Remembering the riots
To mark the 20th anniversary of the Los Angeles riots — which left more than 50 people dead and more than 600 buildings destroyed — The Times asked readers to share their memories of those harrowing days. Below is a selection of those stories.
Photo: Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times
“I was alone in the apartment and watching on TV that they were throwing homemade bombs.”
I am a Brazilian woman and I was working in LA, I have a working visa, I was taking care of a friend`s home at Crenshaw Boulevard between Washington Boulevard and the Santa Monica Freeway. I was moving to ...
Rio de Janeiro
“I saw up close how feelings of injustice can lead rational human beings to react in hopelessness.”
I was in the last few days of serving as the Second African-American Student Body President in the history of ...
“You could not imagine all the stuff that arrived at the center with the usual bunch of recyclers.”
As I read the current articles about the change in LAPD, I cannot help thinking about the night I found myself in the midst of the riots. Background. Lived ...
Steven C. Reynalds
“I thought it safer to head eastbound on Wilshire Blvd — not my normal route home. I was wrong; chaos was in full effect.”
I worked across the street from the La Brea Tar Pits at the time. The company CEO got on the intercom and told the staff that rioting had started and advised us ...
John G. Galloway
“It was one of the longest bike rides of my life, always looking over my shoulder.”
At the time, I was working away from the fray in Reseda, however, that morning I had left my car at my mechanic in North ...
“[W]ild eyed youths and concerned motorists were coming to an agreement at this corner and gently stopping, checking right of way and then crossing the intersection.”
I was an On Air Morning personality at KJLH Radio along with Eric "Rico" Reed and J. Anthony Brown. We broadcasted throughout the unrest. Reporting on everything from fires, the arrival of the National Guard to single acts of kindness and ...
“My grandfather was scheduled for heart surgery in LA and they had to cancel due to the violence.”
The LA Riots cost my grandfather his life. I was only 12 years at the time. My grandfather was scheduled for heart surgery in LA and they had to cancel due to the violence. He passed away less than two weeks later. ...
“I owned firearms and the neighbors came to stay with me for a couple of days.”
I was living at Pico & Robertson for 30 years. I owned firearms and the neighbors came to stay with me for a couple of days. The ...
Captain Cook, Hawaii
“[T]he normal protocols of policing went out the window.”
I was a Patrol Sergeant with the Inglewood Police Department. It was my birthday so I took the night off, but I was soon called ...
“The passengers in the plane didn't know the verdict before the plane had left the east coast, but the outcome was clear. ”
I was flying into LAX that day. As the plane was making its final approach for landing, I looked out the window and saw ...
Three Rivers, Calif.
“This was a media inspired riot and I will never forgive the media for the damage they did.”
I remember that a little situation around the courthouse being allowed to develop into a totally lawless situation. This was ...
Luis G. Martinez
“The media was looking for a story and managed to create one. ”
I was living in Hancock Park at the time.I first heard about the verdict on my car radio. A couple of hours later, ...
“'I don't think you understand,' she said, 'I'm black, and I'm leaving.'”
It was rather ironic how I came to experience what I did on April 29, 1992, and where. I was a student at Pierce College in Woodland Hills at the time and a photography class assignment to illustrate the theme of "Man's Impact On His Environment" was coming due. ...
“Then when word of the unrest spread, we sent everyone home early and shut the school down for the night. ”
I was working nights at a vocational school in the San Fernando Valley. I lived about five miles away and didn't own a ...
“Days following I had learned from the news I was actually behind Reginald Denny. ”
I remember it all so well. I was just about nine months pregnant with my second child. My mother warned me to stay at home because she felt there would be ...
“Then one of the men up and had a heart attack.”
I was pregnant with my first child and needed to get groceries. I went into the Bob's market on Gateway where and people were shopping for supplies like we had just had an earthquake. After about ...
“This generation only knows the folklore. ”
Tensions were high. Just needed a single reason for Unrest. Most unsettling time for the city. Sadness to see our neighbors businesses go down in flames. Mob rule, police learned that the mob can rule. Police ...
“I had opened my retail store one month before the riots.”
I had opened my retail store one month before the riots. It was located in Van Nuys on Roscoe. My family and I were watching the news on the tv when the security company ...
