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Rodney King riots anniversary: Have race relations in Los Angeles improved?

This Sunday marks the 20th anniversary of the Rodney King riots in Los Angeles. Some black community activists see significant progress, but others see a long way to go. 

The infamous intersection of Florence and Normandie in Los Angeles, flashpoint of the 1992 Rodney King riots, is shown this year.

Jonathan Alcorn/REUTERS

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This city is in full introspection mode all week.

This Sunday marks the 20th anniversary of the riots that began when three white and one Hispanic policemen were acquitted of charges of beating African-American motorist Rodney King. The wall-to-wall coverage in local newspapers, television, and radio (including "Which Way, L.A.?", the PBS radio show born in the wake riots) has asked: Is America’s most multicultural city getting along better?

In a city as diverse as L.A., the opinions are just as diverse, but some black community activists see positive signs.

“Undeniably, we have seen lots of progress on the racial front,” says Earl Ofari Hutchinson, author of nine books on the black experience and head of the Los Angeles Roundtable, which presents weekly, open-mike discussions in inner-city neighborhoods.

Neighborhoods that were previously primarily black have been infused with Hispanics, and formerly primarily white communities have been infused with Asians and blacks, he says. “The Balkanization that was entrenched here has broken down quite a bit with many kinds of people mixing more than ever,” Mr. Hutchinson adds. 

Perhaps the biggest improvement is in Korean-Black relations, say activists, neighborhood leaders, and politicians. Ten thousand Korean businesses were among the $1 billion in damage, as many disgruntled blacks admittedly took the opportunity to express their wrath at Koreans who set up liquor stores in their neighborhoods while living elsewhere, kept their signs in Korean, and allegedly treated black customers rudely.

“I think we understand each other’s cultures much better now, and that has matured,” says black activist Najee Ali, who spent several days lighting fires in Korean businesses, went to prison, found religion, and has since publically apologized to Koreans.


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