Commentary: Two Decades After L.A.’s Riots, Blacks Still Poor

Los Angeles, a place torn apart by riots, still can’t seem to figure out how to mitigate poverty in the Black community.

Posted: 04/30/2012 02:58 PM EDT

A man rides a bike past a storefront full of graffiti in South Los Angeles on April 29, 2012, near the infamous area of the L.A. riots 20 years ago. (Photo: Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

What starts a riot?

If you ask some people, they’ll say that L.A. experienced rioting in 1992 thanks to four L.A. police officers being acquitted of charges related to beating Rodney King.

If you ask others, they might say that 2011’s London riots took place because local police killed a Black man, Mark Duggan, under suspicious circumstances.

If you ask still others, however, you might get a different answer altogether about what starts a riot, and it’s not as simple as a single incident that upsets a neighborhood.

In the days after the London riots, UK paper the Guardian put together a graphic in which they overlaid the riot incidents onto a map that showed the wealth of London’s neighborhoods. Can you guess what that graphic looked like?

As you might imagine, the vast majority of rioting took place in the poorer areas of the city, keeping the wealthier areas fairly riot-free. Correlation does not equal causation, of course, but even outside of speculation, poverty seems to be a key factor promoting rioting.

“There's two worlds in this borough. More and more middle classes are coming and we're being pushed out,” one young man amid the London riots told a reporter. “The shops are pricing stuff like it's the West End, we can't afford the rents. We're the outcasts, we're not wanted any more. There's nothing for us."

When L.A. burned 20 years ago, many also blamed poverty and lack of upward mobility. If that’s the case, as many experts suggest it is, then that’s especially scary. Because poverty still runs rampant in L.A. This from a recent story in the L.A. Times:

In 2010, the Economic Roundtable found that a staggering 66% of black men ages 16 to 24 in Los Angeles County, and 68% of black women in the same group, were unemployed. The recession hit people in Los Angeles particularly hard. The Economic Policy Institute recently reported that, between 2006 and 2011, the black jobless rate in the L.A. area ballooned from 8.6% to 19.3%.

Two things worth noting are that crime is down hugely in L.A. — as it is in the rest of the country — and the police-community interaction is also improving as well. Some of the factors that once led to the L.A. riots have been amended, but poverty remains, and it’s not going away soon.

Nobody’s saying that L.A. will once again break out in riots any day now, but it’s probably worth noting that you can only keep people poor and silent for so long until they let you know they’re upset in one of the only ways it seems they can get the public to listen.



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