Those of us who lived through the Los Angeles riots will never forget watching our city erupt into flames after the acquittal of the four L.A.P.D. officers who beat Rodney King. Many neighborhoods were burned and looted, but the destruction done by flames of racial hatred was even more devastating than the massive structural damage to more than 1,000 affected buildings. The loss of $1 billion was incidental compared to the horrific eruption of rage and the erosion of trust that occurred in just a few days’ time. We wondered if L.A. could ever return from these catastrophic blows. A residue of suspicion blanketed the city like a heavy, blinding fog.
My commute out of the city that April night was on an eerily deserted freeway, with mine the lone car traveling outward to the Inland Empire. I was deeply relieved to finally arrive safely at home, and take shelter far away from the round-the-clock strife in the heart of the city. Back in those days, the intersection of Florence and Normandie, where Reginald Denny was dragged from his big rig and nearly beaten to death, or Lakeview Terrace, the site of the Rodney King arrest and beating, were only distant places to me. I couldn’t pinpoint them on a map, and surely could not have anticipated that only one year later, I would become a resident of Los Angeles, and eventually work in an inner city community not much different from the places that were highlighted in the riots.
April 29, 2017 marks twenty-five years since the L.A. riots occurred. Much has happened to rebuild our city, erase scars, and perhaps even pacify the racial tensions of the past. Nevertheless, we would do well to pause and remember, and to ask ourselves what can yet be done to quiet the troubled waters that might still flow underneath the surface of our city. With Black Lives Matter ringing in our ears, surely we cannot lull ourselves into believing that all has been solved with the passage of time.
Although I have been a resident of the San Fernando Valley for twenty-four years now, only recently did I learn that the Rodney King beating took place at the corner of Foothill Blvd. and Osborne Street, near the entrance of the lovely Hansen Dam Recreation Center. This discovery came while simultaneously doing historical research on the Valley and planning a charity run called Race it Forward to take place in Hansen Dam on April 22. The race will raise funds to help troubled youth who have dropped out of school, been in the foster care system, have become teen parents, are homeless, or who deal with substance abuse. The event, which takes place just steps away from where King was beaten, seems a fitting way to commemorate the events of 1992, as it is a way to invest in lives and perhaps prevent similar situations in the future.
By all accounts, Rodney King led a life that was chaotic and ruinous. While this by no means justified the beating he endured, it does raise the question whether his life—and the history of Los Angeles—might have turned out differently had there been effective interventions in his life. Cloud & Fire, the sponsor of Race it Forward, is a faith-based organization that is dedicated to providing holistic interventions in the troubled young lives of those who are typically at-risk, low-income, minority youth. Investing in the lives of at-risk youth is perhaps the most appropriate way we can remember the events in Los Angeles twenty-five years ago, and ensure that nothing of that magnitude ever takes place here again.
Race it Forward will provide scholarships for youth to go to camp, finish high school, and put their lives back together, regardless of their past. To register or for more information, visit http://www.cloudandfire.org/rif