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Tuesday, 30 April, 2002, 01:11 GMT 02:11 UK
Los Angeles marks 1992 riots
LA policeman guarding property after 1992 riots
It was three days before the streets were back under control
President George W Bush has visited South Central Los Angeles to mark the 10th anniversary of the worst civil unrest the US had witnessed for decades.

Mr Bush told an audience that "new hope" had come out of the 1992 riots - but on the streets, demonstrators protested that nothing had changed.

I don't know what the trigger will be for the next riots but... it is just a question of when not whether

Professor Erwin Chemerinsky
The president is using the anniversary to promote an initiative to allow faith-based organisations a share of federal funds available to deliver social services in deprived areas.

The riots were touched off after four LA police officers accused of beating black motorist Rodney King were acquitted by an all-white jury.

Opinion divided

"I fully understand that 10 years ago this city because of violence, a lot of violence, saw incredible destruction in lives and in property," Mr Bush said.

Rodney King video
The Rodney King beating was caught by chance on video

"A lot of hopes were lost, and yet out of this violence and ugliness came new hope."

But while some held hands and rayed at the epicentre of the riots - the intersection of Florence and Normandy - motorists and passers-by shouted "nothing's changed".

Opinions are divided over whether any lessons have been learnt since 1992 to stop history repeating itself, as the racial hatred, unemployment and inequality which sparked the riots remain chronic problems in SCLA.

A recent poll by the Los Angeles Times found that 69% of residents feel that the city has made progress towards healing the wounds.

"People are feeling better about their city than at any time since the riots," said Susan Pinkus, who directed the poll.

President Bush
Bush: "New hope"

But more than 50% of people in another survey responded in the affirmative when asked if they believed another round of riots were possible.

"It's a reflection of the tremendous gap between rich and poor, and black and white in our culture," says Erwin Chemerinsky of the University of Southern California.

"I don't know what the trigger will be for the next riots... but if we haven't dealt with the underlying problems it is just a question of when not whether."

Causes blurred

Residents still disagree about what sparked the violence.

Some 18% of the LA Times respondents said the 1992 rioting was mainly to protest against the verdicts in the King case while 20% cited economic injustice and more than 30% blamed a small criminal element for the looting and burning.

Another 20% cited a combination of all three factors.

LA riot
Americans watched aghast as Los Angeles burned
Mr King was stopped for speeding on 3 March, 1991, and police beat him repeatedly, delivering 56 baton blows and six kicks, inflicting skull fractures, and brain and kidney damage.

The beating was captured on amateur videotape and broadcast on national and worldwide television.

The acquittals sparked rage in Los Angeles' black neighbourhoods, which led to looting, vandalism and retaliatory attacks against whites and Asians, and caused more than $1bn in damage.

Fifty-five people were killed in the riots, about 2,000 injured, and another 12,000 arrested.

Mr King himself will be spending the anniversary in a rehabilitation centre, where he was sent after drug use and indecent exposure charges.

David Willis in Los Angeles
"In the ghetto, problems extend well beyond heavy-handed policing"
See also:

26 Apr 02 | Americas
LA faces surge in gang killings
13 Jul 00 | Americas
Police filmed beating suspect
03 Jul 00 | Americas
Mean streets of Los Angeles
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