“It seemed like we were driving through an open-pit barbecue.”
I was working as an Investigator for the Los Angeles County Department of Coroner at the time. I have several stories that are too long to write ...
“What I remember best is all the people pouring out of buildings.”
My office was at Wilshire & Hobart, but I was at a different location on that day, not too far away. The business that I was at told me that they were closing office and leaving. I called my office and was told that ...
“My wife and I stayed at home the next 3 days.”
I remember a work colleague told me about the verdict and thinking, "Huh. Well, Simi Valley is about the most pro-law enforcement community in Southern California, ...
“When I returned to my office, people were frantically streaming out of all the exits to get to their cars and away.”
I was conducting an audit of a small business located in the South Bay area for a state taxing agency. Everyone in the office was listening to a radio in anticipation of the announcement of the verdict. I don't recall the reaction to the verdict, but ...
Elk Grove, Calif.
“Just north of us on Olympic Blvd helicopters were picking terrified people off the roof of a burning apartment building and our little corner store was being violently looted. ”
At about 1pm my boss appeared at my cubicle and told me I better head home now. There was a riot going on near my neighborhood. I was living in Pico Union and working in Westwood. ...
“The next morning my parents woke up super early and went to stock up on food and water at dawn (after curfew).”
On April 29th, I was a senior in high school. My mom took me to a school fundraiser at Shakeys ...
“The news about the verdict and the riots seemed to me at the time to be an event affecting other people in other places.”
I was a 13 year old Junior High student who lived in quiet South Pasadena. The news about the verdict and the riots seemed to me at the time to be an event affecting other people in other places. On the ...
“The National Guard was waiting at the school, checking every vehicle that came in to school.”
This is the middle of the story. The night before, teachers had called me not to drive on the freeway, not to go to school. It wasn't safe. I was in my second or my third year of teaching at Dorsey ...
“For years after the Riots, I remember seeing these ruins.”
There are incidents in life that one can never forget. These images stay ingrained in one's mind forever. The incidents that occurred 20 years ago have directly affected the person I am ...
“I don't remember much from that age, but that day I remember very well.”
Although only 8 at the time, I remember that day very well. My family and I were at a Dodgers game and around the 4th or 5th inning there were numerous amounts of helicopters flying around ...
I was a physican assistant student in the emergency department at LACounty+USC Medical Center. I spent two shifts doing nothing but suturing lacerations (mostly ...
“But no one messed with Henry's Market and no one had intentions because it was a staple of our community. ”
I was 15 years old walking down Avalon at 6:00am towards a RTD bus stop on my way to Junior High. It was a route I walked many times except this ...
“Many promises were made about rebuilding the city and most were broken.”
I was living on Obispo Ave in Long Beach and working at an animal hospital. I was taking a physics ...
“There was a feeling that open insurrection was possible.”
I lived with my wife and three small children in Baldwin Hills at the time, but worked in the Computer Science Department at UCLA. I remember taking a bus home around the time the verdicts came in. I got home and remained inside that night, ...
“I am still shocked that The Dodgers and KABC radio didn't warn fans as to what they would face when leaving the stadium. ”
The night of the verdict we had tickets to Dodger Stadium. It was bat night . . . My wife, 3 year old son, a nephew and I all went to the game. Although we were aware of the ...
“I began to count the number of structures that were burned, but there was no way to keep track of the amount of businesses that had been looted.”
In May of 1992, I was a freshman living in the dorms at CSULB. During the riots, our school was closed and we were held to a curfew. During this time, there were many heated arguments on our floor about race, racial ...
Nicole Vega, teacher
“The streets were in a state of chaos, no one followed traffic rules, everyone was running red lights, it was like a war zone. ”
I was working near LAX when the verdict was announced, few hours later I can see small patches of smoke near the city from my office window. It took me nearly 4 hours to get home, which was maybe 18 miles away. The streets were in a ...
“It looked just like images of a bombed out Iraq from the first Persian Gulf War. ”
I was 13 years old in Koreatown but was bused to the valley for magnet school. On the way home the day the riots erupted, I didn't realize the gravity of the situation until we passed through the 101 Fwy by Capitol ...
