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L.A.'s darkest days

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"I was so angry I wanted to continue. But I stopped after two days out of sheer, physical exhaustion," says Mr. Eskew, who goes by the name of Najee Ali today.

The experiences and divergent viewpoints of Mira Jang, Randy Jurado Ertll, and Najee Ali help tell a tale of what lay behind the worst riots in US history and of how far, in the decade since, the city has come.

And hasn't.

Like Los Angeles itself, their lives have been inexorably changed by the cataclysm that played out in the streets of South-Central on those four searing nights in April. Yet many of the forces that gave rise to the paroxysm of looting and arson – economic disparity, racial animosity, Balkanized neighborhoods, a troubled police force – persist in some form.

Consequently, their stories of that night, and of their idealistic impulses to deal with it since, help explain whether Los Angeles, and, by extension other cities, can avoid the type of civil unrest that has periodically wracked urban America throughout history.

One defining moment for diverse three

The trigger on that fateful night was the acquittal of four white police officers in the videotaped beating of black motorist Rodney King. Before it all ended on May 3, fires had destroyed 10,000 businesses. Fifty-five people were dead. Estimated damage: $1 billion-plus. The episode left a cityscape resembling a bombed-out war zone, patrolled by the National Guard, Army, and Marines.

L.A. has long been at the cutting edge of American culture, and in this it was no different. Its riots were the costliest in the nation's history.

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