasmyne A. Cannick

Rodney King’s sudden death on Sunday caught us all by surprise. After embarking on a media tour to promote his new autobiography “The Riot Within” that was released to coincide with the 20th anniversary of the 1992 Civil Unrest, King had once again become a part of our lives as we all reflected back on where we were on April 29, 1992.

While we know that King wasn’t the first Black man to be beaten at the hands of the Los Angeles Police Department, the fact that it was caught on videotape – at a time when cellphones didn’t come equipped with cameras and video capability—forced America to deal with something that Black people for generations were facing everyday.

A struggling alcoholic who had numerous brushes with the law before and after the March 3, 1991 beating, King, like many others involved in the incidents that led up to Florence and Normandie, became an accidental “hood” hero.

And just like the L.A. Four+ involved in the beating of white trucker Reginald Denny that lit the fuse for 1992’s rebellion, King, wasn’t looking for the spotlight. In fact, on more than one occasion he said that he didn’t want it and didn’t deserve it.

But there was nothing he could do. That train had long left the tracks the moment that George Holliday sold that video to KTLA for $500 and they aired it.

For everyday people who aren’t looking for their next opportunity to be on television or in the news media, the amount of pressure of being suddenly thrown into the limelight brings can be intense. It means never being alone, and being recognized everywhere you go. For those who make a living chasing TV news trucks in the way that some lawyers chaseambulances, it’s almost a dream come true. But for people like King, it was a nightmare having to relive what was probably the worst day of his live over and over again every time some recognized him.

It’s for that reason that I thank Rodney King. He didn’t have to make his life an open book. He could have easily followed in the footsteps of people like Reginald Denny, George Holliday, and the four cops who beat him almost lifeless and just disappeared off of the face of the Earth – but he didn’t. King allowed his private life to be fodder for conservative radio jocks – but more importantly, even after the money was long gone, he continued to honorably serve as the face of police brutality for a community of people who needed him to do so – whether they realized it or not.

While Rodney King’s beating wasn’t the cause of the 1992 rebellion, it certainly played its role just like then L.A.P.D. police chief Daryl Gates, the killing of Latasha Harlin by Korean-American store owner Soon Ja Du, the acquittals of the officers involved in beating King, Reginald Denny and the L.A. Four+ – Anthony Brown, Lance Parker, Antoine Miller, Gary Williams, Henry Watson, and Damian Williams. Those were all people who had no idea that their lives would crash and intertwine in the way they did forever becoming an indelible part of Black Los Angeles’ history.

And while some would have you believe that George Holliday and Reginald Denny are the real hero and victims of 1992 – they are wrong. The real heroes were the people like King because the reality is had he not been beaten senseless that night, George Holliday wouldn’t have had a video to sell for $500, and add to that the L.A. Four+ who, like thousands of other people in South Los Angeles at the time, expressed the rage and frustration of being Black under tyranny and just happened to be caught.

For me King’s legacy wasn’t “Can we all get along?” Because for me, the short answer to that question is no. It was no in 1992 and it is still the same in 2012 and will remain so until we as Blacks are no longer suffering from the effects of slavery and centuries of institutional racism.

At 34, reflecting back to 1991 and 1992, I would offer that King’s legacy is a simple one. For every Black man and woman in Los Angeles who has ever been pulled over for driving while Black since March 3, 1991, a debt of gratitude is owed to Rodney King for the beating they didn’t get. Whether he knew it or not, King helped to shape the changes made in the LAPD. as it relates police brutality and while the LAPD isn’t perfect, today it’s definitely not Parker’s or Gate’sLAPD and for that we can thank Rodney King. Thank you.

Author Jasmyne Cannick

Jasmyne A. Cannick is a political communications strategist after having worked in both the U.S. House of Representatives and the California State Legislature. She is also a radio and television politics, race, and culture critic. Follow her on Twitter @jasmyne and on Facebook at /jasmyne.

South LA pays tribute to Rodney King

Radio hosts Carl Nelson and Dominique DiPrima posed with Rodney King on Monday, April 30, 2012. (Photo courtesy of KJLH-FM)

Twenty years after the LA riots, Rodney King published a book telling his story: “The Riot Within: My Journey from Rebellion to Redemption.”

He had been doing media rounds in April. He spoke about being a victim of one of the most brutal police beatings ever caught on video, the acquittal of the officers that led to the eruption of violence in Los Angeles and his struggles in dealing with the aftermath.

Just two months later, he was found dead – apparently drowned – in the pool of his Rialto home.

This morning, KJLA’s “Front Page” dedicated its morning show to remembering King.

