Lead Story West Edition

25 years later, residents still in awe of Los Angeles riots

EXPOSITION PARK — It is a busy afternoon at the California African American Museum (CAAM). As the museum nears closing, last-minute stragglers scramble to go in and take in the latest hot spot on Figueroa Street, just a twitch away from the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

The destination these thrill-seekers are looking for will reside at the center of CAAM until August. Quiet gawking and wide-eyed disbelief hit onlookers as they try to inhale the massive and finely tuned detailed “No Justice, No Peace: LA 1992” exhibit, a variety of items that vividly refresh the unforgettable imagery left by the Los Angeles Riots 25 years ago.

Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of this well-documented and photographic journey is all the events that led up to the uprising inferno that began with the beating of truck driver Reginald Denny at the intersection of Florence and Normandie avenues.

Visitors also can see the video of black teenager Latasha Harlins being shot in the back of the head by a Korean grocer who wound up with just probation in the killing of the 15 year old.

Dawn Averiette, who was a student at Los Angeles Southwest College at the time the riots took place, said the exhibit brought back a lot of painful memories for her.

Harlins’ death, which took place only 13 days after the infamous Rodney King beating was caught on videotape, was pretty much a cataclysmic event to everything that had been going on, Averiette said.

“It’s overwhelming. It’s breathtaking to see all these images,” said Averiette, who now works as an instructor at Fremont High School. “I had an eerie feeling that day after the verdicts that something was going to happen. I didn’t know it was going to be this bad, but I knew that we were going to have issues. It was a lot of tension.”

One of the things about the riots that surprised Averiette was how the exhibit painstakingly detailed the response or lack of immediate response by law enforcement in regards to the first few hours of the melee breaking out all over the city.

“Some of this stuff that happened, I didn’t realize they happened, like some of the footage I heard that the police were told not to respond,” Averiette said. “They were told not to respond the first two hours of the riots, so it exploded in the community without any response.

“People were doing what they wanted to,” she added. “I didn’t know that. I wasn’t aware of that. They were told not to respond. That still is amazing. I feel like did they really care about the city? You were told not to respond. Why? What reason? That’s one question I had that stands out in my mind.”

It was the first time Fernando Garcia and his wife, Maria, had attended an exhibit at CAAM. Fernando Garcia said he was taken aback by the exhaustive photographic avenues the exhibit displayed of the unrest.

“Powerful,” he said. “It doesn’t have a lot of writing, but the photos alone tell a clear message. Whoever took these pictures did a good job to capture this. Even if you didn’t speak English, you would understand this.”

Garcia lived in Los Angeles when the riots broke out. It was tense, Garcia said.

“It was scary,” Garcia said. “It kept going for a couple of days [six]. And you’re like, ‘When is it going to end? It was a nightmare, especially for the people, whose stores got looted and lost other belongings. People were getting hurt. It was chaotic.”

With the current atmosphere of economic depravity, reoccurring violence and race tensions smoldering in this country, Averiette believes another major riot will break out. It may not happen in Los Angeles, but it is bound to happen, she said.

“It’s going to happen again,” Averiette said. “The ingredients for it to happen again is going to happen again. I think something more widespread is going to happen because of the political climate and economic conditions. I think something is going to pop off.”