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Memories — and Lessons — from 1992 UCLA Luskin participates in weekend of remembrance 25 years after the Los Angeles riots, examining how the civil unrest changed the city, its institutions and some of the people it impacted most  

By Les Dunseith

Today, Los Angeles is celebrated as an inclusive city known for tolerance, diversity and a welcoming attitude to immigrants from around the globe. Just 25 years ago, however, it was a city seemingly afire with racial distrust, anger and violence.

Things have changed so much for the better since the L.A. riots. Haven’t they?

That question was the focus of a weekend filled with reflection, debate, education and artistic interpretation as the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs joined with several partners to sponsor a series of special events marking the April 29, 1992, anniversary of the start of civil unrest that followed the acquittal of four white LAPD officers in the videotaped beating of a black man, Rodney King. On that day and for five days to follow, looting, arson and violence led to dozens of deaths and $1 billion in damage in and around South Los Angeles.

The memories of those days vary starkly depending on an individual’s perspective and background, a fact that was highlighted by Dean Gary Segura during his opening remarks at one of the panel discussions co-sponsored by UCLA Luskin as part of Flash Point 2017, which was held on the UCLA campus and in Little Tokyo on April 28-30.

“L.A. uprisings. L.A. civil unrest. L.A. riots. L.A. rebellion. Indeed our very language captures the idea that the perspective that different communities have on the event, and what they understood about its causes and consequences, really depended on where you sat at the moment at which it occurred,” Segura said.

One of those unique perspectives is that of the Asian community, particularly people of Korean descent. Korean immigrants and Korean Americans who could only afford to set up shop in the poorest neighborhoods of Los Angeles owned many businesses in low-income areas that were predominantly black at the time.

“When you look at one specific story out of 1992, the story of Korean Americans is that they are a dynamic community that was undergoing really dramatic demographic and political transformation,” said Taeku Lee, professor of law and political science at UC Berkeley. He was keynote speaker for a session that took place at the UCLA Luskin Conference Center on the opening day of the anniversary series, which was coordinated by the UCLA Office of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion.

In 1992, cultural and language barriers, plus racial mistrust in some cases, had led to simmering resentment among some African Americans toward Koreans. In the riots, resentment turned to rage, and looters and arsonists disproportionately targeted Korean businesses. Today, Lee pointed out, the Korean words for April 29, Sa-I-Gu, hold great cultural and historical significance to all people of Korean descent.

The Korean perspective of the 1992 unrest was also important to Saturday’s events, held in conjunction with the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival at the Japanese American National Museum in Little Tokyo.

Segura noted that the enterprise represented an expansion of an ongoing speaker program known as the Meyer and Renee Luskin Lecture series to also include other types of programming on topics of historical and political significance. In this case, the weekend included speeches, panel discussions, art and multimedia exhibits, and the screening of two different films related to the 25th anniversary of the riots.

“The three-day Flash Point program is exactly what I had in mind when I asked to expand the Luskin Lecture Series into a series of public forums, and we at the Luskin School are proud to be a sponsor of this thought-provoking examination of the 1992 Los Angeles uprising,” said Segura during his introduction of filmmaker Dai Sil Kim-Gibson.

Her documentary film, “Wet Sand: Voices from L.A.,” offers a look back at the causes of the riots from the perspectives of various ethnic groups. It also speculates about whether some of those causes linger just below the surface today.

“Things have changed since the 1992 L.A. riot, and the aftermath; I think it stimulated people to think. So racism, overtly, went away a little bit. But the danger was that racism went inside of the people,” Kim-Gibson said during the panel discussion that followed the film. “Overt racism is sometimes easier to deal with than the racism that is inside. So we have to really follow up and talk about what really happened after the L.A. riot and what we still have to do.”

UCLA Luskin’s Abel Valenzuela, professor of urban planning and Chicano studies and director of UCLA’s Institute for Research on Labor and Employment, moderated the panel discussion.

“From destruction, from ashes, we can see rebirth and growth,” Valenzuela said of the progress that has been made since 1992. “There’s lots to be proud of, though we still have lots of work still to do.”

Only through greater understanding can progress result, said panelist Funmilola Fagbamila, the winter 2017 activist-in-residence at UCLA Luskin. She noted that distrust between blacks and Koreans at the time was often rooted in similar struggles just to survive, to provide for their families.

“We need to talk about unity that addresses the difficulty of power relations among different communities of color,” said Fagbamila, an original member of Black Lives Matter.