“A few days later, I learned that my cousin was one of the victims of the riots. He had been murdered. ”
I was a Deputy General Counsel to the Christopher Commission, which had made a series of recommendations in the wake of the Rodney King beating. Some of those changes required amendments to the City Charter, and the kickoff of that campaign began on the day after ...
Mark Epstein, Deputy General Counsel to the Christopher Commission
“My grandmother and I made it through the long weekend, but parts of South Gate looked like a war zone.”
My mom and I were driving home from the Getty (in Malibu) when we heard the verdict on KLOS. My mom looked ...
“As the city burned and got looted, the ones entrusted to 'protect and serve' were pulled back by the infamous Darryl Gates.”
I attended night classes at UCLA. When class finished (about 9:30p), from the building 6th floor, I watched L.A. being set ablaze! From Koreatown ...
“As the days developed and evolved to the verdict day, campus conversations and 'talking-sessions' had been coordinated with campus officials...”
I was in my 2nd year at California State University, Hayward and Vice-President of the Black Student Union. As the days developed and evolved to the verdict day, campus ...
“The drive west on the 110 and the 10 was surreal.”
A group of us returned late from lunch at Lawrey's to find co-workers at Citicorp Plaza pouring out of the downtown building to return home. A short while later, the drive west on the 110 and ...
“I was three years old at the time... My clearest memory of the time was watching the smoke with my father and sister and thinking that it was very pretty. ”
Some of my earliest memories are of the LA Riots. I was three years old at the time, and we lived in Westwood, just across ...
“I can still visualize my son, then two, playing with his toys on the living room floor on that sunny April day while the TV showed Los Angeles in flames.”
I was defending an employer in a wrongful termination case, and the former employee had threatened his two African American supervisors with making use of his "sharpshooter" rating. We went to court downtown for a restraining order and made plans to return for ...
“Neighborhoods were literally closed off for the children with no way for the families to get to them.”
The LAUSD had hundreds of students transported to schools throughout the greater L.A. area that needed to return to the areas involved with the rioting and destruction. Neighborhoods were literally closed off for the children with no way for the families to ...
Enrique Boull't, LAUSD Director of Transportation
“I remember standing in formation in the parking lot of the station listening to the sergeants barking out the assignments.”
I was assigned to Wilshire Division at the time as a second year officer on the LAPD. I remember standing ...
Alex Salazar, former LAPD
“My boyfriend at the time was one of the last kids to get out of Vietnam at the Embassy... his PTSD kicked in.”
I had just moved back here. I had a singer, Rozalla set to come and preform shows here after she finished ...
“By the time the riots were over, [my father] had lost more than 50 per cent of his business. ”
My father had been in business in Los Angeles for about 30 years at the time. He sold merchandise to mom & pop stores all over Los Angeles County. He had about 500 accounts the day before the riots started. He couldn't go to work the ...
“When I got into my car west of Wilshire and Western, I saw black smoke billowing into the air. ”
I worked at an educational nonprofit organization in the mid-Wilshire area. An employee turned on the radio that day to hear the results from jury deliberations on the Rodney King beating. A commentator reported that the three LAPD officers ...
“The neighborhood which I grew up in was burned, stores forced to close, and places like parks and churches which at one time represented safety and joy now where areas of destruction.”
As a 25 year old, my first vivid memory of my hometown is of a city in turmoil and divided by race. 20 years have gone by since the riots happened and when asked, what my memories of ...
“We slept on the floor next to our bed, away from the windows, for fear of stray bullets.”
My husband and I were a young family then, pregnant with our first baby. We lived in an apartment in a rough part of North Hollywood. I remember hearing gunshots throughout the neighborhood, and the smell of our city burning. We slept on the floor ...
“As we turned the TV on the next morning, we saw to our dismay, our store burning down — 20 years plus of blood sweat and tears. ”
My parents owned a neighborhood grocery store in the area for over 20 years. After closing time, we went home and saw the violence unfold on TV. The next day, to be safe, we stayed at home and did not open for business the next ...
“The baptism of fire, literally, is something that will always define my Angeleno heritage.”
