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Looking back at the unrest of 1992

Gregg Reese | 5/1/2013, 5 p.m.

Civil unrest has not been a major factor in Los Angeles recently, although it is possibly not far beneath the consciousness of the average Angeleno. That may be particularly true at this time of year--the anniversary of the 1992 Riots.

The recently inaugurated Visions and Voices Initiative at USC, which was meant to add an interdisciplinary approach to the arts and humanities educational system, re-examined the upheaval Monday.

And even the title of the event can be a politically loaded phase, which speaks volumes about one's political stance--L.A. Riots. Some people would say it should more accurately be called an insurrection. Whatever the terminology, this 1992 event still gets a load of mileage from media and scholars alike in this the second decade of the millennium because many of the stated underlying causes still remain firmly in place.

USC is as fitting a place as any for a scholarly discussion because of its location. The story of how this institution, a White oasis in the heart of the inner city, survived this unrest virtually unscathed is a story waiting to be told.

Noticeably absent from the panel was the First African Methodist Episcopal Church's pastor emeritus the Rev. Dr. Cecil Murray, pre-empted by the sudden death of his wife. The other attendees, journalists Larry Aubrey and Erin Aubrey Kaplan, documentary filmmaker Dae Hoon Kim, and moderator and UCLA professor of sociology Darnell M. Hunt, took up the slack with their personal recollections of the event.

The panelists quickly identified a vast disconnect between the elected officials and the constituency they serve, highlighted by riot-era Fox News footage in which community members voiced their dissatisfaction with the elected leadership.

Hunt sketched out a six-point model to explain the progression of events during that fateful week. These included something he called "structural conduciveness" that was already in place and provided a fertile environment for the events that transpired. He also discussed the factors that encouraged the insurrection, including an unpopular verdict that failed to address perceived issues of abuse of authority. Several minutes were spent debating whether or not law enforcement's failure to deploy added to or slowed the resulting devastation.

For Kaplan, her memory of this period is marked by the duality of her career boost when she was pressed into service by media outlets desperate for Black newspeople to provide coverage as the events unfolded. This was tempered by her gradual disappointment in the efforts of politicians and other officials charged with overhauling the city afterwards. This disappointment was highlighted by the hoopla over the establishment of a Krispy Kreme doughnut franchise to replace a burnt out gas station at the corner of Crenshaw and Martin Luther King boulevards, a shining example of the collective low expectations.

As a seasoned newsman and decades-long inhabitant, Larry Aubrey drew on his tenure at a slew of local periodicals, along with experiences from a stint as a probation officer to offer insights. From this, he noted the oft-mentioned similarity between the events of 1965 and 1992.