L.A. Riots, 10 Years Later

The cost was enormous. Fifty-five people dead, 2,000 injured and a damage bill of $1 billion.

Ten years later, the shattered buildings of South Central Los Angeles have been rebuilt, but the rage still simmers.

The violence came in four days of rioting after a jury acquitted four Los Angeles Police Department officers whose videotaped beating of Rodney King shocked America.

Since that violence began exactly 10 years ago today, there has been a decade of voter-approved reforms, two black police chiefs and a campaign to improve the image of the LAPD.

In the riots, hundreds of properties were burned and looted. One of the properties hit was a dental office located in a shopping center in the Crenshaw District, one of the worst-hit areas. Dentist Bill Faulkner, who's black, remembers it vividly.

"Some people were running around and by the time I got there, they had already looted out the practice," said Faulkner. He said the experience left him feeling "violated."

When then President Bush toured the devastation, Faulkner was in the group that heard him promise federal help to rebuild. Through a combination of government and private funding, that shopping center has, indeed, been rebuilt. And Faulkner's new office is there.

Faulkner said the reconstruction was all well and good but the root causes of the riot still existed. "The buildings didn't burn themselves down, the people did. And we repaired the buildings, but we didn't repair the people."

Divisions Still Remain

And when it comes to the people, little appears to have changed in 10 years. South Central still has a high unemployment rate and a high crime rate. Parts of Los Angeles remains deeply divided along racial lines, with an enormous gap between the rich and the poor.

On the plus side, community relations with police have improved somewhat.

The face of the LAPD has changed noticeably since 1992, when the department was almost 60 percent white. Now, 45 percent of the department is white. Nearly half is black or Hispanic.

However, the leadership of the LAPD is once again the subject of controversy. The recent ouster of Chief Bernard Parks, an African-American, has angered many black residents of L.A., making the selection of a new chief a sensitive issue.

"There's still a code of silence," said Civil Rights Attorney Irwin Chemerinsky. "We're still a department that rewards the tough officer who violates peoples rights."

Future Economy Looks Promising

Economically, things look brighter. Many retailers have set up shop in South Central, including large chain grocery stores. And community groups continue to lobby relentlessly for new investment, even providing bus tours for bankers last week.

"All this was burned down in 1992," a tour guide told prospective investors peering out the bus windows. "Now why would you invest this much capital back into the inner city? Not for public relations, but because it makes good economic sense."

But there has not been significant investment by the government in the public schools of the inner city. And that infuriates Faulkner, who sends his own children to a private school. He said the failure of the school system had left another generation unfit for employment and ripe for unrest.

"How many of the 18 year olds today have juvenile records," Faulkner said. "How many have turned to drugs, how many have children ahead of their time? How many are dead?"

Without an educational system that gives kids some hope for the future, he says, the potential for more trouble is enormous. "It's still here," he said, frowning, "it's still here. And in time, it will happen again."

He's not alone in that opinion. A recent survey conducted by the Loyola Marymount University in March of L.A. residents shows that 50 percent believe a riot similar to that of 1992 is likely to occur within the next five years.

"It's always the spark, whether it's the verdicts or the Rodney King incident or something else," Mayor James Hahn, who was city attorney at the time, told The Associated Press. "That didn't cause the riots. It was the underlying problems that caused the riots. The spark can come any day."

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