Twenty years ago today the Los Angeles Riots started. I was 10 years old at the time, and I remember them well, but it hasn’t been until I’ve gone back and looked at archival footage lately that I really felt the visceral impact of the riots. I felt the tension and the fear of adults as a child, but at the time it felt very far removed from me, and things like playing with my friends at recess weren’t. But going back and watching the what happened now really leaves me a creeping sense of horror. I remember being 10 years old and watching, on live TV, as Reginald Denny and others were pulled from their cars and beaten, but it didn’t really hit me until now.
One thing that did really surprise me was when I started reading about this as the anniversary approached how little scholarly work has been done on it. Once you get past a few government reports there just isn’t much, and what there is isn’t great. But I think that’s because while this was about police brutality, judicial injustice, and economic competition and disparity, this also wasn’t about those things entirely. The thing that hard to quantify and understand, and definitely impossible to justify, is just how thin the veneer of civilization is.
That was what was and is truly frightening and something I’ve never been able to wrap my head around. As justifiably anger as people were at the social injustice, the violence was almost celebratory. A later comment in Newsweek described it succinctly as “the mood [...] was closer to a manic fiesta, a TV game show with every looter a winner.” I’d like to think we’ve learned a thing or two in the twenty years since the riots as a city, but if history is any indicator we’ll see another riot in this city in my lifetime. Maybe it’s just part of growing up in a major metropolis.
- Photographer recounts covering the 1992 Los Angeles riots (framework.latimes.com)
- 20 years after the LA riots sparked by the acquittal of four police officers for the beating of Rodney King a look at the most graphic images of that night (dailymail.co.uk)
- Los Angeles Riots: Then and Now (neatorama.com)