And tonight, a community tirubute will be held in Leimert Park to honor the man who became a symbol for needed change in the Los Angeles Police Department and its treatment of minorities in South LA.

You can read about his conversation with KPCC’s Patt Morrison during a panel held on Saturday, April 21 during the LA Times Festival of Books here.

Please visit our special 20th riot anniversary site, www.southla2012.com, for more coverage on the event that changed the history of Los Angeles.

Manual Arts students write about the riots

This is a collection of writings by ninth graders in Mark Gomez’ geography class at Manual Arts High School about the Los Angeles riots then and now. They wrote their essays using the five themes of geography with help from USC mentor Adriana Chavez-Lopez

No, the LA RIOTS was not cause of the beating of Rodney King. Rodney King was another issue but it was a little about it ’cause the black community got mad ’cause the judge saw the video and still had the guts to say that the four police man were innocent. And they got the black people more mad then what they were already.
Jocelyn Macias

What We Learn About Push Factors And The L.A. Riots
What we learn about the L.A. riots is that in 1965 five days before Watts exploded the Voting Rights Act had been signed into law. In 1992 the concerns are that sight of blacks destroying their own community. That the riots were like black gangs and that they were like destroying there[sic] own society and not thinking of their members.

What Push Factors Drive Emigration Means
Political Push Factors: War is one of many political factors that can create refugees. Well the people refugees may flee a country, because of the fear they had and its leaders.
Environmental Push Factors: In the 1840s, a devastating plant disease struck Ireland. In Ireland a fungus destroyed most of the important crops of potato and the potatoes were the main food in Ireland so they couldn’t have been destroyed.

Economic Push Factors: Most of the early immigrants to the United States were poor farmers or working people. People go to other communities for better jobs.
Raul Gonzalez

One thing I learned about the beating of Rodney King was that in 1992 there was a lot of police brutality. The LA riots were also about how whites were favored over blacks. This was proved when the cops beat Rodney King for 81 seconds on videotape and got away with it. This makes me ask why did the jury say that the cops that beat Rodney King were innocent. I am frustrated with police getting away with things today. For example, even now there are some police officers that will pull you over because of your skin color.
Jessi Rodriguez

Reading the “1992 L.A. in flames after ‘not guilty’ verdict” article, I learned how the L.A. riots began. Also, I learned about the issue of Rodney King refusing to get arrested and supposedly getting aggressive causing Rodney to be beaten by the police. This in fact was not true. The policemen were not found guilty therefore caused the riots to begin. But the beating of Rodney King was not the only reason why the L.A. riots began. Blacks were tired of being mistreated and not being allowed to go to places they would like to go, it was unfair. Whites knew Blacks were desperate for money and they took advantage but the Blacks couldn’t do much.

People wanted to put a stop to it, which led to the L.A. riots. People dragged motorists from their cars and beat them, cars were overturned and set on fire, and some people even took revenge against White and Asians. According to BBC news “at least 5 people were shot dead. About 2,000 were injured with a further 12,000 arrested.” Damages cost $1b to repair. Some people believed that people did this just to have new buildings but [in] reality they just wanted to be heard. A year later the police faced a second trial. Only the jury found two guilty, whose name were Stacey Koon and Laurence Powell. The point of this article was how people in South Central were tired of being unheard and mistreated. Some questions that I have that were not answer are: During the riots, how did Rodney King feel knowing part of why the L.A. riots happened was because of the beating? What could of happened if the police man were still not found guilty? This article reminds me of many issues, for example Martin Luther King. He and his family was also beaten and almost killed.

But he still fought for a change. Now we honor him on January 21. Martin Luther King went through many obstacles but yet he still achieved his goal, which was making change. I believe the L.A. riots were a good thing after all, even if people died.
Lisette Carranza

In my geography class we are talking about the LA Riots. Before reading the article about Rodney King, I didn’t know anything about the riots. I learned that policemen could be cruel and not always nice. The police had power over Rodney King and they abused it, so therefore he and the entire black community didn’t have the power to overcome the police. A question I have after reading about the riots is did one person start the riots or did a group of people start it?

The LA Riots were not only about beating Rodney King but also the whole Black community. If you were Black in 1992 and if you were somewhere at the wrong time or wrong place the same thing would have happened to you. I feel like I can relate to Rodney King because one of my family members passed through a similar situation. My uncle was stopped at a checkpoint and the cop stopped him because he looked dark. They took him to the police station and took his things so once he got deported the police station never gave him his cell phone or money. After reading about the riots knowing how cops beat Black people in 1992 and how my uncle was treated recently, I realized how in over 20 years there still hasn’t been a lot of change in racism.

