It’s been 20 years since the Los Angeles riots exposed deep-seated police misconduct and racial tensions that plagued the city for many years.

In 1992, after the officers involved in beating Rodney King senseless were found not guilty, the city erupted in widespread protests and flames.

Although I was a young girl, I remember the day vividly. I grew up just a mile from Florence and Normandie, the epicenter of the riots, and can still feel the tension that permeated the streets on April 29, 1992 like it was yesterday.

For many in LA, and across the country, both the warning shots and the soundtrack to the riots came from hip hop. For years, rap music talked of the oppressive tactics of police and how–if pushed hard enough–people would revolt in anger.

Recently, a film about hip hop and the LA riots screened at the SXSW film festival, and judging by the conversations it sparked, it’s clear the riots are still a sensitive topic.

After the screening of the film–which was narrated by Snoop Dogg and told from the perspective of rappers and those involved in the uprising–one Korean filmmaker took offense at the way Koreans were portrayed in the film. Although they were not the main subject of the film, David Kim was aghast by a few scenes depicting Koreans in an unfavorable light.

Colorlines reports:

“You just showed Koreans with guns,” said a visibly upset David Kim during a Q&A session with the director after the screening. Kim is the co-Director of the Korean American Film Festival New York.

“I can’t believe this is going to air on VH1 and that you’re going to put the Korean perspective in that kind of light. You’re putting a freaking target on the Korean community—I’m really fucking upset,” Kim went on to tell the director in front of the audience.

Kim stood in front of the microphone for close to 3-minutes and went on to tell the director about other documentaries about the L.A. riots from a Korean-American perspective like Dai Sil Kim-Gibson’s films “Sai-I-Gu” and “Wet Sand.”

“The point of view of this film is to tell the point of view of hip hop and how the hip hop community and the people that believed in that film reacted,” director Mark Ford told Kim.

While I understand Kim’s sensitivity to how Koreans are depicted in the film, to be fair, the tension between black residents in South Central and Korean business owners DID play a part in the ferocity of the riots.

Just a year before (and just weeks after the Rodney King beating), Latasha Harlins–a 15-year-old girl who went to school with my brother–was murdered by a Korean store owner after being accused of stealing. The startling murder was caught on tape, enraging many, but tension only increased when her killer was sentenced to five years probation, instead of the prison sentence the D.A. requested. So for Kim to diminish the contentious nature of the times simply because Koreans were depicted firing guns is a bit one-sided.

But if nothing else, Kim and Ford’s conversation shows that the feelings and emotions surrounding the LA Riots are strong and very complicated–even 20 years later.

The film, “Uprising: Hip Hop & The LA Riots” will air on VH1 on May 1 at 9 p.m.

What are your memories of the LA riots? What will you be tuning in?

  • Yb

    David Kim needs to get of his high horse and suck it up. Black people have portrayed poorly for decades, yet this man wants to get mad at the image of a Korean holding a gun.
    -___- Kim needs to quit playing dumb and stop acting like Korean store owners do not treat their black customers as lesser.

    As for the riots I remember my parents telling me that they were out of town when it happened, and glad they missed being apart of it.

  • http://ktownla.tumblr.com Zack

    I grew up in Koreatown, Los Angeles. I stood on the corner and watched white college kids try to burn down the 711 next door to my parents house. What I wish both sides would remember is little Latasha. She became the symbol for me when I was 12 years old and saw her shot in the back in that fuzzy Empire Liquore store security footage. We need to all have perspective, there were messed up things happening to both Korean and African Americans at the time. I wish LA could honor Latasha every March 16th but it’s been 21 years and we still do not do her any honor by trying to come together as a city.

  • KENZY

    i remember the riots clearly also, I was 9 at the time and they burned places near my area too which is not near florence and normandie, the whole city burned. I will definitely be watching this. As for Mr Kim how many times have they shown black people in a negative light during the riots? I know the riot was the results of tensions b/w koreans, blacks and law enforcement, but in all these years i only ever see the “looters” being discussed as blacks. Ive nevr seen mentions of all the mexicans that were out here too, its as if they didnt exist in the riots. Mr kim needs to take a look at all aspects is my point

  • apple

    damnnnnn
    i didn’t know the riots were like this.. when i saw things about this event i only saw clips of it, never from this angle..can’t wait to see
    and david kim sit down, nobody is going to look at koreans in a bad light or even remember them being in the doc

  • omfg

    i’m from l.a. and grew up in the heart of where a lot of this went down.

    what bugs me so much about this is the continued depiction of this merely being about blacks and koreans. the majority of the people arrested for rioting were latino. yes, latino.

    this is according to a rand study.

    it bothers me because 1) it continues to vilify blacks and 2) because it glosses over the tensions that exist between latinos (mexicans and central americans) and asians (koreans).

    trust, they say echo the same experiences with koreans as blacks. the difference is they are more likely to live near koreans (in koreatown) and work for them in their restaurants and other businesses. they don’t just deal with koreans as customers (like blacks), they deal with them as employees and neighbors as well.

    the reality is this is a black/latino/korean issue. but, we like to focus on the evil black people. just remember, latinos were a significant to majority of the population in that part of town at the time then. they were out there being pissed off too.

