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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 6 of 7)

On a recent media and business tour of the once-scarred neighborhoods, Jang and Ali listen as local leaders cite what they consider the main reason for progress across South Central Los Angeles in 10 years: grass roots and community involvement.

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"The biggest reason for success in turning these neighborhoods around has not been government or corporate help from the outside, but rather community organizations coming together to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps," says John Bryant, executive director of Project Hope. The organization was formed in the wake of the riots to coordinate all forms of government and business aid to the charred neighborhoods.

Yet reviving poor neighborhoods can be difficult no matter how much community zeal and cooperation there is. Jurado, for one, points out that the recent downturn in the US economy is forcing many kids to drop out of school and join gangs South L.A. "Some improvements have been made, but it has taken a lot of work, and much more needs to be accomplished," he says.

"This whole thing can happen again if exploitation and mistreatment of poor people continues," he adds. "The anger boils up and explodes when least expected."

Unwittingly, the riots had at least one salutary effect. Mr. Bryant and others say it forced previously isolated races to deal with each other. The only way out from here, they add, is for citizens of South-Central to see and embrace continued demographic change.

If those changes come one relationship at a time, then some progress was made on this bus ride on a sun-dappled day. As everyone stared out the window at the endless expanse of stucco, listening to a litany of philosophies and statistics, Ali looks over at Jang – two old antagonists who had never met.

"I'm sorry for what I did to Koreans in my anger and my ignorance back then," he says quietly. "It was my own fear, it was my own lack of understanding. I didn't even see Koreans as people. The past 10 years has shown me how shallow that was."

A recent history of race in L.A.

The city has long been at the nation's cultural cutting edge – as much in sunny trends as in some of America's darkest moments. In the past half-century, the city's struggle with race reflects the multicultural challenges faced by an increasingly diverse US.

Watts riots Aug. 11, 1965

Six days of violence erupts after a white police officer arrests a black motorist for drunk driving. National Guard called in. Four killed, 1,000 hurt, 4,000 arrested, $40 million in damages.

Kerner Commission Report March 1968

A presidential commission looking at causes of US urban riots concludes that the nation is moving toward two societies: black and white – separate and unequal.

Tom Bradley elected first black mayor 1973
LAPD chokehold issue erupts May 1982

A police commission bans chokeholds after a black motorist stopped for a minor traffic violation is rendered unconscious by police. It also orders an investigation of Chief Daryl Gates's remark that some blacks might be more physiologically prone to death from chokeholds than "normal people."

Rodney King beating March 3, 1991

Black motorist Rodney King leads police on a high-speed freeway chase. When stopped, he is given a prolonged beating by police. A nearby resident captures the incident on home video, which is aired widely on local TV.

Officers charged in King beating March 15, 1991

Four policemen plead not guilty of assault and use of excessive force.

Korean grocer shoots black girl March 16, 1991