LOS ANGELES (April 28, 2017) — On the 25th Anniversary of the 1992 Los Angeles civil unrest – or Sa-I-Gu (“4/29” in Korean) – Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Los Angeles (Advancing Justice-LA) calls for new efforts to improve policing practices, race relations and racial injustice, and economic opportunities for all individuals, especially low-income community members. Advancing Justice-LA commemorates the day a jury’s unjust acquittal of four Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) officers who severely beat an African American motorist, Rodney King, sparked community outrage and despair.
“Immediately following the unrest, we worked tirelessly with the Korean American community to rebuild what had been destroyed,” said Stewart Kwoh, president and executive director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Los Angeles (formerly known as the Asian Pacific American Legal Center at the time of the unrest). “We helped establish the Asian Pacific American Revolving Loan Fund and supported other relief efforts to assist business owners whose shops were left in shambles and provided crucial loans to begin the process of rebuilding their livelihood. And when insurance companies refused to pay claims for damaged property, because they were insurance scams, we filed lawsuits on behalf of Korean business owners.”
Advancing Justice-LA also challenged media outlets that had stereotyped the Korean American community during and before the civil unrest alongside many leaders from the community, including the Korean American Bar Association.
Kwoh testified for the Christopher Commission, an independent commission on the LAPD created in the wake of the Rodney King beating, which found that LAPD officers were prone to using excessive force. He raised issues of neglect and brutality by law enforcement in the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community. In addition, after the unrest, Advancing Justice-LA and bar associations filed 1,300 complaints against the department for deserting a community in need during the unrest.
“Much of what we learned back then unfortunately still resonates with us today. Especially in our current political climate of scapegoating and fear mongering immigrant communities, police officers need to build greater trust within the communities they serve, ‘sanctuary city’ or not,” Kwoh said.
With the rise of racial tensions before and following the unrest, Advancing Justice-LA’s Leadership Development in Intergroup Relations (LDIR) program was instrumental in building and mobilizing multi-ethnic groups in order to foster positive and sustainable intergroup relations. “We worked closely with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Martin Luther King Dispute Resolution Center, and the Central American Resource Center to create change from the ground up,” says Kwoh. “We also formed new alliances such as Asian Pacific Americans for a New Los Angeles so that Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders could join in rebuilding our city.”
At the time of the 1992 unrest, the unemployment rate for African Americans in parts of Los Angeles was over 20 percent, which was an important factor in the distress of the community. Though the racial makeup of South Central LA has changed, the economic disparities still exist today. “Through initiatives such as the minimum wage increase and affordable health care, the economic disparities have been somewhat lessened, but overall they have not significantly improved,” Kwoh said. “There is still a lot of heavy lifting to do to ensure that communities of color are not left out of economic progress.”
Stewart Kwoh will be an honored this Friday, April 28, 2017, at the L.A. Coalition Embrace Unity Symposium and Gala, hosted by the Council of Korean Americans (CKA) and UCLA. The event will bring together a diverse group of community leaders, civil society groups, public officials, business executives, and citizens to commemorate the 25th Anniversary of the L.A. civil unrest.