LA marks riot anniversary with unity call

2012-04-30 11:02

Los Angeles - Los Angeles community leaders issued a pledge of unity on Sunday to mark the 20th anniversary of the city's deadliest riots, one of the worst spasms of violence in modern US history.

African American demonstrators also turned out for a small "speakout" at the epicentre of the 1992 riots in deprived South LA, which left 53 people dead and caused more than $1bn worth of damage.

The riots were sparked by the acquittal of police officers caught on video beating black motorist Rodney King, but were fuelled by ethnic tensions and huge economic disparities in LA.

"We felt we were under attack," community activist Morris Griffin told a crowd at the junction of Florence and Normandie avenues, where about 150 mostly African Americans gathered for the "speakout" event.

"Things are getting better in certain situations and in certain areas but we want jobs," he added, as speaker after speaker-- many wearing T-shirts saying "Florence and Normandie" - took it in turns to talk about the riots.

Local radio and other media have hosted wall-to-wall debates about the lessons learned from the unrest, triggered by the acquittal of four police officers over the beating of King.

Wave of violence

King - who has released an autobiography timed with the anniversary - was 26-years-old when a group of white police officers brutally beat him while a bystander videotaped them from his apartment window on 3 March 1991.

A year later, on 29 April 1992, an all-white jury acquitted four police officers over his assault.

Hundreds of thousands of people poured into the streets in anger, igniting a wave of deadly violence and arson that swept through large areas of Los Angeles.

The Los Angeles Police department (LAPD) seemed powerless to stop it. Order was restored on the fourth day of the rioting, when army troops arrived. By that time, thousands of people had been injured and dozens had died.

The run-up to the anniversary has seen a surge of reflection on what has changed in the decades since the riots, which were centred on South LA, primarily composed of African American and Hispanic communities.

On Sunday, LAPD assistant chief Michel Moore held a show of unity with leaders of the Korean American Coalition, the Anti-Defamation League, the LA Urban League and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, among others.

'Respect for the police'

"We recognise the tragedy of April 29 1992 and honour those innocent victims who lost their lives," they said in a statement backed by others including the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP).

"We pledge that our children will understand that diversity in our community is a strength and a source of pride, not a cause for hatred and division," said the joint statement.

Other events to mark the anniversary included sermons by civil rights activist Al Sharpton, while mayor Antonio Villaraigosa attended a "South LA Rises: Community Fair and Rally."

King, who has battled drugs and had a number of brushes with the law since 1992, said racism still has to be challenged.

"There's always going to be some type of racism. But it's up to us as individuals in this country to look back and see all the accomplishments that we have gotten to this far."

"I have much respect for [the police], much respect... some of them went out of their way over the years to try to make it up to me. Not all of them are bad," he added.