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South LA is largely untouched by unrest. That is by design

Angel Jennings, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

LOS ANGELES -- In 1992, the last time Angelenos' rage over police brutality boiled into an uprising, large swaths of South Los Angeles burnt to the ground.

Angry mobs took to the street. Some looted shops and torched buildings. Fights broke out in the middle of the chaos. More than 60 people were killed -- by police, by other assailants or in accidents related to the unrest.

"It looked like a war zone," recalled Inglewood resident Yolanda Davidson-Carter. "It was a real riot. People were so angry they couldn't see straight."

The violence that occurred after a jury acquitted four white officers in the beating of black motorist Rodney King took decades for South L.A. to recover from, and some say the area has never fully healed. Vacant lots still dot the landscape, a painful reminder.

But this time around, South L.A. has largely been sparred, as protests have erupted across the city to condemn the killing by Minneapolis police of George Floyd.

Instead, demonstrators have descended on some of Los Angeles' most upscale, iconic retail areas, including Beverly Hills, Santa Monica, Hollywood and the Fairfax district. Looting has occurred in some of those locations, as some used the cover of what were largely peaceful protests to rob stores.


Organizers say this geography was deliberate.

"We want to go to places of white affluence so that the pain and outrage that we feel can be put right in their faces," said Melina Abdullah, one of the leaders of Black Lives Matter.

The group wanted to bring its rage over the Floyd case and so many others to L.A.'s elites, in their own neighborhoods. Its officials said their goal was not to cause looting but to send a message. The impact of that decision became clear Saturday, when images of police cars on fire next to CBS Television City and looting at the Grove shopping mall were broadcast on live television.

Abdullah said this strategy of protesting in affluent communities was adopted early on.


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