January 11, 2018 

By Bev Dolva 

Special to the LAWT  


As dusk approached on Saturday, January 6 in LA, it seemed another winter day for the City to be the envy of the world. People in light jackets strolled palm-line sidewalks in the balmy weather while much of the country froze. In Beverly Hills, a sea of media trucks, star seekers and traffic cops readied for the next day’s Golden Globe Awards.


Yet a few miles to the east, on Sunset in West Hollywood, a screening of the National Geographic documentary, “LA 92,” presented a very different Los Angeles. This one not easily pushed from memory for those who were here in 1992, or possibly unknown to residents who are under 25.


“LA 92” is a two-hour, non-narrated account of the civil unrest that began on April 30 following a verdict exonerating four Los Angeles Police officers who were captured on home video severely beating Rodney King. The civil unrest that followed left more than 50 people dead and remains the largest civil disturbance of its kind in America.


The screening at the London Hotel attracted a diverse audience of about 100 civic leaders, community organizers, people in the entertainment industry and media.  Guests of honor were the Honorable Congresswoman Karen Bass, 37th District, along with the Oscar winning filmmakers, TJ Martin and Dan Lindsay, Eric “Rico” Reed, Voice of Los Angeles radio and former radio personality 102.3 KJLH who stayed on the air 15 consecutive hours during the unrest and Joon Bang, executive director, Korean American Coalition.


Following the screening was a panel discussion led by Charles Stewart, recently retired as senior deputy and communications director for Senator Holly Mitchell, 30th Congressional District, which focused the cycle of injustice and violence has been broken and  if healing of festering wounds can happen, thus preventing another LA 92.  One difference between now and then, observed Congresswoman Bass, is that “more channels exist to address festering social wounds leading to unrest. Two years before the riot, she cofounded the Community Coalition in South Los Angeles, which worked to diffuse the tension. 


Panelists, like audience members, found the film both personal and painful to watch. As Stewart observed, “It’s like watching a movie but you’re in it.”


The film consists entirely of archival news footage, some never before seen. Instead of beginning with the King beating, the film opens with black-and-white television reporting of an earlier social earthquake, the 1965 Watts Riots, and includes the shooting death of Latasha Harlins, a 15-year old teenager who was shot in the head by a convenience store owner, Soon Ja Du, who was fined $500 and community service hours.


In presenting the footage without commentary, the intention was to let viewers “draw their own conclusion, said the filmmakers. The musical score accompanying the footage underscores the poignancy, agony, tension, and sorrow for those who lost their businesses, dreams and in some cases their lives.


People who attended the screening expressed their raw emotions and shared memories of a time that is seared into memory.  One attendee, a writer for the Los Angeles Review of Books, remembers the crunch of broken glass as he walked to school in sneakers. Another attendee who lived in Koreatown in an apartment complex during the unrest, recalled a tank parked in front of Vons one block away from his home. A business owner remembered being told to evacuate as the first puffs of smoke rose from set fires.


 “LA 92” is showing at the Laemmle’s Monica Film Center through January 11, 2018.


Category: Community