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For first time, more L.A. residents believe new riots likely, new poll finds

Could another event like the L.A. riots happen again? (April 26, 2017) (Sign up for our free video newsletter here http://bit.ly/2n6VKPR)

For Nicole Cuff and her friends, the 1992 Los Angeles riots used to feel like a piece of history, told in old stories by their parents or discussed and analyzed in school.

Recently, though, it’s started to feel much more real to her — like something that could happen again in the near future.

Cuff, a coordinator at an entertainment management company who is half black and half Filipina, said her feelings come in part from several years of headlines, viral videos of police force and Black Lives Matter protests over police shootings of African Americans.

“It evokes some unfelt anger that hasn’t been tapped into,” said Cuff, 26, who has a diverse group of friends who have become much more politically engaged in the last few years. “When nobody pays a price for it … it could set people off.”

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Javier Capetillo Jr, 41, left, and his father Javier Capetillo, 66, at Capetillo Boxing Academy in Los Angeles. The senior Capetillo doesn't believe another riot is possible.
Javier Capetillo Jr, 41, left, and his father Javier Capetillo, 66, at Capetillo Boxing Academy in Los Angeles. The senior Capetillo doesn’t believe another riot is possible.
(Francine Orr / Los Angeles TImes)

Her view reflects what researchers who study public attitudes about the L.A. riots say is a distinct shift: For the first time since the riots, there is an uptick in the number of Angelenos who fear that another civil disturbance is likely, according to a Loyola Marymount University poll that has been surveying Los Angeles residents every five years since the 1992 disturbances.

Nearly 6 out of 10 Angelenos think another riot is likely in the next five years, increasing for the first time after two decades of steady decline. That’s higher than in any year except for 1997, the first year the survey was conducted, and more than a 10-point jump compared with the 2012 survey.

Young adults ages 18 to 29, who didn’t directly experience the riots, were more likely than older residents to feel another riot was a possibility, with nearly 7 out of 10 saying one was likely, compared with about half of those 45 or older. Those who were unemployed or worked part-time were also more pessimistic, as were black and Latino residents, compared with whites and Asians, the poll found.

Researchers theorized that the turnaround may be linked to several factors, including the more polarized national dialogue on race sparked by police shootings in Ferguson, Mo., and elsewhere, as well as by the tenor of last year’s presidential election. Moreover, many parts of L.A. still suffer from some of the economic problems and lack of opportunities that fueled anger before the riots.

“Economic disparity continues to increase, and at the end of the day, that is what causes disruption,” said Fernando Guerra, a political science professor who has worked on the survey since its inception. “People are trying to get along and want to get along, but they understand economic tension boils over to political and social tension.”

Although the city’s unemployment rate last year was about half of what it was in 1992, the median income of Angelenos, when adjusted for inflation, is lower than it was around the time of the riots. Poverty rates still remain high at 22%, comparable with the years preceding the riots.

Jamal Jones, a Leimert Park resident and community leader who grew up spending a lot of time in South L.A., said if the tension revolved around race 25 years ago, lately, it’s been along economic lines related to housing and affordability, with residents feeling the pain across racial groups.