Miriam Toledo

In my Geography class we have been learning a lot of new things. A few weeks ago we started to talk about the LA Riots. The LA Riots relate to Geography because in they wouldn’t give money to the rioters and that relates to Geography because of the 4 Worlds. What I recently learned was that over 2,000 people were injured in the LA Riots and 12,000 were arrested. Before learning this I didn’t know that Rodney King was NOT the MAIN reason for the LA Riots. He just maid[sic] black people say enough is enough. Some people may favor blacks and some may favor whites but more people favor the LAPD. In the Riots why were blacks beating Asians? When I heard about it, it reminded me of a few things like when people call Immigrants “Aliens” and insult them because they know they won’t fight back because they are scared. It also reminded me of the Civil War because they are treated differently because of their color “Discrimination.” I can relate to this because the LAPD are racist and they give people tickets and arrest them for their race. The problem has changed since the LA Riots but not completely gone away.
Belen Garcia

I learned that Watts exploded because the Voting Rights Act was signed into law, clearing away barriers for blacks to vote. This is related to the Voting Acts Right because it’s all about how blacks should have their own rights of voting. They were really happy because they had their chance of having voting rights. In a country that is about freedom why did blacks have to fight for theirs? This is really a lot like in EL Salvador where people always have to fight the government for their right. Another thing is that the people in El Salvador have too many problems with the government of getting their rights. Here in the United States is almost the same thing because its hard to get your rights especially for Latinos, sometimes Blacks, and other kinds of races. I wish that all those people that don’t have any rights they should get an opportunity of having some rights. Another thing is that about the people that cross that border and want an opportunity of having a job and helping their family and trying to be a citizen of this country. People all over the world think that they should come here because they think this is a country of jobs.

Isaac Castro

What I have learned from the Riots was how Rodney King’s beating was one of the causes for the riots. He wasn’t the main cause but a small portion. I didn’t really know anything about Rodney King and how he was beaten by four cops nor about the riots. This was really all new to me! But after I read the article and talked about it I learned a lot about him and how the LA Riots started. He was like the person who made the people lose control. In the end I think this is favoring the African Americans because those cops were punished for violating Rodney King’s civil rights! This favored the African Americans because they got the justice they fought for through all that violence they had to go through. One of the questions I had that wasn’t really answered was, “What happened to the four police officers that beat Rodney King after they served their punishment?” I would like to know what happened to them after all that happened. Did they live a normal life? Or a harsh one? This issue reminds me of how police authorities always believe the white person over the colored one. How could those four cops not be guilty — they have the beating of Rodney King on video! It was an all-white jury; it wasn’t really fair for Rodney King! One example is if a white person gets into trouble with a colored person, the police would most likely believe the white person! That’s what I learned about the Riots And Rodney King and his beating.
Nerry Amaya

I learned that the L.A. Riots started because of the beating of Rodney King, but it wasn’t the only cause. Four police officers were found guilty for beating Rodney King. A crowd of people started to burn shops and cars were turned over and set on fire. The Riot wasn’t only about police beating Rodney King, it was also about police brutality. People didn’t think that police brutality was fair. I think that police brutality isn’t fair and it needs to stop. Police need to start acting in a better way. I wonder why do police act so brutally. Is it because of peoples’ skin color or the way they look? Why did the police beat Rodney King? Why do police think their the shit only because they have a gun. Like what the hell is wrong with them? They should respect others too because they don’t like when people disrespect them. I think that the Rodney King case wasn’t fair because the judge was white and the police officers were too. The judge is racist because Rodney King was black and the four police officers where white so he didn’t think that the officers were guilty, people didn’t think that it was fair.
Ana Hernandez

I recently learned about the Rodney King beating and the not guilty verdict by the police who beat him. The Black people in the community reacted to that verdict because they found the judge’s verdict completely unfair and racist since the cops were White. A question I have is why did this whole Rodney King verdict have to occur. For the Whites and law to see how all of the police brutality and racism was affecting so many people in the community. I’ve seen people resist arrest before and Rodney King did not resist, the police began beating him while he couldn’t do anything and I’ve seen police beat at people like that and sometimes it isn’t fair because it could be five cops against one person, and that’s like what happened to Rodney King. Police can be rude sometimes, I’ve seen them be rude to my uncle once and they almost arrested him in our own house, they wanted him to come out of the house to talk but we all knew if he got out the property the cops would get him, for doing absolutely nothing. And since my uncle looks like a gang member, I believe the cops were discriminating him. The LA Riots did not only happen because of King, he was one of the reasons, but people just got tired of being mistreated and being judged for years and the police “not guilty” verdict finally made them react to the years of racism, beatings and unfairness, which is how the LA Riots occurred.
Carolina Silva

