Arts & Culture

The Los Angeles Riots: Civil unrest and violence


RORY LARSON | larso066@rangers.uwp.edu

The Los Angeles Riots are one of the most contentious and heavily debated events of the civil rights movements in the 90’s. In the United States, there has been a history of tensions between law enforcement and ethnic minorities, and that issue is once again coming to the forefront of American politics. Often times, when we look back into history we are able to clearly define people and events as good or bad. The Los Angeles Riots are a grey area of recent American history and a sad reminder of why civil rights are so important.

Excessive force

Anyone who keeps up with recent news has heard this debate quite frequently as of late—how much force is too much force? This was the cast in the arrest of an African American man named Rodney King in 1992. Rodney King had been beaten continuously for over a minute by four officers. They claimed they had already tried to subdue him once and that he had thrown them off. The beating was the only part that was caught on video, however, and the jury, which was mostly white, chose to acquit the officers on April 29, 1992. Soon, over three hundred individuals had gathered outside the courthouse to protest the acquittal of the policemen.

Deadly force

Tensions between the police and the African American community were just one of the causes of the riots. In 1991, a Korean shop owner shot a young African American girl that she believed was stealing a bottle of juice from her store. The  shopkeeper shot her after the girl struck her, killing her before the police arrived. It was an example of deadly force that was used against minorities for minor crimes. The shopkeeper was convicted of voluntary manslaughter and fined $500, serving no time behind bars.

This was one of the many things that led to tension between the African American community of Los Angeles and the growing Korean population. It also demonstrated the failure of the law to protect the African American community. The tensions these events caused were just two small parts of a much larger web of injustice. The lack of conviction of the police officers was just the final straw that broke the camel’s back.

The Riots

The riots included looting, assault and arson among other crimes and much of the violence was law enforcement against African Americans and African Americans against Koreans. The circumstances that led up to the riots were just as awful as the aftermath. 63 were dead, over 2,300 were injured, and over 12,000 were arrested. Koreans experienced unprecedented levels of violence directed at them in the days of rioting and received little protection from the police. The California National Guard and military were both called to put an end to the rioting.

The Los Angeles Riots are an example of why police-minority relations are still strained. The failure of communities to address this issue and bring about change can end in disaster. The riots only occurred after tensions finally boiled over.  The Los Angeles Riots are an emotional reminder that ethnic minorities in the United States have had a long and difficult history in our country and that the demand for change cannot be ignored.

Categories: Arts & Culture

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