Twenty Years Ago: In LA for the Riots

I remember April 29, 1992 very vividly. I was a second-year student at Fuller Theological Seminary. During a break in a two-hour course, I descended from the third floor of Peyton Hall to check my student mailbox on the ground floor. There, the mail guy was listening to the radio. He told me that the cops who beat Rodney King had been acquitted, and he told me to go somewhere safe. It was about 3:30pm.

I took his advice and left campus for the Bresee House, a residence that I shared with four other Fuller students in north Pasadena. There we watch, in horror, as the riots began just a few miles from us. The entire riot was broadcast live from news helicopters. I will never forget watching live as Reginald Denny was dragged from his truck and beaten with a brick.

We watched live footage of this for hours and hours. At one point, some friends called. They were eating at a restaurant in the Old Town section of Pasadena when a car drove down Colorado Avenue shooting out the window. They’d been moved by the restaurant staff to a back room, and they asked us to come and get them. We declined and told them what we were seeing on TV. Eventually, they left the restaurant and ran back to campus.

We did not leave our house the entire next day. We didn’t even step outside. We simply watched TV in silence, all five of us.

On Friday, May 1, we decided it was at least safe enough to play basketball on our driveway, behind the house. While we were out there, I noticed something falling from the sky — it was ash. So many things were on fire in LA, including a strip mall about half-a-mile from our house, that big flakes of black ash fell on and around us.

To be a 24-year-old in LA during the riots was both surreal and horrifying, both real and hyperreal. It is an experience that marked me.

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  • Carla

    After the riots were over, a group of us from Fuller went downtown to help stock a food shelf and do some other clean-up work. I remember the National Guard patrolling the streets, the burned out buildings, the complete absence of people going about their day. It was eerie and scary and surreal.

  • I was in LA visiting my parents at the time. I was at a mall when a voice came over the speaker system, telling us to vacate immediately as the mall was closing due to the threat of violence. We all ran to our cars to get home as quickly as possible. I remember being under curfew for about a week – no one allowed on the streets after 10:00 p.m. It was a strange experience, for sure!

  • tom c.

    I also lived in L.A. at the time (a senior at Oxy over in Eagle Rock). What a tragic event! People in my dorm were glued to NPR and an impromptu open mic/teach-in thing developed in the campus quad. I can’t say what the overall significance of this event was for L.A. (or for Oxy) as I left the area upon graduation, but given events like this and Oxy’s emphasis on multiculturalism in education (as well as fighting racism and economic injustice), I have since had a deep interest in exploring connections between Christian faith and multicultural ethics; I’m still working on that…

  • Luke Allison

    Did you ever see this follow-up piece on Reginald Denny?,28804,1614117_1614084_1614511,00.html

    It’s easy to forget about one person in the midst of something so vast, but his life was completely altered from that moment forward. That was some ugly stuff.

  • mitch

    in Long Beach at the time and had a satellite duck call shop in the lower recesses of Compton. Lets just say I stayed in Long Beach for a few days under curfew as well but not quite at the center like y’all up north. crazy time. still tough to look back on.

  • MaryS

    I worked in L.A. at the time, near the airport. They told us to go home early that day, but I had some things I felt needed to get done… so I ended up stuck in the worst traffic I’ve ever seen – took me 3 hours to get home – a mere 17 miles. We were told to stay home for a couple of days, if I remember correctly.

    One of my co-workers didn’t return to work for more than a week: he lived in Compton, and spent those days sitting on his roof, hose in hand, to protect his home and family.

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