In 1992: LA in flames after ‘not guilty’ verdict article I learned that police officers were discriminating against other races that are not white, especially the blacks. What was significant about this article was that other law enforcements were concerned with what was going on and were disappointed in the LA police force especially on their behavior. This article favors the people with power and control over lesser people. The Rodney King verdict was unfair to many that thought those police officers should go to jail and pay for their hate crime against King. Though afterwards,” the four acquitted police officers had a second trial a year later on the federal charges of violating Rodney King’s civil rights.” Stacey Koon and Laurence Powell were found guilty and each had to serve two years in prison. That verdict seemed fair enough, even though there were more than two officers beating King.
Diana Renoj

The LA Riots
Recently in my Geography class we have been studying the LA Riots. We have been trying to figure out if things have changed since the LA Riots. We read about the Rodney King incident, we read about how Rodney King was beaten and how the police officers that did the beating were found innocent in the first trial. Something that I didn’t know was that in the second [trial] only the officers Stacey Koon and Laurence Powell [were tried]. The other two officers were Timothy Wind and Theodore Briseno. I think the jury that had to do with the Rodney King trial was being unfair. They were being unfair because I think that they were being biased because they knew that the police were guilty but since they are the law enforcement they didn’t have to deal the consequences of their actions. Rodney King wasn’t the main reason why the LA Riots happened. I think that it was just one of the few reasons why the LA Riots happened. I think the LA Riots happened because people were tired of being mistreated because of the color of their skin. If everybody would be treated the same then the LA Riots would of never happened. I think the police officers were a big factor to the LA Riots I think this because the people who were being the most unfair were the police. I think that law enforcement today is still unfair. I think that some police officers are racist. For example, one time the police stopped my brother-in-law for no reason. I think they stopped him because he was black and he had west coast tattooed on his arms. The police had no reason to stop him; they were just being racist.
Casandra Gutierrez

After reading about the Rodney King matter I learned that police were very cruel and thought that they can do whatever they desired just because they were the authority. I feel like most people are in favor of Rodney King because he was brutally beaten for no reason at all. One of the questions I had was “Why would our country leaders allow such brutality towards people of color?” This issue reminded me of the racist policemen of today, and how they mistreat people, mostly people of color. The Rodney King issue really made me think about how the jury in the Rodney King trial could even think that the four policemen were not guilty after they beat an innocent man. The most ridiculous thing about the Rodney King trial was that the jury was all white, not a single person of color. The reason why the L.A. Riots occurred is that people were tired of all the racism going on towards them, and the Rodney King beating was the straw that broke the camels back. I can relate to this because I’m the type of person that will not tolerate any disrespect towards me or the people I care about
Karla Ayala

Rodney King promoting book

Radio hosts Carl Nelson and Dominique DiPrima pose with Rodney King on Monday, April 30, 2012. (Photo courtesy of KJLH-FM)

Rodney King today did an early morning visit to KJLH-FM’s “The Front Page” show with Dominique DiPrima and Carl Nelson.

During the show, which airs Monday through Friday from 4:30 a.m. to 6 a.m. on Radio Free 102.3 FM, he spoke about forgiveness and moving on in his life.

King took the opportunity to promote his book “The Riot Within: My Journey From Rebellion To Redemption.” He has been doing media interviews for the past several weeks talking about his life since a video camera captured the brutal beating four police officers inflicted on him more than 20 years ago.

You can read about his conversation with KPCC’s Patt Morrison during a panel held on Saturday, April 21 during the LA Times Festival of Books here.

King will be in Leimert Park tonight at 7 pm for a book signing at Eso Won Bookstore, located at 4327 Degnan Avenue.

Please visit our special 20th riot anniversary site, www.southla2012.com, for more coverage on the event that changed the history of Los Angeles.

South Los Angeles residents remember 1992 riots

On April 29, 1992, Los Angeles erupted in violence following the announcement that white police officers involved in the beating of black motorist Rodney King were acquitted of charges of assault and use of excessive force. For six straight days, looting, violence, arson and death wracked urban Los Angeles as racial, cultural, and social tensions reached a peak.

Gladys Castaneda

Shopping malls and residences directly across the street from the University of Southern California’s campus went up in flames from the rioting. Gladys Castaneda has served at USC’s University Club for more than 27 years. She was in the neighborhood when the riots began in April 1992. Listen to her memories of that tumultuous time in an interview with Annenberg Radio News host Sarah Erickson.

Duane Earl

Duane Earl and his brother are the owners of Earlz Grill in South Los Angeles. The brothers started with a hot dog stand and were getting ready to open their first brick and mortar restaurant. Duane talks about the Grill’s first location when the riots hit. Rebecca Shoenkopf of Annenberg Radio News interviews.



