Twenty-five years ago today a rebellion of frustration, fear, and anger broke out in Los Angeles when a Simi Valley jury acquitted four officers of the Los Angeles Police Department of the use of excessive force in the videotaped arrest and beating of Rodney King. It began in South Central LA and spread throughout the Los Angeles metropolitan area as thousands of people rose up over a six-day period following the announcement of the verdict. Many Korean store owners were in harm’s way and the police primarily deployed to protect white neighbhorhoods.
Theologian Ched Myers wrote of that time, “The ever-deepening gulf between rich and poor is illustrated by two voices …, one belonging to George Bush, a man who abusively policed the world, the other belonging to Rodney King, a man who took a world of abuse from the police” (Who Will Roll Away the Stone).
Below is an excerpt from Sue Kim, currently vice president of development at the Boston Children’s Museum, who lived through the LA uprising with her family. She vividly recalls what happened on April 29,1992 and days following. (Thank you to Sue Park-Hur and Hyun Hur at ReconciliAsian for sharing this):
The LA Riots ravaged the community. We received news primarily from Radio Korea, because the American news outlets did not provide enough information about what was really happening on the ground. Street names were mentioned, but they never acknowledged that they were Koreatown streets until much later. As the riots started heading closer to K-town, most store owners decided to camp out at their places of businesses because it was our livelihoods. No one really had insurance. If the stores burned down, what would families do? We risked our lives (literally), but decided to guard nonetheless.
Our family bookstore was on Western Ave, just south of Olympic. We prayed all night as the looters and fire bombers headed our way. We knew because of the smoke in the air, the red sky and reports from Radio Korea. The gunshots were booming and sharp. We stayed clear of the windows. Next door was the Korean Chinese Restaurant and the owners and employees were also there and they had guns. Some of the men had mandatory military training from Korea.
Just before the rioters got to our block, literally one block away, something spooked them and just our little section of Western was skipped over. The rioters veered off and found another way up north on Western. I will never forget the darkness of our store, my mom, brother, sister, an employee and me… huddled in the store… knowing that terror and unreasonable cruelty headed our way.
By the following morning, countless stores were burned, looted, shots fired by drive by shooters and by ex-military Korean men on rooftops defending their livelihood. The police were nowhere. We heard on Radio Korea that they were guarding Beverly Hills.
In the midst of the madness, a van full of old Korean women and a pastor from Van Nuys delivered kimbap (Korean rolls) to us and many others throughout K-town. We cried. I will never forget their kindness. They were determined to help others in the midst of danger. I also remember Korean gang members, and they were willing to help wherever they could defending stores or running errands for people because this was our K-town.
The K-town community rallied and bonded, but also realized how isolated we were. There were no community spokesmen, the media did not provide correct coverage, the police left us to protect ourselves, and a burning desire in the hearts of 1.5 and 2nd generation Korean-Americans to become activists arose. As we marched, the peace-march, we also felt our continued helplessness and anger. The media still did not cover it properly. Friends in New York City, the East Coast and even in the San Fernando Valley did not really know what happened. But how can those who saw the fires and were shot at… ever forget? — Sue Kim