Twenty years ago, on April 29, riots broke out in the city of Los Angeles not far from campus. The 1992 Los Angeles riots carried on for six days after the acquittal of four Los Angeles Police Department officers who were videotaped beating a man after a high-speed chase. The ruling incited a citywide violent protest declaring justice had not been served.
Businesses were looted, homes burned down and 53 lives were taken as a result of the racial tension and uprising. The National Guard, U.S. Army and Marines were called into the city to help quell the riots and protect the city.
Erna Smith, a professor of journalism who conducted a study on the media coverage of the L.A. riots, said she found animosity between races boiling before the beating of Rodney King.
“Prior to the not-guilty verdicts in the Rodney King beatings, there had been several high-profile cases that exacerbated racial tensions, including the shooting of a black teenage girl by a Korean shop keeper who was sentenced to probation,” Smith said.
The L.A. riots, however, crossed racial boundaries as victims and businesses of all races were targeted. Damages amounted to nearly $1 billion, according to Time magazine.
Joseph Saltzman, a professor of journalism, said USC handled the immediate danger in the South Central area with concern to the students.
“The university reacted very well in calming fears, adding more security and holding various meetings with students and faculty so everyone had the best possible, latest information,” Saltzman said. “Panic and fear usually [come] from the unknown, so by getting information out quickly, it helped calm everyone down.”
Bryce Nelson, a professor of journalism, said students took part in the aftermath of the riot by helping with the cleanup.
“USC always hoped to and worked to build a stronger relationship with the neighborhood,” Nelson said. “It was strong before that, but it played an increasing role after the riot.”
Though USC’s academic standing and admissions were expected to be affected by the L.A. riots, Nelson said there was no damage to the school’s reputation.
With the 20th anniversary of the riots approaching, Smith said it is important to realize the severity of racial issues in Los Angeles.
“Unfortunately, race, in particular institutional racism, still matters a lot in this county,” Smith said. “And it will continue to matter if the only time we talk about it is when there’s riots.”