“It means looking at the role of anti-blackness in the way in which Korean Americans and Korean immigrants were in conversation with each other during this time. We have to be critical in how we are engaging each other,” she said. “But also loving. Our attitudes need to change in order to change the issues.”

Another panel on Saturday focused on the evolution of communication since 1992 to today’s world in which people with a story to tell can go directly to their audience via YouTube or social media rather than relying on mainstream news outlets.

Panelist Ananya Roy, professor of urban planning, social welfare and geography and director of the Institute on Inequality and Democracy at UCLA Luskin, said the media narrative quickly became about interracial and interethnic conflict during the 1992 unrest. The same might not hold true today.

“We are at a slightly different moment. This is perhaps the success of Black Lives Matter,” she speculated, “that it has drawn attention to the ways in which we cannot see these moments of violence as those of individual participants, but we’ve got to see them as structural violence. We’ve got to see this as our liberation being bound up with the liberation of others.”

Today, she said, “even mainstream media has to pay much more careful attention to state violence, in particular police violence, in a way that I do not recall in the 1992 coverage.”

UCLA Luskin also served as sponsor of a screening of the feature film “Gook” on Saturday, during which a packed auditorium of attendees witnessed a fictionalized story of two Korean American brothers, owners of a struggling shoe store who have an unlikely friendship with a streetwise 11-year-old African American girl. Then the Rodney King verdict is read and riots break out.

Filmmaker and lead actor Justin Chon was on hand to introduce his film and answer questions about it. He was joined on stage by cast members and others who participated in the film’s production.

On Sunday, an artist talk in Little Tokyo featured works by Grace Lee, Grace Misoe Lee and Patrick Martinez. Among the works was “Ktown92,” an interactive documentary in process that disrupts and explores the 1992 Los Angeles riots through stories from the greater Koreatown community.

Flash Point 2017 and the weekend’s other events were produced in partnership with the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival, Institute on Inequality and Democracy at UCLA Luskin, Ralph Bunche Center for African American Studies at UCLA, UCLA Asian American Studies Center, UCLA Center for EthnoCommunications, UCLA César E. Chávez Department of Chicana and Chicano Studies, UCLA Department of History, UCLA Institute of American Cultures, UCLA Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, and Visual Communications.

Disadvantages Persist in Neighborhoods Impacted by 1992 L.A. Riots Little economic progress is found in areas most impacted 25 years ago by civil uprisings, UCLA Luskin researchers report

By Stan Paul

A new report by UCLA Luskin researchers finds that despite initiatives launched by community groups, foundations and governmental agencies in the aftermath of the 1992 Los Angeles riots, little has changed economically within the city’s most-damaged areas.

It has been 25 years since the tumultuous events that followed the acquittal of LAPD officers in the beating of Rodney King. In addition to more than 50 people who died and thousands of arrests, there was an estimated more than $1 billion in damage in and around South Los Angeles during the days-long riots, which garnered worldwide attention.

“By and large, these areas have not gotten better; in some instances, they have actually gotten worse,” said Paul Ong, director of the UCLA Center for Neighborhood Knowledge (CNK), who led a research team in assessing the condition of these areas over 25 years. The CNK is based at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.

Ong said the team examined demographic and economic data related to the area of the Rebuild L.A. program boundaries that were drawn up in 1992 in the aftermath of the civil unrest. These were based in part on curfew boundaries from the Watts riots in 1965, said Ong, also a professor of urban planning and social welfare in the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.

The study is based on analysis of multiple data sources, and the researchers conducted separate analyses for six sub-regions. The work required extensive efforts to reconcile changes in census boundaries during the past two-and-a-half decades to ensure accurate statistics. The report, which was co-sponsored by the UCLA Institute for Research on Labor and Employment, shows that with the exception of the northeast section of South Los Angeles, unemployment and poverty have worsened in the remaining areas — traditionally among the most disadvantaged areas of the city.

In these areas, Ong said he suspects that “bigger forces were working against them,” such as lingering effects of the recession and growing inequality, which has affected L.A. County in general.

According to the report, per capita retail sales in these areas have fallen, due in part to a relative paucity of larger retailers in the area.

The team also noted that in 1992 South Los Angeles was predominantly African-American but is now home to Hispanics in higher proportions.

Ong said the study is unique in compiling statistics from three sources: the Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety, the Korea Central Daily newspaper in Los Angeles and the California Department of Insurance. This information showed that all areas were not affected equally.

