It’s been exactly thirty years since the LA Riots took place. What happened on April 29, 1992?
Marked as the 30th anniversary, Koreatown endured a severe hit to peace due to riots and looting on April 29, 1992. Korean-Americans were faced with violence and hate as tensions grew as Koreans immigrated to LA, already occupied by other ethnic groups living in the area. To the new immigrants, they wanted to find a new home to feel connected. However, other ethnic groups believed the immigrants were trying to take over their community and homes.
Although there were heavy tensions already, they started to worsen through multiple events that eventually erupted on the actual date. One incident would be when Rodney King was a victim of police brutality. He was beaten by LAPD officers during his arrest after a high-speed chase while driving intoxicated.
Another incident would be when Korean shop owner Soon Ja Du shot 15-year-old Latasha Harlins. The high schooler was accused of stealing orange juice, and Soon Ja shot her in a claim of self-defense. The jury first charged Soon Ja with voluntary manslaughter before her sentence decreased significantly. Latasha died in the hospital and is remembered as a legend in the community.
The actual unrest began on April 29, when a jury acquitted four LAPD officers charged with using excessive force during their arrest of Rodney King. As the result of news breaking out about the acquittal, rioters targeted many areas in South Los Angeles. Koreatown greatly suffered as looters broke into stores, fires were set ablaze at strip malls, and the community was armed and shooting at one another to protect themselves.
Yet, there was no police involvement until the third day. Civilians who lived near the danger had a curfew. The National Guard troops arrived in tanks and heavily patrolled the streets. It was a period of confusion and anger as the communities struggled to get along. After the riots, the African-American community and Korean business owners finally discussed their cultural differences to find a balance of peace and understanding.
One key figure, who documented the riots, would be former L.A. Times photojournalist, Hyungwon “HK” Kang. He worked for Reuters, The Associated Press, Los Angeles Times, and TIMES Magazine. He photographed many major events like the 429 Riots, 911 Monuments, and President Roh Moo-hyun’s visit to the White House.
Hyungwon took powerful photos of Koreatown during the riots as he covered the riots for three days and nights. He wanted to get raw images of how dangerous Koreatown became as it was a fight between business owners and looters. Hyungwon captivated the social unrest the community was dealing with as there was no police presence to stop the criminal activities taking place, to the point where business owners had to deal with it themselves.
Hyungwon uploaded all the images he took for the three days and nights of the riots on his website. He wrote a descriptive caption for each photo he took to explain each event, the people involved, and the location of the attacks. His photography is iconic and clearly represented the unrest within the community. Korean businesses struggled to keep their shops safe, and Korean-American volunteers rushed to try and stop more loots. Eddie Lee was a college student who died on the streets after protecting a business, and he is remembered for his bravery and sacrifice. Radio Korea played a role in reporting the incidents to prevent more businesses from being looted.
Although the hardships are long gone, Koreatown developed into a diverse community. 429 was an era of cruelty and unforgiveness as POC (People of Color) minorities had to protect themselves from each other. Police did not intervene until days later, and Hyungwon made sure to capture every grueling moment of the riots.