April 29th marked the 17th Anniversary of the 1992 civil unrest. While this anniversary went unnoticed by the majority of the City, it is not easy to forget for those of us who lived in the line of fire.
What makes each anniversary so painful for residents of South Los Angeles is the reminder of how little our community has changed other than the name.
Seventeen years ago, decades of economic disinvestment, neglect, political disenfranchisement and police abuse reached a boiling point. Frustration spilled into the streets. Today few people believe that if South Central experienced the levels of mass prosperity and resources enjoyed by other communities that the civil unrest would have ever happened.
Unfortunately, these same social and economic injustices that fueled the unrest still exist today. We continue to have widespread poverty, unemployment, and poor quality schools that are better at preparing our children for prison than college. All of this means that South Los Angeles continues to have some of the highest rates of violence, crime and substance abuse in the City.
And the over concentration of liquor stores, which became a focal point during the unrest, remains and continues to exacerbate and deepen these problems. The easy availability of alcohol and drugs in our community plus the economic despair is a lethal mix that has not changed.
It may not be the intention of these businesses to fuel crime and violence, but numerous studies have shown it is their impact. Community Coalition, which led an effort to “Rebuild South LA without Liquor Stores” in the aftermath of the civil unrest, has launched a campaign in the neighborhood surrounding Martin Luther King Park to alter this lethal mix.
The King Park neighborhood has double the citywide average for violent crimes. With the involvement of local residents and other community organizations, the Coalition is working to reduce crime and violence by increasing programming at the park, leveraging city resources to support neighborhood clean ups and eliminating nuisance businesses.
But everybody must do their part to build a safe neighborhood. Parents and schools must raise our children with values and educate and prepare them properly. Business owners must think beyond their bottom line and conduct business in a safe and healthy manner that builds on the strengths of the community, not prey our weakest elements.
However, our elected officials ultimately have the largest responsibility for helping residents create safe neighborhoods. They must provide appropriate land use planning and zoning for all communities and enforce the standards evenly across the City. This does not happen in South LA.
For example at the corner of 39th and Western, across from King park and the brand new public library, there are two liquor stores, one which was declared a public nuisance by the City last year. Two motels and a recycling center down the street also help fuel the sex and drug trades.
In wealthier communities, the City limits alcohol outlets, bars and other business that can be harmful to residents and ensures that they are not located near where children and families gather. The City takes immediate steps to regulate businesses when residents complain about smaller nuisances such as parking congestion and noise. In South LA residents must complain for years to get similar results on businesses that create much more serious life and health threatening problems.
If the City simply enforced the same standards and rules for South LA as in other parts of Los Angeles, it would go a long way in transforming not only our feelings about the anniversary of the civil unrest, but our actual community.Â