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Impact of the LA Riots

LA Riots
April 29, 1992 was a significant day in ethnic relations of the city of Los Angeles, California. The previous year’s beating of Rodney King sparked the onslaught of tension in race relations; particularly between African-Americans and Asian-Americans of the city. A specific case that contributed to the unrest among the black community right before the riots and rebellions was the death of fifteen-year old African-American Latasha Harlins. A Korean-American grocery store owner Soon Ja Du accused her of trying to steal a bottle of orange juice and the shooting was recorded by a security camera two weeks before the Rodney King beating. Mrs. Du was convicted of voluntary manslaughter, but instead of eleven years of prison, her sentence was only five years probation, four hundred hours of community service, and a five hundred dollar fine. According to much of the community, this sentence was a seeming indicator of the low value that society places on African-American life.

In 1983, the Los Angeles Human Relations Commissions held hearings in order to address the rudeness of Korean store-owners toward their black customers and attempt to improve relations between the two groups. The Black-Korean Alliance, or BKA, was formed as a result of these hearings. Essentially, this coalition is a group of representatives from the community to facilitate communication and understanding between the two communities. They focused on sponsoring church-related and cultural functions to bring the two groups together.

Apparently these pre-riot efforts were not effective, as they resulted in the eruption of racial chaos on April 29, 1992. The actual beating of Rodney King in 1991 indicated an immensely high level of racial tension among the black community, but one year later, the verdict the sent an even stronger message of negativity to the ethnic community of Los Angeles. Six days later when the riots and rebellions were over, there were 42 murders, 700 buildings destroyed by fire, and almost $1 billion in property damage. The racial breakdown of people arrested was as follows: 51% Latinos, 38% black, 9% Anglos, and 2% Asian Americans or "other." The small percentage of Asian-Americans can be contributed to the fact that it was primarily Korean merchants who suffered the most property damage. Nearly three-fourths of the damaged businesses were Korean.

Today, race relations between the African-American and the Korean communities in Los Angeles continue to be an issue. Ever since that horrific day of April 29, 1992, the Korean community has not forgotten the immense destruction that hit their shops, homes, and hearts. Because the Koreans were considered to be the victims in this situation, the bulk of the literature focuses on their perspective and how they can improve their relationship with the African-American community. Although the gap of nine years is seemingly sufficient for the groups to forgive and forget, much of the Los Angeles Korean community continues to remember Sa yi goo and focus on how to make sure that people do not forget what they suffered.

The Korean-American community in Los Angeles, California has been growing with amazing speed. Los Angeles’ Korean population numbered approximately 10,000 in 1970, 72,900 in 1990, and has currently grown to an estimated 160,000 people. This means that Los Angeles has the largest concentration of Koreans outside of Korea. One would think that Koreans should have a lot of voice within society, but 160,000 out of a county of 9 million does not form a critical mass that forms an adequate amount of political clout.

This leads to one position of forming strategic alliances. In particular, the Asian community focuses on gerrymandering in order to build coalitions with the Latinos. The Latino community has a greater history and experience base that can potentially help the Asians establish a base from which to build. The Latinos also have more organizations with larger budgets to help the Asians.

Another idea focuses on developing economic relationships and reducing tensions between employers and employees. Since the Korean community is more economically advanced and Koreans tend to be the employers with Latinos or African-Americans employees, there tends to be a culture clash between the groups. Koreans do not understand gravity of race relations in the United States, nor do they understand the American history of the Civil Rights movement. This lack of understanding, in conjunction with language barriers leads to a negative attitude toward African-Americans. This stance posits that Asians and African-Americans need to focus on improving their relationships with employees, thereby improving their economic condition so that tensions will not arise between racial groups.

Finally, a number of policy proposals have been recommended in order to improve the Korean American community. These include multicultural education, inter-ethnic policies, health care improvements based on civil unrest, grassroots political participation, law enforcement, crime prevention, and economic growth. Essentially, most of these proposals entail further involvement of Korean-Americans within the community to strengthen their voice in society. They also foster an increased understanding among other ethnic groups and educate Koreans within their own community to mobilize them against further hate, disputes, or racial tensions.

Numerous organizations were also formed in order to ameliorate the racial situation in Los Angeles. Specifically, one of the groups is the KAIAC, Korean American Inter-Agency Council which is a combination of nine different volunteer groups. Another group that exists to assist immigrant Koreans with job-related legal issues and computer training is the KIWA, Korean Immigrant Worker’s Advocates. Finally, a particular organization that exists specifically as a product of the LA Riots is the KAGRO, Korean American Grocers Association. This group was formed to assist riot victims, set up an interethnic dialogue, and aid with economic issues that arose from the destruction of small businesses after the Riots.