L.A.'s darkest days
Ten years ago today, the worst race riot in US history erupted in Los Angeles. Here, the story is told in three diverse lives.
(Page 4 of 7)
By July of 1992, Todd Eskew was serving a state prison sentence for armed robbery committed in the wake of the riots. Chastened by jail, he converted to Islam after reading the writings of W. Deen Muhammad, leader of the Muslim Society of America. Mr. Muhammad's teachings on peace and personality led to a change of heart, and a change of name to Najee Ali.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
"Although the shooting of Latasha Harlins and the acquittal of white police [in the King case] still struck me as grossly unjust, I realized that returning violence for violence could not be a solution," he says.
Paroled after 11 months, Ali tapped into his gang background, and began organizing a truce between the two largest black gangs in the city an accord that made national headlines at the time.
"We realized that we had been fighting each other over our own neighborhoods, over gang turf and concrete blocks that none of us owned, instead of focusing on the real oppressor, which was the economic establishment that kept us from economic empowerment," he says.
He also participated in building cross-cultural coalitions between Korean shop-owners, blacks, and Hispanics. He says that steady interaction with leaders of other ethnic groups softened the harsh views he'd held as an isolated gang member.
"When I sat there ... and heard other races venting their frustrations and telling their stories of losing businesses they had worked their whole lives to build they became more personal, human," he says.
Jurado spent the first two years after the riots organizing Hispanics to try to gain more political power. He says that the violence and its aftermath woke up Hispanics and other minorities to the fact that one reason they were ignored by the political system was because their voting turnout was so low.
"They were ticked off at the system, but they also were not participating as they should in the system," he says.
"I discovered that the vicious cycle of poverty and gangs and other social problems never ends as long as individuals are not united in tackling them," he says of his college participation in demonstrations and multicultural discussion groups, and of his fellowship at City Hall.
Mira Jang says she was horrified in the riots' aftermath to find Koreans marginalized, without social or political clout. She still has lingering anger over what she feels was the media misuse of images of Korean shop owners wielding guns to protect their businesses.
Stung by the experience, she eventually altered her career path from law or medicine to journalism and civic action. Despite being in city's safer West side, which offered little ethnic diversity, she immersed herself in political and community activities.
She also became editor of a city-wide teen newspaper called "L.A. Youth," where she shared an office with members of other ethnic groups one a black girl her age. Jang fondly remembers taking the bus far into neighborhoods she'd previously avoided to meet her new friend and shop.
"I learned what I already knew, which is that we can all get along in this city," she says. "It's just a matter of not creating walls, but looking over them."
Recovery didn't readily take root in the burned-out moonscape left by the riots of '92. Many of the high-profile efforts launched in the immediate aftermath of the violence fizzled. One of these was Rebuild L.A., headed by former Olympics organizer Peter Ueberroth. It was supposed to be the nation's great experiment in tapping the private sector to help resurrect an inner-city. It didn't work fully as planned.