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L.A.'s darkest days

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A number of neighborhoods were touched by the 1992 violence, but the epicenter was in South-Central. A decayed expanse of ticky-tacky stucco houses and aging factories, South-Central has long served as a door to L.A. for immigrant minorities. During World War II and its aftermath, blacks settled there, drawn by work in rubber plants and other industrial ventures. Later, black-owned retail in the area was bought up by Koreans who couldn't afford stores in more prosperous areas. And L.A.'s fast-growing Hispanic population began to move in, advancing block-by-block.

Fissures between minorities have long been a source of urban tension in the US. And the vast expanse of South-Central's diverse Asian-black-Hispanic mix was a tinderbox for multi-ethnic conflagration. Minority versus minority fighting in the riots was ferocious and unprecedented.

Even as the embers smoldered, city leaders began to wonder if the long-held American image of "melting pot" was a false one.

"We began to examine whether or not multiculturalism is a myth," says Edward Chang, a professor of ethnic studies at the University of California, Riverside. "The riots showed that perhaps white, black, Asian, and Hispanic are still all-too-separate, unequal societies."

Jang, Jurado, and Ali help explain how Koreans, Hispanics, and blacks, in particular, experienced the 1992 riots. All three were young in '92. All were seared by what they saw and heard during the days of violence. All have spent the years since trying to understand the point of view of both their own minority, and those of others – and why solid social progress toward reconciliation and rebuilding has remained elusive.

"Everyone's perception of 4/29 [1992] is totally different depending on where they stood then and stand now, what they saw and felt, and who they are," says Ali. "That's part of why this has been so difficult."

The acquittals in the Rodney King case sent blacks into the streets. The video depiction of the incident had shown King – stopped after a high-speed chase – lying on the ground while white policemen beat him. Many African-Americans simply didn't understand how a jury could have found the attackers innocent, given the video evidence.

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