Despite its astounding resonance, it's strange to look back on the L.A. riots now as an adult. Twenty-five years ago this month I was just 10 years old (almost 11, as I would have said then). I remember my mom turning on the news and I caught a glimpse of what looked like a war zone. Buildings were on fire, people were rushing in stores stealing items off the racks, running through the streets shouting. It was utter mayhem, yet it seemed so distant from me—an image that lived inside our T.V. screen. And it was completely beyond my comprehension. So as horrifying as that moment was, the circumstances surrounding it didn't connect with me at that time. But the picture of that scene was forever etched in my memory.
So when I recently watched LA 92, premiering at the Tribeca Film Festival this week, I was brought back to my mom's kitchen T.V., staring at the scene at the intersection of Florence and Normandie where it looked like the world had came to an end. The documentary focuses on the series of events that occurred in the one year leading up to the riots, concentrating on Rodney King's brutal beating by four police officers (another horrifying image I remember as a child), and interweaves the subsequent political landscape and civil unrest with that of the 1965 Watts riots in Los Angeles, also sparked by police brutality. Juxtaposing the black and white news reports of the 1960s with those of 1992, nearly thirty years later, highlights a city (much like most of the nation) on which time—and multiple civil rights movements—had had no impact.
LA 92 highlights repeated frustrated declarations of injustice, inhumanity, and invisibility following the King verdict is seen in the film, coming from not only South Central residents but political leaders like Maxine Waters, who had taken office just a year earlier as U.S. Representative for California's 43rd congressional district. And it all fell on deaf ears. As the film details, it wasn't until tensions rose to an unbearable level, after the officers in King's beating were acquitted and 15-year-old Latasha Harlins murderer was let off, when the community took it to the next level in a blind rage. And in the urban neighborhood of South Central where the riots occurred, there was little to no police interference while black businesses and Korean businesses alike burned to the ground, lives were lost (sadly, most were black), and thousands were injured. For the first time in a long while, the Los Angeles landscape in 1992, the frustrations of the people, the fragile Korean and African-American relationship, and police relations are put into perspective—one which still resonates today.
While many documentarians feel the need to match images of past events with people and events that are happening right now, directors Daniel Lindsay, T.J. Martin never once include an image of someone like Oscar Grant, Eric Gardner, or any of the many black people who die at the hands of police to this day to emphasize the narrative's relevance. They don't need to. We already know.
Rating: **** out of *****