When the verdict was read, I was on the corner of Wilshire and Highland, having just come out of Kinkos. I was floored! Within ...
“As we left Chavez Ravine we saw black columns of smoke rising south of downtown...”
We were at the Dodger's game the night the riots began. As we left Chavez Ravine we saw black columns of smoke rising south of downtown and had no idea what they were. A quick turn to the news stations let us ...
“I remember watching the verdict come in with others in the Governor's press office...”
I was Gov. Pete Wilson's former deputy press secretary and have so many vivid memories of that day. I remember watching the verdict come ...
James Lee, Gov. Pete Wilson's former deputy press secretary
“We knew the 'friendlies' by the black armbands we all wore.”
I was working in Westwood when I looked out my south-facing window and saw smoke from several sources in the direction of my condo at LaCienga and ...
“We asked them if anyone had attempted to break into the store as most in the area had been looted and vandalized. She just smiled and said they 'took care of business.'”
I was a Sheriff Sergeant at Lynwood Sheriffs Station on Bullis Rd. Given a team of deputies I deployed into the Willowbrook area the morning following the tragic day the riots began. We were flagged down by three black women ...
John Stites, retired sheriff
“I stopped to see my 12 year old, biracial daughter... When she saw me, she exclaimed, 'Daddy, you've got to go home — they're killing white people!'”
I was at a friends house on 96th, watching the the coverage of the verdict when the images from Florence and Normandie began to be broadcast and realized I'd have to pass through that intersection to return home. I decided to take an alternate route, since I'm a ...
C. Theodore Lang
“I remember... seeing the Lakewood Mall and all surrounding businesses shut down.”
I remember looking out my kitchen window in Lakewood, and seeing the smoke from the fires burning in south-central Los Angeles rising in the sky. ...
“ I was driving West on Centinela Ave. approaching Florence Ave. when my father beeped/paged me 911.”
I used to work in Culver City and live in Pico Rivera. Back then, very few people had cell phones. Most mobile phones ...
David O. Rodriguez
“The residents and LAPD were very happy at our presence; they were dead tired after almost 3 days without sleep. ”
I was a National Guardsman deployed from Santa Barbara the second day after the riot started. It was very spooky the first time we drove into downtown. ...
Lars K. Staack, former National Guardsman
“We cancelled 55 flights the second day.”
I worked in the Delta Air Lines' control tower atop Terminal 5 at LAX. We operated 110 flights a day, including hourly Las Vegas flights. With the fires raging across the city, rioters began shooting at airplanes approaching the airport. We cancelled 55 flights the second day. Airplanes leaving ...
“As it all played out &emdash; the sense of unpredicatably spreading violence, the media hype, the curfew, the stores running out of food and ATMs running out of money &emdash; it seemed not just dreadful but surreal.”
I had just moved to Los Angeles from the UK six months before the riots -- I was aware of the Rodney King beating, which had been covered by the English news, but was not following closely the trial that was going on. ...
“[The gun shop] was crowded with men and women inquiring about purchasing a firearm. ”
I lived in Orange County so I wasn't directly impacted until I drove to San Francisco about 4 days after the riots started. On that long trip I saw miles after miles of National Guard convoys streaming south into the smokey LA basin. Those trucks were loaded with ...
San Ramon, Calif.
“The lessons learned that year have stayed with me.”
I was a second-grader at 32nd Street that year. My apartment building was near the corner of Hoover and Adams and from our roof, we could actually see the looters and the flames from the shopping complex across ...
Imperial Beach, Calif.
“I was ready to shoot the first LAPD officer that I came in contact with.”
20 years ago during that time I was ready to shoot the first LAPD officer that I came in contact with after previous negative encounters with them. One night I was stopped ...
“On the night the riots broke out, I unwittingly decided to go to the main library after work.”
I worked for a bank in downtown Los Angeles, where I commuted from Long Beach on the Blue Line every day. On the night the riots broke ...
“I ran up stairs to call the police. They told me that they were only responding to life or death situations.”
I remember being sent home from work early on the first day. As I was driving home on the 101, I saw the horizon was a ...
“I saw my father cry for the first time in my life.”