  • adriane

    It is the African American Civil Rights Movement that made our nation even remotely hospitable to Latinos and Koreans in the first place. These racial/ethnic groups would not even bother to migrate to the US without the ongoing, crushing and painful sacrifices made by African Americans. We broke our backs, got hosed, bitten by dogs, lynched, burned, shot etc… so that new migrant groups could live freely here in this great country. The Korean community forgets that it is African Americans who built the very freedoms in this country that allow them to pick up a gun and defend their business against us in the first place. Maybe they should spend a moment away from the cash register and read a history book. It would do them some good.

  • kjdbnd

    As a Brit, I was completely unaware of the riots that took place. However, as is common, when riots do take place there is always so much discussion as to what triggered it and to whom blame should be accorded. Surely, it would make sense to hear things from the point of view of those most actively involved. Moreover, baring in mind Korea’s history of political prisoners, secret concentration camps and general disregard for human rights, a short clip displaying an armed Korean shopkeeper could not really do much more damage. It seems a poor prioritisation for David Kim’s primary concern and grievance to be that the Korean Community may gain a certain reputation.

  • kjdbnd
  • adriane

    The privilege for non-White, men (and women) to bear arms in the US is fully granted by the Second Amendment of our great nation’s Constitution. It was fully realized after African Americans of this wonderful nation died to make it so. Korean migrants to this United States of America are the beneficiaries of Black Americans incredible and untold struggle. The folks in the LA section of South Central, regardless of their color, live hand to mouth under the whip of capitalism, poverty and a deep economic discrimination. Here is some US history for you, my British friend:
    http://herdgadfly.blogspot.com/2010/07/right-to-bear-arms-critical-part-of.html

  • adriane

    The Korean experience of genocide in the prison camps is the reason for their migration to the US, and it is not unlike the reason for any other migrant groups’ journey to this great country. It, however, has nothing to do with Korean American’s right to bear arms to defend their businesses here. That right, is a purely American story and one fought for by Black folk here in America.

  • Shirl

    I needed hair care products and went to a neighborhood store that caters to ethnic hair. This store happens to be owned and run by Koreans ( if you’re a black woman I know you know the kinda store I’m talking about). While in the store a pair of white ladies obviously lost and looking for a Sally’s came in. It was quite amusing to watch the Koreans falling all over themselves and even smiling at the Caucasian sisters but when it came to me their eyes glazed over and they lost their amazing ability to smile. Decided then and there to never spend another hard earned dime in that store.

  • No

    Stop shopping there! Dont give them your money if they are rude to you. I refuse to give them my money. All these black owned comoanies around now in other stores and online. Stop sending their kids.to college.

  • kjdbnd

    Thanks Adriane for your correction; there are always two sides to the story. I suppose my quick and uniformed response was fueled by my reading of the guardian article only moments before reading this. However, in view of the reasons why Koreans fled their country, is it not possible that this has impacted their views on the value of life?

  • Joee

    It’s pretty idiotic of Mr. Kim to be disappointed with images of Koreans with weapons when Korean stars mock black people on television wearing black and brownface, eating watermelon, the list goes on…and it’s a casual thing. There are awful things going on on both sides and for him to not be honest about the role some Koreans played in the riots, just as black and white and latino people have to, is not a positive step.

  • Shirl

    @ no: I haven’t been back : ) I found a nice black owned establishment. It’s out of the way but well worth the gas $

  • seventeen

    Exactamundo!, very good reply, omfg.

  • me

    **disclaimer: i’m young**

    wow… i’ve heard of the LA riots but never thought it was that big. Now that i’ve seen the trailer I definitely want to learn more.

  • http://www.kpcc.org/forum FasProducer

    Yb, Zack, KENZY, apple, omfg, seventeen, adriane, kjdbnd, Shirl, no, and me: If you’re in the L.A. area and want a chance to discuss, on neutral ground, many of the issues — especially related to race — you’ve brought up, please check out http://www.scpr.org/forum/riots/ to get RSVP info (NOT spam or non-Riots series related notes) about a public media-produced live series starting this week at 89.3 KPCC’s engagement space.

    The series is meant to get at the ’92 Riots through facilitated conversation — and, in particular, to figure out what the future of the ’92 Riots is by talking about what that upheaval meant/means to people, especially the younger demographic (“me”, being young is not a liability).

