Fifteen Years Later

Los Angelinos say things are better, but "ghosts are all around."

February 6, 2009, 8:19 PM

LOS ANGELES, April 29, 2007 — -- Fifteen years ago, Los Angeles -- and the entire nation -- watched in horror as rioters pulled Reginald Denny from his truck at the intersection of Florence and Normandie in south-central L.A. and beat him senseless in the street.

The beating happened just hours after four police officers accused of attacking black motorist Rodney King were acquitted in court, enraging many blacks who had long felt unfairly treated by the Los Angeles Police Department.

The mayhem at the intersection soon consumed much of the city -- 54 people would be killed and $1 billion in damages would be done before the riots were calmed five days later.

Watch Terry McCarthy's report on the violence tonight on "World News." Check local listings for air time.

Most of the footage shown on television was shot from helicopters hovering overhead -- the only professional photographer on the ground at Florence and Normandie was Bart Bartholomew, who was shooting for The New York Times. His pictures of police making arrests and then retreating from Florence and Normandie after being overwhelmed by angry residents made the front page of the Times.

Bartholomew was lucky to make it out alive. He was beaten and his car was attacked by the crowd. He managed to sit in the driver's seat and start the engine. As he drove away, a rock was hurled through the side window, hitting him on the side of the head and breaking his jaw.

Today, Bartholomew sees huge changes in the neighborhood -- what was once predominantly black has now become a majority Latino area -- and most importantly unemployment has gone down.

"They have built huge malls. They've created jobs. I mean a lot more people can live here more comfortably in peace and quiet," he said. As he walks the streets that 15 years ago were convulsed with racial anger and violence, though, Bartholomew cannot help feel a little shiver.

"I am always a little spooked -- I feel that the ghosts are all around here," he said.

Most residents said that they didn't think that Los Angeles would see similar riots again. The police say they are much better trained to deal with any outbreak of violence and would nip it in the bud.

Officer Juan Cruz from the LAPD's 77th Division remembers hearing the radio call that ordered officers to retreat from the Florence-Normandie intersection -- and the frustration that officers felt.

"A lot of the regular officers wanted to come out here and do their job, but we just weren't allowed to come out," Cruz said. Today, he says, all divisions in the police department can put together a riot containment team "within minutes."

Brenda Williams remembers the riots only too well. For two days she was separated from her two young children, as she lives just six blocks from Florence and Normandie.

Today, she says, the community is pulling together. She is the local liaison for her block with the LAPD, and she says since 1992 there hasn't been a single shooting on her street. "Slowly and surely we have mended, and are mending as we speak."