As the 25th anniversary of the L.A. riots approaches, witnesses who watched as stores went up in flames and angry cries filled the streets are remembering what unfolded on April 29, 1992.
The riots began after four white police officers were acquitted of assault after being videotaped kicking and striking black motorist Rodney King while he was on the ground. After the Watts riot in the 1960s, white flight hit South Los Angeles, and black residents said they were targeted by police officers because of the color of their skin. Tensions were also high between residents and newly-arrived Korean immigrants running neighborhood stores; a few weeks before the King beating, a Korean liquor store owner shot and killed a black teenager over a bottle of orange juice. For many witnesses to the riots who spoke with The Associated Press, all of this made it easy to see why South Los Angeles went up in flames.
Some vividly remember the looting — Dee Young was 27 at the time, and watched as the first group hit a liquor store, running off with cases of pilfered alcohol. He never left South Los Angeles, and said today, things have gotten "90 percent" better. "People in the neighborhood need to work together — black, Hispanic, even white people — and they are coming back here, if slowly but surely," he said. Aurea Montes-Rodriguez, now the executive vice president of the Community Coalition of South Los Angeles, was 16 during the riots, and saw a man park his car in front of an electronics store as he prepared to steal a television; while he was inside, his vehicle was stolen.
About 200 liquor stores burned down during the riots, and even more were looted. James Oh, 68, bought Tom's Liquor on the corner of Florence and Normandie eight years ago, and brought in items residents appreciate — there are now milk and eggs on the shelves, not just alcohol. He came to the neighborhood to fight stereotypes of Korean-American business owners, he told AP. "If you invest in the community, you have to be involved in the community," he said. "Communication is everything." Read more about their stories — as well as how a New York Times photographer whose jaw was broken by an angry mob was rescued by a recently returned veteran — at The Associated Press. Catherine Garcia