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.

A South Los Angeles favorite starts from scratch

Listen to the audio story here:


Twenty-five years ago, Duane Earle was a teenage boy who wanted to be a rapper. He did some good work; he had a hit helping out on Ice Cube’s “Wicked.”

Now, he works six days a week at Earle’z Grille at Exposition and Crenshaw boulevards. Lining the walls are advertisements for local businesses, as you would see on a subway. There is a flat-screen television tuned to the game, and there are really nice women manning the register. These women serve cobblers, miniature sweet potato pies and cold drinks. Behind them, customers can wave at Earle and his fellow cooks, who are joking around and greeting at least half the customers by name.

“I know guys who went to jail, and they come out and say, ‘Oh my god, Earle, I remember when you had a hot dog cart, and now look at this place, it’s incredible!'” Earle said. “And they shed tears, I wouldn’t even lie.”

Earle and his brother started the South Los Angeles favorite in 1992, moving to the current Crenshaw Boulevard location three years ago. They employ eight or 10 people onsite now, with a dozen more people on call for catering gigs on the Westside. But first there was the cart.

“My brother built his first hot dog cart,” Earle said. “He was going down the beach on Venice Beach, saw a bunch of guys working on the beach, and said he can do that. Doing a hot dog cart was as much freedom as possible. So, I came out here when I was 17, partnered up, Batman and Robin, we were living in the Valley, and we set up in the parking lot at what was called the Crenshaw Swap Meet, one of the roughest neighborhoods in South Central Los Angeles. I left New York when I was 17, I dropped out of high school, but do you know I have served more than one million people? And I know close to half a million people personally?”

And now they are serving two or three hundred people a day.

The crowds are not at Earle’z Grille just because of the good food and the low prices; it is $1.25 for the chili dog of the day. Earle said the restaurant is one of the best places for vegetarian and vegan food for students and the large local Muslim population. And he also said the crowds come because of thoughtful touches he and his brother started to incorporate from the very beginning, including a butterflied hot dog that was easier on the teeth of the elderly.

But in 1992, when they were building their restaurant with proceeds from their cart, it was not so rosy.

“We had a cart, so it wasn’t like we went and got a bank loan,” Earle said. “It was a cash/cash only. And unfortunately for a lot of businesses, minority businesses in the community, it’s like that. Every day for two and a half years, my brother put that restaurant together. Once the riots hit, we watched them loot down the block, and the fire started coming toward us. In fact, the fire hit our building! We were in the building with firefighters, knocking the fire out. That’s the wildest thing! I remember being across the street with my brother, we’re both on the phone calling my mother and grandmother in New York, and we’re both crying, telling them the city is blazing, and we’re watching our hard-earned thing just go up in smoke, and we’re watching our own people burn it down. This is what we had to deal with. And then when they finally save it, the place is gutted, what insurance?”

And so they started from scratch.

But today, there are about 200 or 300 people waiting to buy a hot dog.