Sue Kim: 25 Years After the Los Angeles Uprising

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

What’s the Difference Between Justice and Lawlessness?

The assassination of Osama bin Laden may be President Obama’s darkest hour. In clear violation of international law, under the guise of secret treaties with Pakistan, and most likely after having been manipulated by CIA and Pentagon insiders into thinking he was making the best reasonable choice, the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize issued an executive “kill order.”

Bin Laden was indicted on criminal charges related to the bombing of the American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, the bombing of the USS Cole in 2000, and plans to attack US defense installations. An indictment is an formal accusation based on probable cause. A verdict is the formal finding of guilt or innocence by a jury after trial. But the difference between just punishment and lawlessness is a trial in a court of law.

The standing order in 1998 was to capture Bin Laden and bring him to trial. At some point, that order changed to an assassination order. When a suspected criminal is murdered rather than brought to trial, it’s called an “extrajudicial killing.” Justice can not be served because the system of justice has been circumvented.

President Obama serves at the pleasure of the American people. How will we reflect on our own responsibility, authority, and culpability in the assassination of Osama bin Laden? How will we hold our government accountable?

Here are a few reflections:

“Osama bin Laden – as we all know – was gravely responsible for promoting division and hatred between peoples, causing the death of countless innocent lives, and of exploiting religions to this end. Faced with the death of a man, a Christian never rejoices, but reflects on the serious responsibility of each and every one of us before God and before man, and hopes and commits himself so that no event be an opportunity for further growth of hatred, but for peace.”–Vatican Press Office Director Fr. Federico Lombardi on the killing of Osama bin Laden

“Here in the Easter season, we may think back to the final days of Lent, when we heard the Passion read on Palm Sunday and Good Friday, and the Church asked us to place ourselves in the role of the chief priests and elders and of the mob that called for Christ’s death. It’s not uncommon, even, to find in Catholic devotional literature meditations in which we compare ourselves with Judas, not in the manner of the Pharisee in the parable of the Publican and Pharisee—’I thank you, Lord, that I am not like this man’—but as a means to recognize the ways in which we ‘all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.’

Viewed that way, it hardly needs to be said: When we rejoice in the death of another man, no matter how evil he may have been, our attention is not focused where it needs to be—on our own sinfulness, and our need for God’s grace.–Scott Richert, The Assassination of Osama bin Laden: A Catholic View

And from the Financial Times, an apt critique of America’s deteriorated freedoms:

Mr Obama has abandoned the most outrageous expedients that Mr Bush adopted. By executive order, for instance, he has forbidden waterboarding. But Mr Bush had already adjusted his policies, partly at the Supreme Court’s direction. The framework he left behind is essentially still in place: indefinite detentions, military tribunals, Guantánamo, the right to capture or kill, and the rest. Mr Obama is not just asserting the powers Mr Bush bequeathed, but, as in Abbottabad, is using them.

One could conclude that Mr Obama is an unprincipled tyrant – or that marrying liberal principles and the fight against terrorism is far harder than the president once believed and his critics still insist.

It would be hard to argue (and impossible to persuade the US public) that having located Osama bin Laden the US should have let the law take its course. What would that even mean? But if the fight against terrorism is not a war, the US raid on bin Laden’s compound (to say nothing of the drone strikes in Pakistan that Mr Obama has stepped up so dramatically) had no grounding in international law. These are extrajudicial killings.

Until international law recognises that the fight against terrorism is neither a conventional war nor an ordinary matter of law enforcement, it will continue to be honoured in the breach. US anti-terror law, in the meantime, needs repair in its own right. Stronger Congressional oversight is needed. More transparency is possible than current law provides. And limits on presidential authority should be imposed by law, not volunteered in reversible executive orders.

Most important, Congress needs to put time limits on the post-9/11 powers. Failure to do so in that first sweeping authorisation was a dereliction of duty. Ordinary wars end, and you know when they do. Fighting terrorism is not like that. Emergency powers were justified after 9/11, but allowing them in perpetuity is wrong. They should sunset at two-year intervals and be subject to Congressional renewal.

NOW AVAILABLE! “Who Killed Donte Manning? The Story of an American Neighborhood”

I’m happy to say that my book Who Killed Donte Manning? The Story of an American Neighborhood is finally back from the printer! For those of you who know the Columbia Heights neighborhood of Washington, D.C., I think you’ll enjoy reading about our neighborhood’s history–not to mention Washington, D.C., during the Bush era.

For those who are interested in urban ministry, urban mission, and the Judeo-Christian understanding of cities from the Bible’s Abraham and Sarah to the contemporary era, you’ll definitely find something of interest in Who Killed Donte Manning?

Here’s a snippet from the book’s foreword:

Rose Marie Berger has written a biblical essay on the neighborhood where she lives. I know the neighborhood well, because I live there too. Her provocative discourse is a theological reflection on “place,” which is a long-standing tradition in the Christian faith—a faith that is all about incarnation, the Word becoming flesh in place and time.

The particular “place” where this story begins is in Northwest Washington, D.C., on 13th Street between Euclid and Fairmont, on the sidewalk in front of the notorious Warner Apartments where a third grade boy named Donte Manning was caught in a crossfire of bullets and killed.

In 1993, the new First Lady had come to Washington. Hillary Rodham Clinton had invited a small group of people to her office at the White House to talk about the growing tragedy of youth violence in our cities, a situation of great concern to her. It was the first time I met Hillary Clinton. The meeting had an assortment of civil rights and religious leaders, urban and community activists, and heads of national organizations that cared about children at risk. I was impressed with Clinton’s understanding of the issues, her thoughtfulness and probing questions, and her clear desire to do something that would begin to address the problem.

When the meeting was finished, I came home to my house on 13th Street NW in Columbia Heights … to lots of yellow tape. Of course, I knew what yellow tape meant: Another crime had been committed here and the scene had been cordoned off by police. I learned that during the very hour we were meeting at the White House to discuss the problems of youth homicide, a young kid had been killed across the street from my house—on the sidewalk in front of the Warner Apartments.

I recall wondering at the time how many of the other participants in that meeting came home to yellow tape. It’s not that you know all the answers more easily just because you live there. It’s just that place yields perspective.

It is that biblical insight Rose illustrates in the story Who Killed Donte Manning?, a story that begins with yet another youth homicide on the 2600 block of 13th Street NW in Washington, D.C. Her biblical reflections on her place, and mine, stretch from Genesis to Revelation, and from Washington, D.C., to the coca fields of Colombia in South America. They describe what happens at the center of “empire” and the consequences at empire’s margins, which, in our city and neighborhood, is a journey of only about 2 miles.–Jim Wallis, Foreword, Who Killed Donte Manning? by Rose Marie Berger