A Black man brutalized by police officers. The incident touched a nerve in the city, lighting a powder keg of long-held disappointment of Black communities in city institutions purporting to serve the people. I’m not talking about Baltimore, which we’ve watched burn since the funeral of 25-year old Freddie Gray earlier this week. Twenty-three years ago, Los Angeles too exploded with outrage and indignation when four white police officers were acquitted in the beating of Rodney King.
We understood the 1992 uprisings as a manifestation of rage over economic deprivation and blighted hopes. At the time, Los Angeles County was in its second year of what proved to be its most severe recession since the Great Depression. The greatest concentration of the region’s low-income and Black residents then (and now) lived in South Los Angeles, where the scarcity of jobs and economic opportunities was acute. The unrest was followed by public commitments to ensuring that South Los Angeles workers would have equitable opportunities to provide a decent standard of living for their families.
In our 2002 report South Los Angeles Rising, we reviewed how far those commitments had been kept for South Los Angeles (see Map 1). We found that only 19 percent of the buildings that were torched in South L.A. were operational by 1999. And, the jobs created by the businesses paid below average wages. In contrast, Central L.A. enjoyed a recovery of 42 percent of their buildings. Workers employed in Central L.A. earned above average wages.
Yesterday, Angel Jennings reported that a $100-million entertainment district on Vermont between 84th Street and Manchester broke ground. The developer, Sassony Properties, dubbed the future site Vermont Entertainment Village and promises to open in late 2016 with a new supermarket, pharmacy, and a host of other stores to a neighborhood still struggling with a deficit of retail options. The site, once a swap meet for the neighborhood, was the first to burn down on the block in 1992. For twenty-three years, an empty lot has stood in its place, a visible reminder that commitments had not been kept.
Earlier this week, Steve Lopez wrote about the parallels between Sandtown-Winchester, the neighborhood where Freddie Gray lived, and South Los Angeles. “[We] have Third World conditions here in the land of riches. It’s there in Baltimore, a short drive from the national halls of power. And it’s here in Los Angeles, the national capital of cardboard villages and mansions the size of coliseums.”
Let’s hope that the Vermont development is a sign of South Los Angeles rising, the city keeping its commitment to its Black communities.