The role of the mainstream media in stoking tensions between Black and Korean communities was the topic of a virtual panel discussion, “LA Uprising/Saigu reflections: Race Relations Then and Now,” presented by the Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Los Angeles on April 14. The discussion brought together Asian and Black civil rights leaders and media experts.

The media’s framing of the Black versus Korean communities in 1992 pitted the two communities against each other. Blacks were seen as burning down buildings and looting stores. Koreans were vigilantes on store rooftops with guns shooting down at the street. 

Although the verdict in the King trial may have been the spark that triggered the uprising, Constance Rice, co-founder of Advancement Project and Urban Institute, said the deep-rooted and long standing issues in the community at the time was the kindling. 

She said that conditions that led to the unrest go back to the 1965 Watts rebellion against abusive policing.  

“The dominant media covered most of Black LA as deprivation and violence because that’s what the elite communities feared. It was done through the eyes of the subscriber base,” said Rice. “For dominant media, the focus on these communities didn’t talk about what they were facing. We weren’t focused on building communities and building families and reinvesting in infrastructure that created upward mobility.”

Angela Oh, of the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association noted that in the aftermath of the civil unrest, Black and Korean communities were living in parallel universes, both experiencing individual and communal trauma. 

Most business owners could not leave because they had nowhere else to go. Business owners who had their property destroyed found that they had been paying insurance premiums for commercial policies from offshore carriers that did not cover the claims they filed. 

“Multi-racial democracy really depends on media that is fair, accurate and avoids pitting one group against another unnecessarily,” said Stewart Kwoh, president emeritus and founder of Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Los Angeles.

Jarrett Hill, President of the National Association of Black Journalists of Los Angeles and Professor at the USC Annenberg School of Communication countered that upholding a multi-racial democracy has never been the mainstream media’s goal.  Hill said its priority is to make money and cater to their audience. 

“We’re trying to change a system and bend it to the needs of what we need. This [discussion] is a good demonstration of the need for diversity in our newsroom,” said Hill. “Not just in our internships and not just for the reporters, but for the editors, managers, directors, general managers, so the owners of the companies will be more of a reflection of the communities because without that we’ll never get the nuance that we’ve been talking about.”

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