October 19, 2017
By Darralynn Hutson, Contributing Writer
Before senseless deaths of Travon Martin, Michael Brown and Eric Garner that ignited mass protests and neighborhood devastations in Ferguson; there was Latasha Harlins and Rodney King, individuals that were killed and beaten by acquitted Los Angeles police officers, spawning days of rioting and looting, demolishing entire communities including parts of Koreatown, Mid-City and largely South Central Los Angeles.
Last week Cal State LA hosted a panel discussion to look back at how those communities have changed; some for the better, some not very much at all. Held on the Cal State campus before an audience of about 100 mostly students and faculty, the College of Business and Economics at California State University, Los Angeles presented “Looking Back to 1992: Changes in our Communities,” comprised of four panelists; Paul Ong, a professor at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, Tom Larson, a professor at Cal State LA in the Department of Economics and Statistics, Pamela Stephens, a data analyst, from USC Center for the Study of Immigrant Integration and Daniel Tellalian, managing partner at Avivar Capital.
Sprinkled with statistics and engaging slide shows, the three hour conversation proved that while things do change, so much over the past 25 years, has stayed the same or gotten worst for some LA neighborhoods. Twenty-five years ago, four white Los Angeles Police Department officers were acquitted in the brutal, videotaped beating of black motorist Rodney King, the steadily boiling racial tension between L.A.’s black communities and the criminal justice system had reached its boiling point. “Not unlike the unfortunate deaths of so many black and brown men at the hands of the justice system today,” says UCLA Professor, Paul Ong. “Back in April of 1992, South Central, then largely an African American community watched the beating of Rodney King and acquittal of the police officers and viewed it as the final straw to an already raging environment.” Now infamously known in history as “the LA Riots,” these days of violence became a revealing moment in modern American history. Law enforcement was overwhelmed, residence were angry and businesses and lives were forever destroyed.
Today, South Central has been renamed South Los Angeles and is predominately Hispanic. Recordings of police brutality against black men have become so common on the internet and in social media, we expect them instead of being surprised by them. The conversation amongst the panelists prove that there was much that has changed in communities like Koreatown and the campus of USC, while areas now known as South Los Angeles have stayed the same. “There's almost no evidence of the 1992 riots in Koreatown,” believes Tom Larson. New shopping malls, fancy apartment buildings and pricey restaurants seem to be flourishing.” Yet South Central, the neighborhood hit the hardest, still suffers from high rates of unemployment, too many fast foods restaurants and unhealthy food choices and an abundance of liquor stores. “The name has changed from South Central LA to South Los Angeles, in an effort to erase that bad image of the uprisings,” says Paul Ong. Movie theaters, nightclubs, beauty and barber shops that once served the mostly black population have all but vanished. South Central, once the center of black hood of Los Angeles, now is home to Hispanic-run businesses, restaurants, clothing and furniture stores.
Cal State Northridge researchers found that the exit of hundreds of thousands of African American families that fled after the riots was driven by the same systematic racist that moved the mostly illegal Latino immigrants into the city's affordable black neighborhoods. “Remember that policies and tensions with police were the cause that pushed Blacks out and drew Latino families into the city,” says Pamela Stephens. “After the riots, between 1992 and 2007, the city's black population dropped by over 100,000. They were running or being pushed and the city's Latino population grew by more than 300,000.”
For the black population that stayed in South Los Angeles or those that live in the area, black unemployment in Los Angeles is more than triple that of the national average. “More than one-third of households in South Central Los Angeles are below the poverty line — two times the percentages in California,” says Cal State professor and historian, Tom Larson. “South LA still has the county’s largest concentration of liquor stores and the smallest percentage of major chain supermarkets.”
Even 25 years later, the loss of black life cannot be forgotten; fueling more protests and community anger. There is still no justice and for now, no peace.