Sika owns the store in Leimert Park. He tells the story of protecting his store Sika, which sells jeweler and African clothing and imports. Here he tells his story of how he kept his store safe with a little help from the neighbors.


Sandi Beamon

Sandi Beamon had a new born in 1992. The riots made her see her community in a different light.


Larry Weintraub

Larry Weintraub is one of the owners of Randy’s Donuts. The riots didn’t cross to the west side of the 405, but Weintraub was bombarded with something else – police officers.


Julius Dorsey

Julius Dorsey is the director of transportation for Watts Health Center. The riots didn’t stop him from doing his job.


Marcus Anderson

Marcus Anderson worked next door to a Korean liquor store that burned down – but not from what you would expect.


Jeffery Walls

Jeffery Walls remembers exactly where he was when the riots started.


Richard Speed, Jr.

Richard Speed Sr. lived in South Central in 1992. As he sees it, the riots were misdirected.

Community reflects on Rodney King beating 20 years later

Listen to an audio story from Annenberg Radio News:


imageYou can’t hear much on the video tape. But the pictures of a man on the ground beaten by a crowd of police officers startled the nation. His name was Rodney King – a name that would become synonymous with Los Angeles Police Department brutality.

“When I watched the beating, it was a severe one. With a number of officers it just kept going on and on,” said Paul Skolnick, who worked as an assignment editor at KNBC at the time of the beating. His station was one of many that played the video shot by bystander George Holliday.

“The Rodney King beating brought to the forefront something that people knew about but seldom discussed and that was how people were treated by law enforcement and really in all city services,” Holliday added. “Moving on took quite some time. We still think about those incidents.”

For many African American residents, scenes of the beating touched a raw nerve.

Daphne Bradford, a teacher in South Los Angeles, said it reminded her of the civil rights era.

“They put the dogs on you and you were fighting for your rights,” Bradford said. “And you see this happening during your time and you’re like, really?”

Four white officers were tried in the beating of King, when they were acquitted in April of 1992. South Los Angeles and other parts of the city erupted in violence.

Bradford remembers that at the time she was heading home from a heated community meeting at First AME church.

“The one thing I remember and that I will never forget that when I drove I had to drive through the fire, the smoke and all that stuff,” Bradford said. “I was just hoping that the tires on my car didn’t melt. Because it felt like hell on earth. I was just praying all the way home that nobody shot my windows out, that nobody killed me, that my tires didn’t melt. That I could just make it.”

After she made it through a fire that was like an inferno, she knew she would make it through the rest of the riots.

The riots are painful memories for many Korean Americans as well.

Ae Kyung Kang was living in Gardena. The family had an auto parts business. When the riots broke out her husband wanted to get a gun, but Kang didn’t want him involved in the violence. The trauma of having her business looted and eventually closed is still fresh.

“We lost everything,” Kang said. “At the riots—many businesses is broke and they close out. After that our business is closed. Closed.”

Kang faults the police for not intervening: “They did nothing. Just chewing the gum and they laughing. And just watching.”

Civil rights activist Earl Ofari Hutchinson explains why Korean American store owners became targets in the riots.

“There was a feeling that they were disrespectful, that they were just in the community to make money,” Hutchinson said. “They wouldn’t hire you. That they weren’t part of the community – so they were easy and soft targets.”

Kang’s family went back to Korea and lived there for many years. They eventually returned to the United States and now own a dry cleaning business in Torrance.

Ethnic tensions and poverty, some of the things that led to the riots, still persist – but Police Chief Charlie Beck talked about what’s changed in the police department.

“Inargulably we are a much better police department in the intervening twenty years,” Beck said.

Beck said the L.A.P.D has an approval rating of 83 percent. In 1992, there were 90,000 violent crimes; last year, only 20,000.

The police department has changed as well. The police chief has term limits and serves at the pleasure of the mayor.

Jasmyne Cannick is a communications strategist in West Adams. She noticed changes in the L.A.P.D.

“We see a lot more black officers in leadership, a lot more black female officers on the street,” Cannick said.

Technology has changed things too, she added.

“I think people, especially officers are a lot more careful with what they do in public because everyone has a phone,” Cannick said. “Sixth graders walk around with phones; senior citizens walk around with video on their phones.”

Bradford still sees the history of the riots when she drives around South L.A.

“When you see a building that’s vacant, or just a lot there,” Bradford said. “You kind of think, I wonder if that’s still from 1992 when they burned it.”

What do you remember of the Rodney King beating and the 1992 riots? We want to hear from you.