  • Ruby

    I grew up in South Central LA (now South LA). We could not go to school due to the riots and people became confined inside. Like other posters have mentioned, the majority of people arrested were Latino, 50 % of LA is Latino. Unfortunately, it became very easy to make one minority group the villain, but I think this happened because Rodney King is black. What I took from that experience was that minorities should come together. If we know what it’s like to be oppressed why would we put that on other groups ?

  • Dave Kim

    Hey this is Dave Kim. I don’t know why people immediately think I’m not pro-black. Dude, I’m totally on your side and also whoever else’s side who is voiceless. Police brutality is ridiculous and I don’t know how anyone can be expected to feel remorseful for the riots if that’s the state of affairs one is expected to endure.

    I just don’t like people showing that Korean people don’t feel for you too. I don’t think any Korean thinks it’s cool for Latasha Harlins to be shot. I think Soon Ja Du deserved jail for sure. I don’t know any Korean who owns a gun. But I know military service is mandatory for all Koreans. It just really hurts my feelings to see us depicted as not giving a shit. Korean Americans love hip-hop culture and are inspired by and grateful for black politics. But you wouldn’t know that would you? Marc Ford could’ve helped that, but didn’t. It hasn’t improved in 20 years. Honestly, it surprised me when people thought I was saying that Koreans are more victims, or whatever the hell they were thinking.

    I want us to tell our story, and by the 2nd gen, who can actually communicate in English. The other problem is though, we barely know any of our own history in America, so it’s like we want to do something positive, but we don’t know how to do it. In the moment, I could’ve taken some time to formulate a thought-out response, but like the LA Riots, I just reacted for the sake of expressing my feelings.

  • Dave Kim

    By the way, we at Korean American Film Festival New York, raised money to fly out Charles Burnett to talk about the riots here in NY to our audience:
    http://1worldcinema.com/2011/03/20/killer-of-sheep-director-charles-burnett-on-la-riots/

    We got a great idea for LA coming up, around 4/29. I hope it works out, it will be a pleasant surprise if it does.

  • Mocha

    OMG! While I had a situation with a gas attendant (not Korean) that was utterly terrible! I was given terrible service because I didn’t want to come inside to purchase what was behind the counter. Now, I had my daughter with me, so clearly coming in wasn’t an option (mom’s understand, the whole getting the baby out the car seat and all can be a hassle). So I informed the attendant, that his service sucked and that I would be going some place else. He verbally attacked me and, me being who I am, I responded. I was and am shocked that people from other coutries, come into OUR neighborhoods and ASSume that all black people are the same and treat everyone of us with disrespect. My response to him was, “If you don’t like servicing US, then get out of our neighborhood”. Is there anyone I can report this to? Because it’s happened on a few occassions and I think it’s terrible.

  • CurlySue

    Mob mentality always boggles my mind. These people were burning and looting their OWN neighborhoods. Seems like the height of idiocy.

  • Gee Chee Vision

    Good point. I would say however that there is some historical attempt to have solidarity between blacks & Latinos as oppose to other groups.

  • Gee Chee Vision

    Adriane, you’re on fire. Please offer other reading materials. One interesting read is AfroAsia. It documents a cross cultural/political exchange between the black & Asian communities ranging from 1940s-1970s. However it seems the Civil Rights movement has been used to benefit other communities equal to or more so than those who fought for it. This claim is not backed by any statistics but rather empirical evidence.

  • Jabari of Otabenga Jones & Assoc.

    Hmmmm…your point is understood.

    As you are already aware it’s no secret that the older Korean community, be it intentional or unintentional, have expressed their hang-ups with the very customers they are the economic beneficiaries of. When I say “they” it is not to be taken as some “us vs. them” paradigm. The scene in “Do The Right Thing” between Radio Raheem and the Korean store owner expressed that very experience common to most black audiences across the nation.

    I see where you are coming from and usually it is the 2nd & 3rd generation that is able to negotiate the cultural cross-fire. It’s a tedious process and unfortunately when 1st generation immigrants come to this country oblivious to customs or the political atmosphere, an intrinsic community face-off tend to occur when other customs communicated. I have witnessed these parallels with the Nigerian, Pakistani, Somalian & Arab communities. This even takes place with say a New Yorker trying to import their culture into Texas.

    Because the youth of these immigrant communities exist in both worlds, they tend to seek resolve between communities that will most likely only intersect in non-intimate environments i.e. outside of diverse spaces like institutions of education or entertainment.

    Naturally these factors obstruct growth. Therefore it’s a matter of patience as these nuances are communicated through the good work that create alternative solutions. I’m sure you already know that in any homeland the indigenous people don’t feel morally bound to understand the background or acclimate themselves to their guests.

    It took the author of this article and your response for me to even register this conversation on my radar.

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