1992...I was 13 years old. Our family had a liquor store on Hoover and Florence ave-tom's liquor #1, exactly one block from where it all started...where r. Denny was beaten and looting was witnessed on live tv at tom's liquor #2. My father ...
“As the technician packed up his tools and walked out of our apartment, he was immediately attacked in the courtyard by members of Rolling 60s Crips.”
I was 11 years old, living in an apartment complex in the Crenshaw district on Florence and 10th Avenue with my Mom, siblings and stepfather. The trial was ...
“I remain saddened as I read how so much of California is no longer the place where I grew up... In many ways, I think that decline began with the L.A. Riots.”
I worked at the Queen Mary in Long Beach during that time. We were evacuated from the ship on April 30 and May ...
Highlands Ranch, Colo.
“My sister and I were forbidden from stepping anywhere near our front lobby.”
At that point in time, I was 7 years old. All I'd known for that short period of my life was the 3 mile radius surrounding the Pico-Union area where I was born and raised. Most ...
“Cops (and detectives in particular) are usually on the same page about law and order issues. Not this time... We had missed a lot of indicators in the months that preceded the verdicts.”
In April 1992, I was working LAPD Pacific Homicide with my partner, Brian Carr. I was the junior partner, having 2 years of homicide experience; Brian had several more years in the specialty and on the job. The day the riot started was a busy one for us. We ...
Kurt Wachter, retired LAPD detective
“By day four of the riots the gas stations had run out of gas.”
Los Angeles is not an integrated city, at least not in any way that was meaningful to me when I was in my twenties. I had been there seven years, but I still felt like I was on the outside looking in. At the telegenic people ...
“Every day, I had my worst fears come back to me of my dad getting shot or lynched just because he was Korean on his way to the swap meet.”
I was in the third grade enrolled in a Korean American school in Los Angeles. My father and I immigrated to Los ...
“The heat [was] so intense it felt like the flames were licking our faces.”
My wife and I arrived home at 5:30 in the evening, unaware of the magnitude of the spreading chaos. Our housekeeper was in tears because the bus service had been cancelled and she wanted desperately to go home to her family. The problem was she lived ...
“I didn't know it at that time but it would take years for L.A. to be rebuilt.”
I remember watching TV and seeing my neighborhood as if it were in a movie. People running from one store to the next. I was 14 years old and I remember having to ...
“We decided to protect the property from looters.”
I remember helping to protect Chapman Market on 6th. and Kenmore Ave., Los Angeles 90020. I was assisting the owners of Chapman Market during the riots. After everything was said and done. There was not ONE window broken at Chapman Market. The ...
“Ironically it didn't register until i saw a 'birds-eye view' of it all on the television screen.”
I was only six at the time, but the severity of it all was burned into me. I lived close to the corner of Jefferson and Vermont, in South L.A., ...
“Before I knew it, a policeman grabbed me by the collar of my denim jacket and pushed me out of the way.”
"They're not going to ask you your politics when they pull you from your car and beat the crap out of you" There was a brutal silence on the phone for several long moments. I knew he ...
“At our local Vons, the mood was tense but giddy, like shopping for a Super Bowl during the apocalypse. ”
Los Angeles was filled with giant plumes of thick black smoke for days. Those were the worst. Looking south from our third floor balcony in West Hollywood, we marveled ...
“I was on Vernon and Vermont and saw folks raiding the pawn shop. ”
I saw it first hand and up close. I had a five year old daugher who lived with her grandmother on Martin Luther King and Denker (deep center ...
“They asked me to use [my pickup truck] to help deliver supplies to stricken areas. ”
Remember driving to my then home on Mount Washington from the South Bay and feeling the tension all around me. I was very upset myself about ...
Los Osos, Calif.
“The day the riots really broke out I was litigating my very first trial in the downtown courthouse. ”
During the LA riots, I was 29 years old and living near Hancock Park with my wife, and working downtown as a lawyer. The day the riots ...
D Jay Ritt
“[T]he drive seemed tense and endless.”
I remember coming home from work that afternoon to change clothes and meet my husband to attend a banquet that was being held at the Biltmore Hotel in downtown L.A. As we always did ...
“There was nothing easy about that time.”
