After getting out of Dodger town, Los Angeles, we watched from San Diego, as Angelenos lost it – their buildings, minds, even their humanity.  We tried to make sense of an irrational situation and learned a few new things that aren’t found in textbooks.

FIRES – Glued to our TVs, we learned to identify new fires (black smoke) from extinguished fires (white smoke). It hurt to see places we frequented go up in flames then burn to the ground. The riots covered over 30 square miles and fire crews couldn’t respond without police escorts.

MARTIAL LAW – In response to people becoming animals and slow response times, victims took laws into their own hands.  When I heard “Marshal Law” I thought we’d digressed back to the cowboy gun-slinging days.  I think it really meant that when 4,000 National Guardsmen arrived the morning after the riots ignited, they became the authority and local law enforcement answered to them.  It was surreal seeing humvee tanks patrolling the neighborhoods enforcing curfew (a parents dream, really). Eventually 10,000 National Guardsmen and almost 4,000 soldiers worked together.

NOT EVEN THE CITY BURNING DOWN CANCELS FINALS – The following Monday, business reopened, classes started again and some, but not all, finals were cancelled.  Proudly, the school was completely unscathed! Having the National Guard’s operations at the center of campus helped.

THE SAFEST GRADUATION IN HISTORY – I don’t remember much about graduation day. Supposedly Kirk Douglas received an honorary degree.  I remember sitting on the huge lawn in my cap and gown, looking up at the grand library, then farther up at the helicopter with machine guns hanging from both sides, circling overhead.  I could not hear a word over the engines.

For a long time I was angry. It made the transition from college to “real-life” a fast one. I didn’t see how people could do this to their homes and other humans. I’d felt they’d set their town back decades because any major business that could help build up the area would never return.

Fortunately, heroes have helped rebuild Los Angeles.  I prefer to end this with a story of heroism from the day it started… the man who helped save Reginald Denny’s life.


20 years ago, with college finals drawing near, we’d been drawn outdoors by the sunshine in-between studies. Driving back to college in South Central LA, we heard news updates that the verdict for four police officers accused of beating Rodney King would be read any moment. When I turned on the TV, I learned they were found not-guilty. I am sure I felt shock, but, the feelings that came as the rest exploded blew away earlier emotions.

REGINALD DENNY – When I first saw the craziness around his truck at the intersection of Florence and Normandie – I can’t say one street without the other now – I thought I was watching COPS. When I realized that I witnessed an innocent man pulled from his truck and beaten severely, I couldn’t comprehend it. I know now, fortunately some gentlemen, pretending they were part of the melee, put him back in his truck and drove him to a hospital.

LOOTING – Immediately, the looting began. My friends lived closer to USC campus where, despite current events, one felt safer under the wing of campus security. I spent the night concerned as the chaos south of where I lived, at the lower edge of downtown, and the craziness to the north threatened crash in the middle. We decided to leave early the next morning to seek refuge at my folks’ house in San Diego. We drove towards the freeway and fixated anxiously on the ramp to safety. We saw a crowd of people feverishly stampeding down the sidewalk in our direction. As they grew closer, many turned and literally jumped through the walls into a store. We didn’t see the rest as we blew through the last red light out of town.

Although I was Korean living in downtown LA, going to school within gang territory, I was an outsider, a visitor. Many commuter classmates dropped in from the freeways, attended class, hopped back on and drove home without knowing what boiled under the surface.

Loyola Marymount University conducted an ongoing, in-depth study diving into the reasons for the riots, and what, if anything, changed since then. One photo gallery shows great then and now. Tonight, I’ll share what I learned.

Share your story & you may reach the one person who needed to hear it most.


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