Dream Street USA, South L.A.


“People say South L.A. is in the condition it’s in because people don’t take care of the neighborhood,” Joanne Kim told supporters of the Community Coalition. One look at the residential streets just off burned-out commercial corridors puts the lie to that myth.

On April 21, Kim, the chief operating officer of the coalition, and other activists took supporters of the organization through many of the neighborhoods that were hardest-hit 20 years ago in the violence that followed the not-guilty verdicts in the police beating of Rodney King.

The coalition was organized in the months prior to the riots in order to address the epidemic of crack cocaine and violence that was destroying the neighborhoods. After the fires were put out, the activists mobilized and prevented the rebuilding of 150 liquor stores, many of which had become the headquarters of much of the drug abuse and violence in the 1980s and 1990s.


Residents still talk about how life has improved without the liquor stores. “They say they can finally walk out of their houses,” Kim said.

“Home ownership is a really big deal here,” coalition President and CEO Marqueece Dawson-Harris said. “Homes are kept up.”

Still, despite the perfectly manicured lawns, the swept sidewalks, the near-instantaneous removal of grafitti, and the tidy tile-roofed houses painted in pistachio, butterscotch and strawberry, the big avenues and boulevards -- the ones in the hands of big commercial real-estate owners -- are depressing. Although many of the liquor stores are gone, Figueroa and Western are lined with motels with hourly rates, and young prostitutes battling addiction hover nearby.

There is a lot of work still to be done, Harris-Dawson said.


The L.A. riots, 20 years later

Then and now: Scenes from the riots


Patt Morrison: Q & A with Rodney King