LOS ANGELES — The Rev. Cecil “Chip” Murray, former pastor of the First African Methodist Episcopal Church, joined Mayor Eric Garcetti and others at City Hall April 27 to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the 1992 Los Angeles Riots.
“If we look at the positive changes [since the riots], the police mentality has changed from the time of Police Chief William Parker and his successor Daryl Gates,” Murray said in a phone interview the day following the event.
“Our last four police chiefs have been fair, equitable and would encourage community relationships with police rather than make them baton experts. We now have an inspector general that works with police, we have a citizens committee and the federal consent decree as a guideline. Those are the positives that came from the flames of unrest.”
“And the negatives are evident in the police shootings of unarmed black men across the country,” he added.
Garcetti compared the city to a climber halfway up a mountain, able to “look up at how far we need to go, but also able to look down at how far we have come.”
April 29 will mark 25 years since the city exploded in violence following the acquittal of four members of the Los Angeles Police Department on charges of using excessive force in the videotaped beating and arrest of black motorist Rodney King.
More than 60 people were killed over six days of violence, 2,000 were injured and more than 1,000 buildings were destroyed in fires.
Speaking in the Tom Bradley Room on the top floor of City Hall, Garcetti and other leaders participated in an event remembering the riots, organized by his Office of Public Engagement and the USC Cecil Murray Center for Community Engagement.
Garcetti said the riots had a complicated origin and anyone who boils it down to one simple cause “simply isn’t telling the truth, or isn’t telling the complete truth.” He said economics, policing and race relations all played a role.
“We had trust in a system that had evolved but not evolved enough, that justice would be served but it wasn’t,” Garcetti said.
Garcetti also recalled that he had just left Los Angeles the day before the riots began and was in New York in a dorm room at Columbia University when he heard the news.
“I sat there in New York feeling powerless, watching my city burn, not understanding the chaos of that moment but committing myself to coming back and doing something about it,” Garcetti said.
City Council members David Ryu and Marqueece Harris-Dawson also spoke at the event, both from the perspective of having been young at the time of the riots and far removed the positions of leadership they find themselves in today.
Ryu, who is the first Korean-American to serve on the City Council, said he was 17 at the time and watched on television as the violence got closer and closer to his neighborhood, before eventually reaching it.
“More than anything I remember being very confused. It wasn’t anger, it wasn’t fear, it was just, ‘What is going on?’” Ryu said.
He said it wasn’t until he attended UCLA that he felt he had an understanding of what caused the violence.
“[I learned] that it was about poverty. That it was unfortunately about history repeating itself from the 1965 riots. It was about lack of opportunity, a lack of representation, a lack of voice. But as I and Marqueece Harris-Dawson stand before you today, we remember that we want to make sure it doesn’t happen again,” Ryu said.
Contributing writer Dorany Pineda contributed to this story.