What A Riot

Nicole M. Campbell is a KFI editrix. Remember when Iggy Azalea was like ISIS - never anywhere, then suddenly everywhere? This week, the Girl on Film gives us her review of two documentaries looking back at the 1992 L.A. Riots.

This weekend marks the 25th anniversary of the L.A. riots and several documentaries are marking the occasion.

"Let It Fall: Los Angeles 1982-1992" - which airs Friday on ABC - takes a comprehensive look at the factors that culminated in the explosion of anger which killed more than 50 people and destroyed thousands of buildings and businesses, not to mention hope the racial divide between people and the police could ever be bridged. 

The documentary weaves together stories from people of many ethnicities. It's an important angle to cover. Because the riots were touched off by the acquittal of four white L.A.P.D. officers charged in the beating of a black man, it's easy to frame the riots in a black vs. white context. But the Korean community was deeply affected too. Much of the anger in South L.A. (called South Central back then) was directed toward Korean-owned businesses. Racial profiling had something to do with it, but so did something that happened less than two weeks after King got his famous beatdown. 

Latasha Harlins was a 15-year-old black girl shot to death by a Korean liquor store owner. I've always found it strange the Harlins case didn't get the national media attention the King case did. Harlins died. King did not. Harlins was a teen girl. King was an adult man. Harlins was accused of stealing a bottle of orange juice - she wasn't; she had put it in the top of her backpack and had the money in her hand - whereas King broke the law by speeding. It was hard to believe the cops got cleared in the King beating. But Harlins' killer - a middle-aged Korean lady - was convicted of voluntary manslaughter and only got probation. (A white judge levied the punishment.) 

"Let It Fall" does a very good job of examining the history of police brutality in Los Angeles, especially at the intersection of race. The build-up makes the payoff even more palpable. The movie is almost two-and-a-half hours but it doesn't feel like it. The stories, the sadness and the still-shocking reality of the situation keep the narrative flowing.

The Smithsonian Channel is also taking a look back at the riots. Unlike "Let It Fall," "The Lost Tapes: L.A. Riots" does not provide any new interviews. But it does feature footage unseen before by many. Most of that comes in the form of videos shot by L.A.P.D. crews. The documentary throws a lot of statistics at the viewer but at least one stuck with me - more Latinos were arrested in the riots than black people. 

"The Lost Tapes" also provides information I had not heard before. That includes the fact firefighters - totally overwhelmed by all the fires burning in the city - were shot at while doing their job. It's one line in the documentary dialogue that perfectly sums up the utter chaos of those few days. 

As with any documentary on a certain place and time, the ones looking back on the L.A. riots take you in the wayback machine, in good and bad ways. Who doesn't want to go back to 99-cent-a-gallon gas? But wow, if you forgot how much of an a-hole L.A.P.D. Chief Daryl Gates was, these retrospectives will be a sobering reminder. The guy's hubris was off the charts. He kept saying he wasn't going to step down but then he did, retiring in June 1992.

Of course the real story is that for many people in L.A., very little has changed in terms of race relations. And the relationship between people and the police seems like it's at an all-time low in many major American cities. 

Offering solutions to solving Southern California's race relations is beyond my talent and platform. But finding the courage to talk openly, without judgment, with people of other races about prejudices, biases, cultural questions may go a long way. Because nobody in L.A. should say they get treated like a King.


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