Attacks on Korean Shop Owners Featured Heavily In Smithsonian Documentary About the 1992 LA Riots

I was watching on the Smithsonian app “The Lost Tapes: LA Riots” which had a lot of never before seen footage of the riots that happened 25 years ago in response to the Rodney King verdict.  You can watch the entire episode at the above link.  What I found of interest was the amount of footage featuring the attacks on Koreans in Los Angeles.  This fact is often glossed over by the media when discussing the riots.  Rioters were specifically targeting Korean businesses in retaliation for the shooting death of Latasha Harlins by a Korean shop owner during a confrontation.

Korean store owners defend their business during the 1992 LA riots. [CNN]

The incompetent police response also featured heavily in the program because the first day of the riot they initially responded to rioters and then were ordered to pull out.  Once they pulled out the gangbangers went on a rampage robbing stores and eventually other people joined in.  By the second day the rioters had advanced on Koreatown and still the police would not respond.  They left the Koreans to fend for themselves while they defended more affluent white neighborhoods.  Due to the police not responding the firefighters stopped responding as well because they kept getting shot at when they tried to put out the fires.  There was plenty of footage of shot up firetrucks.

The Korean shop owners had to take up arms to defend Koreatown from the rioters which is what saved that section of the city from being burned down.  While this was going on Jesse Jackson was on the radio saying that he believed many of the fires were caused by people trying to get insurance payouts and not from rioters.

CNN recently published an article that discusses how little attention the attacks on Koreans during the riot received from the media:

Store owner Richard Rhee stands vigil, armed with a handgun and a cellular phone on the roof of his grocery store in the Koreatown area of Los Angeles on May 2, 1992.

The nearly weeklong, widespread rioting killed more than 50 people, injured more than 1,000 people and caused approximately $1 billion in damage, about half of which was sustained by Korean-owned businesses. Long-simmering cultural clashes between immigrant Korean business owners and predominately African-American customers spilled over with the acquittals.
The Rodney King verdict and the ensuing riots are often framed as a turning point for law enforcement and the African-American community. But it’s also the single most significant modern event for Korean-Americans, says Edward Taehan Chang, professor of ethnic studies and founding director of the Young Oak Kim Center for Korean American Studies at the University of California, Riverside.
“Despite the fact that Korean-American merchants were victimized, no one in the mainstream cared because of our lack of visibility and political power,” Chang said. “Korean immigrants, many who arrived in the late 1970s and early 80s, learned economic success alone will not guarantee their place in America. What was an immigrant Korean identity began to shift. The Korean-American identity was born.”  [CNN]
This is the experience many Korean-Americans learned from the LA Riots:
“I watched a gas station on fire, and I thought, boy, that place looks familiar,” he said. “Soon, the realization hit me. As I was protecting my parents’ shopping mall, I was watching my own gas station burn down on TV.”
That he ended up on a rooftop with a borrowed gun was never in Lee’s life plan. He had quit his job as an engineer at an aerospace company to pursue what he hoped would be life as an independent businessman, opening up three businesses in Koreatown.
“I truly thought I was a part of mainstream society,” said Lee, who immigrated with his family to the United States as a child. “Nothing in my life indicated I was a secondary citizen until the LA riots. The LAPD powers that be decided to protect the ‘haves’ and the Korean community did not have any political voice or power. They left us to burn.”  [CNN]
The rest of the article goes on of course to talk about how bad President Trump is and how African-Americans and Korean-Americans need to unite against him.  I don’t think CNN is capable of writing an article any more without an anti-Trump bias.  Anyway I do recommend watching “The Lost Tapes: LA Riots” to get a better understanding of the LA Riots that happened 25 years ago.


I am a US military veteran that has served all over the world to include in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Korea. I have been blogging about Korea, Northeast Asia, and the US military for over 10 years.


  1. I’m not so sure I’d characterize the extent to which Korean shop owners were featured in this documentary as “heavily.” There are occasional snippets here and there related to Koreans that make up around (I’m guessing) maybe three minutes totals.

    For those outside the US, you’ll have to use a VPN to watch this as it’s blocked (even the Youtube version) for viewing outside the US.

  2. I remember hearing during that terrible time, and later by a female gyopo sociologist, that the main reason Koreans were targeted was because of racism towards African-Americans. Bah, what a crock of crap.

    If anything, white people conspired to set both groups up to hate each other. Koreans and Asians in general have never been racist. The only racists are white people and possibly some brown skin people. Anything to the contrary is just hate against Koreans.

    The love for Hines Ward by Koreans will win any argument for those who think otherwise.

  3. Professor Chang is wrong about the causes of the lack of media coverage. The media deliberately ignored that Koreans were the victims of racially motivated violence because the media wanted to portray blacks as victims of white racism.

  4. @Guitard, the attacks on Koreans is mentioned more than most other documentaries I have seen on the LA Riots. The videos make it very clear the rioters were targeting the businesses specifically because they were Korean. I can only imagine how horrible it must have been for the Korean community in LA back then when they could not get the police to respond and had to fend for themselves.

    Has anyone else seen any documentaries on the LA Riots that are dedicated to just the attacks on Koreans?

  5. @sfasdfsadf, I think your comment actually supports what Chang said. If Koreans had been more politically powerful the violent racism directed towards them would have received more media coverage. The African-American community leaders had much more political power in LA and were able to dominate the news coverage especially since the Rodney King verdict is what started the riots in the first place.

    I did not realize until I watched the documentary that even the mayor of LA was African-American. The LA police in my opinion were out of control back then and it all happened under the leadership of an African-American politician who had been mayor for 20 years.

  6. I agree with you, the media should have also portrayed African-Americans as also being the victims of Korean racism.

    It’s not like Afro-Americans such as Ice Cube didn’t talk about it, Korean racism towards them is not a secret… at least to African-Americans. What? You think an artist is gonna waste the time to write songs like that when there really is no issue? Yeah, right.

    Funny how for the most part the world turns a blind eye when it comes to Asians being racist. Well, WW2 Japan might be an exception, not modern day Japan, just ask a Zainichi Korean.

    Viet dude gets beaten on a plane in the US and the world freaks-and rightly so, I hope the victim destroys them in court and justice is served.

    Dude from Columbia gets beaten by a Korean dude and the world does nothing. Oh he got his insincere apology that no Korean person would ever accept. Where is the justice for him?

    It seems once again, Koreans are always the victims, never the perpetrators and most seldom ever accept responsibility for at least being a part of the overall problem. Don’t believe it? Look how most of them view AIDS in Korea.

  7. Smokes, the weapon I carry is BETTER than a gun.

  8. Still haven’t gotten that STD treated? eek The Iteawon ladyboy you got if from probably has by now. lol

  9. Augh.. did a google search for an image to use on that last post and I clicked the first link from “itaewon ladyboy”…

    …gotta wash my eyes! auggh.. how do you eyes!? helppp…. evil

  10. @Guitard, thanks for the link. I will watch it later today when I get time.

  11. If anything, white people conspired to set both groups up to hate each other
    Yep, because mass looting, robbing, violence and burning sure helps whitey!

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