I have so many memories. At the time my I worked in Century City. When the verdict came I went home to change and drove to my church, First A.M.E. in Los Angeles. We had already made plans for the men of ...
“As we entered the city, we were already given orders to help suppress the fires nearest us. ”
I was 12 year veteran of a Central California City Police Department. 30 officers of my agency went to Los Angeles on the third day of the riots under a mutual aid agreement in California. I was a senior corporal on assigned to head one ...
E. Rams, retired police officer
“ I could fill a book with the sadness I witnessed.”
At the time of the riots I was a freelance television news cameraman. While I was mostly working for KNBC, on the day the verdicts came in I was doing a day for KTTV. With the announcement that a verdict had been reached the ...
Kevin Fraser, former news cameraman
“I saw an ugliness in humanity that I never knew existed.”
I was a 911 Operator for LAPD, I heard the verdict as I was getting ready to go to work. I packed a change ...
Linda J. Ross, former LAPD 911 operator
“What got to me the most was someone decided to burn a van in front of the police station.”
We missed the airing of the verdict that afternoon, because my dad was taking me to Pasadena Civic Center for a college fair. Afterwards, in high spirits, we decided to grab a late ...
“ I don't know if people realize how far west the rioting came.”
Schools were opened and teachers were told to come in to work. I was able to navigate from the Westside to downtown via ...
“I prayed the looting and fired did not reach my side of town.”
I remember seeing the gloomy sky from the first east side. I was 9 years old, living in East Los Angeles and I remember watching violent images on the news. I remember witnessing a man being pulled out of his trailer truck and being beaten. I prayed the looting ...
“We heard lots of stories, mainly how frightened and sad the students were about the destruction of their neighborhood. ”
I was a teacher at Jefferson High School in the middle of all of the South Central activities, watching tv the night before, called other teachers and students to hear what they were thinking. We weren't allowed back the next day, but when we were allowed, all the ...
“I felt like I was in a bad science fiction movie; but this was real.”
I was working at USC at the time. The day after the verdicts, I had the day off as the school was closed. I lived in an apartment across from the old Ambassador ...
Klamath Falls, Ore.
“We were busting our asses to stop one fire while another was being started across the street.”
My Family and I were watching the brutal beating of Reginald Denny and the fires starting on live on TV . Within ...
Eric Kuck, reserve firefighter
“Naively, I did not expect the unrest that was to follow. ”
I was a senior History major at USC preparing for final exams. In addition, I was a member of the Track team preparing for my ...
“There were a lot of ugly truths revealed in those days.”
My husband and I were both born in Los Angeles, but have our home in in Costa Mesa, where I still live. In 1992 we could see the glow from the fires in LA at ...
“I remember seeing the first of the fires from my bedroom window. ”
At the time I was just 12 years old. We lived in South Central, on Broadway and Gage. As soon as the news started reporting on the first rioting, I ...
“It just freaked everybody out.”
I was in Melbourne, Australia when the riots happened. Talk about being on the other side of the world while Los Angeles was burning and being destroyed. I was working on the road for Neil Diamond and we were in the middle of a week run of shows in ...
“I remember one uncle looking at his decimated store and just laughing. I guess that was the only way he knew how to react.”
I was a freshman in H.S. living in the upper class suburbs when my father, my older brother, and I went out to help our cousins protect their stores in South L.A. I remember we had two pistols with us ...
“The Marines were posted in my neighborhood until the situation stabilized. ”
I remember being in the 8th Grade at a Catholic School in Lynwood. The teachers and staff hurried us away once notice of the verdict and of the violence started coming in. In the background you could hear ...
“A few years later, I remember a friend who described the four seasons in Los Angeles as Earthquake, Flood, Fire and Riot.”
I was at a business meeting at a hotel on 7th Street near downtown that evening. At about 8:30PM we heard that things were starting to go bad on Vermont Avenue. ...
“[S]everal families from 49th Street went and swept up and cleaned the store’s parking lot as best we could.”
I was 12 years old and I lived on 49th street and Compton Ave. Several people from the neighborhood looted and burned down Dave's Corner Market and Liquor store. A few weeks later after everything calmed down my mom eventually let us kids out of ...