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.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:
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]
“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]