Last updateWed, 25 Nov 2015 5pm

LOS ANGELES Monday, November 30th 2015 2:35

Civil Unrest 20 Years Later: Different Dialogue, Same Issues

URBAN PERSPECTIVE - What is there to be said 20 years later after the Los Angeles Civil Unrest? Everyone is having candid conversations about this monumental anniversary and how far the City of Los Angeles has come. Likewise, conversation includes what our city needs to accomplish in the near future to prevent another episode of civic peril.

Najee Ali, Director of Project Islamic Hope feels that there has been tremendous progress and more to be done around the disparities in South Los Angeles. He explains, “In terms of rebuilding, we have a few developments to be proud of. We have Chesterfield Square, Vermont and Slauson, and the Figueroa Corridor. We are still not where we need to be in terms of employment. Employment is high compared to other parts of the country. We need job creation, economic development, and more small business creation.”

Ali reminds us that the LA Civil Unrest was not about South Los Angeles and the Rodney King verdict. He points out, “Poverty was the cause of the unrest. There was a lot of despair and anger that caused people to participate in looting and destruction of property. We forget that the situation crossed color lines as poor Blacks, Whites, Latinos, and Asians were trying to leap out of their conditions.

“Poverty knows no color. If we don’t address the lack of employment, rise in homelessness, barriers to healthcare, we are bound to repeat the same uprising and have a man-made Katrina that we can’t dig ourselves out of. We hope to never see this happen again in our city.”

Public perceptions of the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) are better due to its leadership. The overall feeling about LAPD is very positive. Many residents credit former Chief of Police, William Bratton, for bringing transparency, changing LAPD’s culture, and instilling community partnership. In the same respect of former Chief Bratton, across the board there is high admiration for Chief Charles Beck and his open-door policy with the community to have their voices heard. Ali emphasizes, “This level of engagement with the police did not exist with Chief Darryl Gates.”

Other Los Angeles residents like Ali recognize significant improvements, especially in the areas of community engagement and two-way interactions with political officials and police.

Christopher Story, lifelong resident of Los Angeles agrees, “The events that we witnessed and/or participated on during those dark days of civil unrest gave all of us in the greatest city around, Los Angeles, the reason to evaluate how we lived in our city and eventually led us to understanding that we were not doing things the right way.

“We began to understand that we needed to work with law enforcement and our elected officials, rather than always viewing them as the enemy.

“Law enforcement and elected officials came to the understanding that they needed to treat the residents of Los Angeles with respect, rather than automatically treating those citizens as criminals.

“More than anything, we learned that all of us, regardless of race, gender, age, and/or economic status, are much more closely connected than what we might have imagined. We’re all in this together.”

In balance, with the view of the good progress made, there is still a fight for equitable social, economic, and environmental justice. The LA Redistricting process was a reminder of how politics trumped community input.

The 13-2 City Council vote to approve the maps sent a message of alienation and disenfranchisement to the South LA community who overwhelming came out in opposition to the redlining of their neighborhoods from economic engines and assets. In lieu of uprising, South LA residents are holding out in support of Mayoral and other elected candidates and encouraging their faith institutions to quarantine their pulpits from candidates to use as a platform.

With the Crenshaw line, locals are wondering why they are working harder than other communities to get a station at Leimert Park, the African American Cultural center of Los Angeles, and 0.9 miles of underground tunneling in Park Mesa to prevent traffic and pedestrian catastrophes and traffic congestion.

With history repeating itself 20 years later, decision-makers are showcasing the differences in transportation and transit-oriented planning in predominantly ethnic communities.

Some of the buildings and communities burned and destroyed during the unrest remain dormant of economic vitality. The neighborhoods are looking for investment partners to generate high levels of urban renewal that will decrease unemployment numbers and offer a variety of shopping choices to increase local spending.

As the day of unrest approaches, Trayvon Martin is in the minds of all who see his murder as a tragic application of injustice. The resolution of the Martin case will determine the civic response and test our justice system.

Dr. Ronald Simmons, Executive Director of Free N One, and Elder at West Angeles Church of God in Christ cautions, “Because our hope was contingent on a flawed system, we witnessed the civil unrest when the system let us down. Today as the “system” is put on trial again in the aftermath of Trayvon Martin, our trust must be in God. No matter which way the verdict comes back. In many ways, we have come a long way, but in many areas we have a long way to go.”

Twenty years later, our dialogue is different, but the issues are same. Pat ourselves on the back for making progress and slap our hands on matters of unfairness and inequity.

(Janet Denise Kelly is a CityWatch featured contributor. She offers more than a decade of accomplishments in the housing and nonprofit sector. Janet brings valuable insight in the areas of community and economic development. Additionally, she brings knowledge regarding the leadership and management challenges faced by large and small nonprofits that are struggling or growing organizations. She blogs at and can be reached at: –cw


Vol 10 Issue 34
Pub: Apr 27, 2012