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Flashpoint!

Cynthia E. Griffin- | 4/25/2012, 5 p.m.

Twenty years ago, Los Angeles exploded into flames and violence after one Hispanic and three White police officers were acquitted in the videotaped beating of Black motorist Rodney King.

During the event--variously called a riot, civil unrest, rebellion and revolution and feuled by the same anger at an "unjust" judicial system that was at the heart of the 1965 Watts Rebellion--more than 2,000 national guard troops were deployed; the marines were called into action from Camp Pendleton; curfews were imposed in L.A., as well as in the surrounding cities of Carson, Culver City, Hawthorne, Hermosa Beach, Huntington Park, Inglewood, Torrance and West Hollywood; an estimated 1,000 buildings were burned; thousands were injured; the region-wide property destruction was an estimated $1 billion and 53 people lost their lives.

OurWeekly went back to one critical flashpoint of the violence--Normandie and Florence avenues--to talk to people who lived and continued to live in the area or frequent it, to ask if they have seen a difference.

Yes and no.

There is no real consensus about whether life is better or worse since 1992.

"Really it's changed for the worse," said 41-year-old Erik Patt, who was born in the area and grew up there in the 1970s.

"In the '70s, these were very nice neighborhoods," Patt pointed out as he got his car repaired by a local mechanic the week before the anniversary. "All these bars (on homes) were not here. The houses had plate glass doors. Now, there's no money; the school system is horrible.

"There's nothing new, except those businesses on the other side of the liquor store," Patt continued, pointing to a Subway, Metro PCS and fashion boutique on the north side of Normandie Avenue.

The budding entrepreneur who says he's working to start his own trucking company also pointed to the lack of jobs as a key continuing problem for the neighborhood, and noted that his grandmother raised his parents in the area while working at places like the McDonnell Douglas Corp. "Those jobs are gone now."

"The only thing that's changed is the Auto Zone; it used to be a Kragen," said 83-year-old retired Los Angeles Unified School District Employee Adolph Washington, who has lived near 78th and Normandie since 1963.

Both Patt and Washington were among the numerous people who also noted the demographic shift in the last two decades.

"When I moved here, it was half Black and half White," recalled Washington, who also noted that on his block crime has quieted down and been cleaned up--the crack house has been closed down.

Anthony St. Julien was born in the area of Normandie and Florence, grew up in Leimert Park, and was the service manager at the old Pep Boys on Crenshaw Boulevard in 1992. He remembered that after the verdict a car plunged through the door of the store.

"A lot of the buildings have been replaced; the cops are a little better, but a lot of the things are the same. There are a lot of empty lots," St. Julien said.