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Change comes slowly to South L.A. ‘flashpoint’

Twenty years ago, Los Angeles exploded into flames and violence after one Hispanic and three white police officers were acquitted in the videotaped beating of Rodney King, an African-American motorist.

(NNPA) – Twenty years ago, Los Angeles exploded into flames and violence after one Hispanic and three white police officers were acquitted in the videotaped beating of Rodney King, an African-American motorist.

More than 2,000 national guard troops were deployed; the marines were called into action from Camp Pendleton; curfews were imposed in L.A., as well as in the surrounding cities of Carson, Culver City, Hawthorne, Hermosa Beach, Huntington Park, Inglewood, Torrance and West Hollywood; an estimated 1,000 buildings were burned; thousands were injured; the region-wide property destruction was an estimated $1 billion; and 53 people lost their lives.

One critical flashpoint of the violence was Normandie and Florence avenues. And among the people who lived and continued to live in the area or frequent it, there is no real consensus about whether life is better or worse since 1992.

“Really it’s changed for the worse,” said 41-year-old Erik Patt, who was born in the area and grew up there in the 1970s.

“In the ’70s, these were very nice neighborhoods,” Patt pointed out as he got his car repaired by a local mechanic the week before the anniversary. “All these bars (on homes) were not here. The houses had plate glass doors. Now, there’s no money; the school system is horrible.

“There’s nothing new, except those businesses on the other side of the liquor store,” Patt continued, pointing to a Subway, Metro PCS and fashion boutique on the north side of Normandie Ave.

The budding entrepreneur, who says he’s working to start a trucking company, also pointed to the lack of jobs as a key continuing problem for the neighborhood. He recalled that his grandmother raised his parents in the area while working at places such as the McDonnell Douglas Corp. “Those jobs are gone now,” said Pratt.

Adolph Washington, an 83-year-old retired Los Angeles Unified School District employee, has lived near 78th and Normandie since 1963.

 “When I moved here, it was half black and half white,” said Washington, who also noted that on his block crime has quieted down and been cleaned up – the crack house has been closed down.

Anthony St. Julien was born in the area of Normandie and Florence, grew up in Leimert Park, and was the service manager at the old Pep Boys on Crenshaw Boulevard in 1992. He remembered that after the verdict a car plunged through the door of the store.

Renita Polk, 56, who’s been living in the area a little more than 20 years, offered her memories of the day.

“I packed up my clothes and got away,” she said. “I went to my mother’s house in Compton.” Several days after she returned, people still were throwing rocks at the police, even in the middle of the day, said Polk.

In his state-of-city-address last Wednesday, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa remarked on the economic malaise that has settled on the city.

“We have 720,000 Angelenos living on the wrong side of the poverty – a a city the size of San Francisco. We must take up the vital mission of bringing the benefits of economic growth to every part of Los Angeles. If our economy is to work, it has to work for everyone.”

Harkening to the 1992 explosion, Villaraigosa said, “The death and damage of those six days finally forced us to come to grips with the hard truth: L.A. was a city divided.

Los Angeles of 2012 is a different and better city, he said.

“In the two decades since those six days in April, we forged a new partnership between the LAPD and the community based on respect. We changed the culture of policing in L.A. and enshrined constitutional policing as the bedrock principle of the LAPD. We recruited a new generation of officers. We now have a force that reflects the many different communities it services.”

Marqueece Harris-Dawson, president and CEO of Community Coalition (CoCo), which was entering it second year of existence when the violence broke out, summed up the situation this way: “The things that haven’t changed are so bad and so ridiculous that they cover up what has changed.”

The CoCo CEO said there has also been a divestment in South L.A. that has not been helped by economic development efforts that don’t force the issue of investing in underserved areas of the city.

(This story reflects reporting special to the NNPA from OurWeekly.)


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