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Tuesday, 30 April, 2002, 09:25 GMT 10:25 UK
LA at boiling point
Police officers during the riots
The riots left 55 dead and over 2,000 injured
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By Peter Bowes
BBC correspondent in Los Angeles

It is striking, 10 years on from the Los Angeles riots, just how many people in the city believe a similar uprising will happen during the next decade.

Academics, activists and civic leaders all agree that a lethal cocktail of social problems prompted the destructive unrest of 1992.

Ted Hayes
Hayes: "The word is, it's going to explode again"
Many remain unsolved and simmer today like a pan about to boil over.

The events of ten years ago left 55 people dead, more than 2,000 injured and damage to property costing over $1bn.

The trouble flared when a mostly white jury acquitted four white police officers, who were caught on camera beating a black motorist in 1991.

There has been a debate ever since over it was a "riot" or a "rebellion."

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

The current mayor of Los Angeles, James Hahn, believes the beating of Rodney King did not cause the uprising.

"It was the underlying problems," he says. "The spark can come any day."

The mayor's sentiments are echoed by one of LA's best known black activists and campaigners for the homeless, Ted Hayes.

"The word is, it's going to explode again," he says.

"All we need is a dumb cop to come out here and do a stupid thing like shoot one of us or beat one of us and then it's on. The cop will be the valve that lets it go."

Signs of change

Grim warnings like this overshadow what many believe has been considerable progress over the past 10 years.

The Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD), under the stewardship of two black chief officers, has more respect in minority communities.

"Things are much better," says Mr Hayes. "Many of the tensions have gone."

There's been progress, there's still a lot of work to do, there's unfinished business and we need to keep working

Community worker Solomon Rivera

He applauds the actions of the most recent police chief, Bernard Parks, for rooting out rogue cops and taking a hard disciplinary line - notably in the scandal over corrupt officers in an anti-gang unit of the city's Rampart division.

However, Mr Parks has failed to impress his bosses and was recently refused a second term in office.

A rising crime rate in the city and low morale amongst officers have been cited as reasons for his dismissal.

Mr Hayes believes the chief's removal will jeopardise the improved relations between cops and minority groups in LA's poorest areas.

"How long that relationship will last now that Parks has gone is another story because the economic and social conditions in south central LA are worse than they were in 1992," he explains.

An interim leader of the LAPD will be appointed this week, while a nationwide search is conducted to find a new chief.

Dome of hope

Amid the gloomy predictions of more trouble, the City of Angels boasts many beacons of hope.

In the shadow of the downtown skyscrapers, the Dome Village was established in 1993.

Founded by Mr Hayes, himself homeless, more than 20 fibreglass igloo-like domes were erected to provide housing for people trying to break out of an institutional lifestyle to one that is closer to mainstream living.

Dome Village
The Dome Village houses homeless people trying to lead a normal life

Homelessness and poverty remain serious problems in LA's inner city areas. The Dome Village has become an internationally known and respected project.

A few miles away in South Central LA, local resident Robert Grimes says: "I see positive progress, very good progress in this area." A new shopping centre has just opened bringing with it 500 much needed jobs.

Community worker Solomon Rivera says: "There's been progress, there's still a lot of work to do, there's unfinished business and we need to keep working."

The debate over LA's uncertain future will continue long after the fuss over the anniversary of the riots has died down.

Mr Hayes believes the church should take on more responsibility in black communities.

"I don't think it is the fault of the police that people are killing each other. I think it is the fault of the ministers who are not teaching people how to behave themselves according to the Bible," he says.

While bemoaning its shortcomings, the flamboyant community leader says he will never abandon hope in the city he has grown to love.

"I'm addicted to LA. It's a frontier town for me," he says. "It's exciting, it's dangerous. You can make it big here if you have a vision for it - or you can really mess up."

See also:

30 Apr 02 | Americas
Los Angeles marks 1992 riots
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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