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Underlying economics of 1992 unrest


On Saturday, nearly 200 Angelenos turned out for a special teach-in at the corner of Western Avenue and Adams Boulevard that offered participants a chance to reflect on and hear thoughts about the lesson(s) learned from the 1992 civil unrest.

Called “Lessons From LA’s Civil Unrest 25 Years of Recovery, Revitalization and Resilience,” the event was hosted in part by Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas and featured scholars from UCLA as well as labor officials. It also included a conversation between ABC7 anchor Marc Brown and award-winning producer and director Ezra Edelman who made the documentary film “O.J. Made in America.” He is the son of civil rights activist Marian Wright Edelman.

There was a candlelight vigil during the three-hour program and the audience was invited to leave a statement on wishing trees scattered about the parking lot where the event was held.

In fact, the physical location of the vigil was once a gas station before the devastation of 1992. Many people wrote that they wished for prayer for the city. Perhaps the second most mentioned was a request for jobs in the region.

This element directly reflected the panel discussion that preceded the vigil.

In acknowledging the reality of the many vacant lots that remain in the area after more than two decades, panelist Rep. Karen Bass (D-37) credited the community for getting many things done but also pointed to the challenges that needed to be overcome. She also mentioned the additional calamities that hit Los Angeles like the 1994 earthquake and the recession that helped to exacerbate the situation.

One of those challenges was equal access to jobs, said panelist Maria Elena Durazo, general vice president of Unite Here the union representing, in part, hotel workers.

But more than jobs, the quality of jobs has not kept up, added Peter Hong, director for strategic Initiatives, Cal State University Los Angeles. He said there is also a need to examine the structure of the work, that he, like many retail customers locally, is following an economic trend that has helped weaken retail structure in Southern California—purchasing online. Consequently, this does not necessarily add to the direct tax base.

A video called “City on the Edge”, created by Unite Here that foreshadowed the 1992 civil unrest by about two months, explored the downside of unequal employment distribution. Ignored by most L.A.-area politicians, the film talked about what might happen if nothing was done to increase the pay structure in the number two industry in the region—tourism.

Durazo and Paul Ong of UCLA’s Center for Neighborhood Knowlege, talked about how another economic factor phenomenon was causing a promblem—the criminalization of so much in the region from parking to immigration. The two panelists feel that the trend is another thing that is stealing wealth from struggling communities.