The data focuses on communities in which organizations seeking to improve neighborhoods have energized and encouraged change, Ong said. “Without these efforts, the neighborhoods would likely be in far worse economic shape,” according to the report.

Findings and recommendations from the report include:

  • A renewed commitment to revitalizing the affected areas is critical to reshaping their future economic trajectories.
  • Renewed stakeholder efforts to address development challenges are integral.
  • People and place strategies should be inclusive, driven by local residents, leaders, businesses and organizations.

“The lesson of the last quarter-century is that much more work is needed,” Ong said.

View and download the report

 

 

 

 

 

‘Day of Remembrance’ Blends History and Activism Panel at UCLA Luskin marks 75 years since Japanese American internment camps by advocating resistance to modern-day efforts that target immigrant populations

By Les Dunseith

Marking the passage of 75 years since a presidential executive order that led to the incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II, the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs hosted a panel discussion on Feb. 23, 2017, that took place at a time when many U.S. citizens believe history is in danger of repeating itself.

The session was opened by moderator Lisa Hasegawa, a UCLA Luskin Senior Fellow and one of two alumnae who are activists-in-residence on campus for the winter quarter. She told of her Japanese American family’s experience of being unjustly forced into internment camps in 1942. Hasegawa likened that long-ago situation to an executive order signed by President Donald Trump in January that sought to bar entry into the United States by immigrants from seven predominantly Muslim countries.

“All of us in different generations are trying to figure out how we learn the lessons from the past and figure out how we activate those lessons in our daily lives,” Hasegawa said of the correlation between these two historic and controversial presidential actions.

The desire for activism amid a political climate that many people find fearful was a dominant theme of the panel discussion, which included five activists and filmmakers. Several showed clips from documentary films and other video projects that they have helped create in response to the Trump administration and its efforts that seem to target minority populations, particularly Muslim Americans.

“When Trump got elected, it was definitely very devastating to the Muslim community. I think we were all in shock,” said panelist Tanzila “Taz” Ahmed MPP ’07, who co-hosts a popular podcast titled “#GoodMuslimBadMuslim.”

But Ahmed has since been heartened by the showings of support that have taken place at protest marches and rallies around the country, including a sit-in at LAX that united various ethnic communities in opposition to the immigration ban.

“It is super-powerful as a Muslim to go into these spaces and to see non-Muslim people of color coming together in solidarity,” Ahmed said.

The mass protests in January at Los Angeles International Airport were also the subject of a “rough cut” clip for a documentary film shown by panelist Tani Ikeda, a filmmaker and member of imMEDIAte Justice. Her video focuses on two women (one Muslim, one Japanese American) from a grassroots solidarity group known as Vigilant Love that helped organized the resistance effort at LAX.

Ikeda said her father, who had been incarcerated as a draft resister when he was young, inspired her involvement in political activism and her pursuit of filmmaking as a career. Ikeda said she struggled with frustrations about societal and educational hurdles related to her minority status when she was young, but her father advised her to find strength, not despair, in those moments.

“Everything that makes you different is what gives you this unique perspective on the world, and that’s so needed,” Ikeda said her father told her. “So start making art.”

Also joining the panel, which was sponsored by the UCLA Asian American Studies Center and the Institute on Inequality and Democracy at UCLA Luskin, was Sasha W. from the National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance. She seeks to “redefine security” by helping more people understand why many U.S. residents, especially those at the margins of society, don’t always feel safe.

For example, she was recently involved in a project in which average U.S. citizens were approached on the streets under the pretext of an opinion survey, but then were asked the sorts of questions that someone being racially profiled would hear.

Two other filmmakers also joined the panel discussion. The team of Mustafa Rony Zona and Koji Steven Sakai are working together on a documentary about the experiences of a young Muslim girl and her mother who recently relocated from Syria to Los Angeles. And they are in the development stage of a feature film about what might happen if new terrorist attacks sparked a modern-day effort to round up Muslim Americans in a manner similar to what happened to Japanese Americans during World War II.

They hope to make a film that would lead people to recognize the parallels of the internment of Japanese Americans 75 years ago and anti-immigration efforts today.

“Today it’s Muslim Americans, Arab Americans. But tomorrow we don’t know who it is,” Sakai said. “It’s not about Muslim Americans; it’s not about any other group. It’s not even about Japanese Americans. It’s just making sure it doesn’t happen to anybody, ever again.”