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Looking back at LA riots after beating of Rodney King

April 29, 2017 at 5:07 PM EDT
Twenty-five years ago, parts of Los Angeles erupted with anger after four white police officers who were filmed beating motorist Rodney King with batons were acquitted of assault. Riots lasted for five days, left 63 people dead and destroyed or damaged more than 1,000 buildings. People in LA marched on Saturday in commemoration. Marymount University professor Fernando Guerra joins Megan Thompson for more.
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MEGAN THOMPSON, PBS NEWSHOUR WEEKEND ANCHOR: Twenty-five years ago this weekend, parts of Los Angeles were in flames. Neighborhoods erupted with anger after four white L.A. police officers were acquitted of assaulting motorist Rodney King, even though videotape had shown them beating him 56 times with their batons. The riots lasted five days, left 63 people dead and destroyed or damaged more than 1,000 buildings. Some residents of the city marched today to commemorate those who died and suffered losses in the event.

Perhaps surprisingly, six out of ten L.A. residents believe another civil disturbance is likely in the next five years. This according to an ongoing survey conducted by Loyola Marymount University.

Joining me from L.A. to discuss this is Marymount University professor Fernando Guerra.

First, can you just tell us a little bit about this poll? You’ve been doing it every five years since the riots. What have you found in previous years?

FERNANDO GUERRA, LOYOLA MARYMOUNT UNIVERSITY PROFESSOR: The main thing is that the vast majority of indicators are very positive about the city and the future of the city. Of course, there are some challenges, and one of the challenges is the likelihood of another riot. And for the first time in the last 20 years, we had an uptick in the number of residents who believe another riot is likely.

THOMPSON: Tell me why is that?

GUERRA:
Part of it is that, obviously, Latinos and African-Americans felt more likely — that a riot would be more likely than whites and Asians. But also millennials, the young people, many of them when were not around when this happened. For Latinos and African-Americans, you know, a lot of the things that caused the riots, mostly economic disparity, continue in Los Angeles, and are actually a little bit worse.

THOMPSON: Talk to me a little bit more about the millennials —

GUERRA: Sure.

THOMPSON: — who you found were the most likely to think this could happen again.

GUERRA: Well, I think what happens is, number one, we did this survey in January. Number two, Los Angeles is overwhelmingly a Democratic city. Only 17 percent of us voted for Donald Trump.

And the sense that there has to be civic action is really strong, especially amongst the millennials. And so, they’re willing to take the resistance to the current administration to much greater degree than those who experienced the actual riots in 1992.

THOMPSON: Talk to me a little bit more about the economic situation for minorities in Los Angeles. How does that played a role?

GUERRA: Sure. Well, we have seen in the Los Angeles the last 25 years is a continuing deindustrialization, shifting from a manufacturing to a service and knowledge economy. This has created a tremendous amount of disparity. Next year, or this year, Los Angeles will probably create more millionaires than any other region, with the possible exception of the Silicon Valley. But it will also create more poverty than any other region in absolute numbers. And you see it play out in this disparity, and it causes tension.

THOMPSON: So you talk about tension, how about the relationship between the community and the police? Has that improved at all?

GUERRA: It’s improved tremendously. In our poll, we show that people are trusting LAPD to an ever greater extent. There were tremendous reforms. Police chiefs are nowhere near as powerful as they were or autonomous as they were. There are still shootings, and there is still, you know, unjustified force that is used. But the mechanism to deal with that is much greater.

You know, the major change, of course, for not only Los Angeles but the world is social media and the Internet, and things go viral. Really, the Rodney King recording was one of the first viral videos, and now, we’re so used to that and we see everything that’s happening.

THOMPSON: Professor Fernando Guerra of Marymount University — thank you so much for joining us.

GUERRA: Thank you for having me.

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