Connected, engaged and united commemorating the 20th anniversary of the Los Angeles riots

Korean Churches for Community Development and more than 50 multi-ethnic civic and community leaders met earlier this week at Glory Church of Jesus Christ in Los Angeles to launch the April 29th SAIGU (Serve, Advocate, Inspire, Give, and Unite) Committee to commemorate the 20th Anniversary of the 1992 Los Angeles Riots.

Over the next five months, members of the SAIGU Committee will host a variety of activities showcasing a new era of unity and understanding in Los Angeles, including a multi-cultural food festival, candlelight vigil, town hall meeting and economic development bus tour culminating in a commemorative service and unity march on April 29.

At the gathering, panelists reflected on the shock, grief and anger that surged through the city along with the flames and violence. They also noted the progress that had been made with regard to multi-ethnic coalitions and greater unity.

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Nearly 20 years ago, when the fires finally went out in Los Angeles, there was a period of disbelief and shock, grief and anger. There was a very real danger that those new hurts and hostilities would consume us. Let’s be honest, before the riots, there were entire communities, even ones side by side or coexisting in the same neighborhoods that simply ignored each other. We were unaware of each other’s struggles, similarities and commonalities. Healing the rifts would require more than the old-style tolerant apathy. What do I mean by tolerant apathy? Believing that ignoring one another is actually getting along. It’s not. After the riots, we joined together. Elected officials and business leaders, civic groups and religious leaders promised to elevate living conditions in the inner city. For Korean Americans –and more broadly Asian Americans—the riot was an important wake-up call. The community was voiceless. In the news media, politics and other spheres of influence. That obscurity has long passed. Korean Americans are now elected officials, journalists, heads of universities.
Other minority groups also have greater sense of ownership in the civil life of Los Angeles. Two LAPD chiefs have been African Americans since the riot, and we now have an African American President and Mexican American Mayor of Los Angeles. The result of that progress is on display here today, in both the composition and accomplishments of those assembled.
We ought to commend ourselves for this progress. But the underlying distress that led to the events of 1992 is simmering. It could blow. The  civil unrest was the second Los Angeles riot. The first was the Watts Riot of 1965. After that riot, a report identified the root causes of that outbreak: 

  • High unemployment among blacks
  • Poor education, including a 30% dropout rate in LAUSD
  • Lack of adequate health care

Following the 1992 civil unrest, a California Assembly Report found that little progress since 1965. Some 33 percent of South Los Angeles residents and 31 percent of Koreatown residents were living below the povery level, the report said. Some progress had been made in these areas from 1965 to 1992, but by many indicators, conditions today are as bad or worse in the area of the Watts and 1992 riots. High school graduation rates and unemployment , health care coverage — have worsened. So while we have made great, visible progress in many areas since 1992, the underlying causes of the Los Angeles riots remain in full-force. We now must challenge ourselves in another way: how will we leverage the gains we’ve made to take on the growing poverty and inequality that may be leading us to another upheaval? We do what we’re doing today. We stay connected, engaged and united. Thank you.

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There was a very real danger that new hurts and hostilities would consume us. Before the riots, there were entire communities, even ones side by side or coexisting in the same neighborhoods that simply ignored one another. Too often we were as unaware of each other’s struggles as we were our similarities and commonalities.

After the riots, we joined together. No longer could we believe in tolerant apathy — that idea that ignoring one another is actually getting along. Elected officials and business leaders, civic groups and religious leaders promised to elevate living conditions in the inner city.

For Korean Americans –and more broadly Asian Americans—the riot was an important wake-up call. The community realized it was voiceless in the news media, politics and other spheres of influence. Thankfully, that obscurity has long passed. Korean Americans are now elected officials, journalists, and heads of universities.

Since April of 1992, other minority groups have developed greater sense of ownership in the civil life of Los Angeles. Two LAPD chiefs have been African Americans since the riot, and we now have an African-American President and Mexican American Mayor of Los Angeles.

The underlying distress that led to the events of 1992 is simmering. The civil unrest was the second Los Angeles riot. The first was the Watts Riot of 1965. After that riot, a report identified the root causes of that outbreak: High unemployment among blacks, poor education, including a 30% dropout rate in LAUSD, and lack of adequate health care. Following the 1992 civil unrest, a California Assembly Report found that little progress since 1965. Some 33 percent of South Los Angeles residents and 31 percent of Koreatown residents were living below the poverty level, the report said.

Though progress had been made in these areas from 1965 to 1992, many conditions today are as bad or worse in the area of the Watts and 1992 riots. High school graduation rates and unemployment, health care coverage — have worsened. So while we have made great, visible progress in many areas since 1992, the underlying causes of the Los Angeles riots remain in full-force.

We now must challenge ourselves in another way: how will we leverage the gains we’ve made to take on the growing poverty and inequality that may be leading us to another upheaval?

We stay connected, engaged and united.