'92 Riots & Beyond

  The languages of the unheard...

(Video excerpts from the USC Visions & Voices Panel)


   Who's the victim? That was the central debate looking back on the Los Angeles Riots of 1992, which broke out when police officers were cleared of criminal charges in the beating of motorist Rodney King. For the first time ever, the invisible Korean American immigrant community finally got mainstream air time, but only while brandishing and firing guns at other people. Lacking political representation and being banned by the Asian Exclusion Act between 1924 and 1965, did this image harm this re-emerging community or protect it? Suffering half of all economic losses during the urban warfare, abandoned by the police, the post-1965 Korean American community viewed the media as scapegoating them as perpetrators of European American oppression. This year began the birth of their political consciousness.

   Fast forward 2012, art teacher Mr. Davis tries to teach the lessons of the 1992 L.A. Riots to his Korea Town students, Korea and Mexico being the highest represented national backgrounds. His high school is built on the ruins of the lavish Ambassador Hotel where Robert F. Kennedy was killed running for president in 1968. At $600 million, built in his namesake, this the most expensive public school in America. 

   But in this city, where so many young people were inspired to rebuild communities from the ashes of '92, they don't teach the lessons of the Riots. Hardly do the activists even mention Rodney King, who experienced the original violence. Twenty years later, in the school's Egyptian-themed auditorium, two millennial friends, rapper Thurz and filmmaker Tomas, prepare a lesson plan.

Perhaps the most powerful are the ones who listen.


Jerry Kang
Vice Chancellor for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion
Professor of Law
Professor of Asian American Studies
Korea Times-Hankook Ilbo Chair in Korean American Studies

Frank Wu
UC Hastings
William L. Prosser Distinguished Professor of Law

Darnell Hunt
Dean of the Division of Social Sciences
Professor of Sociology and African American Studies

Edward T. Chang
UC Riverside
Professor of Ethnic Studies
Founding Director Young Oak Kim Center for Korean American Studies

Angie Chung
University at Albany
Professor of Sociology
Affiliate Department of East Asian Studies and Women’s Studies

David Yoo
Professor of Asian American Studies and History
Vice Provost, Institute of American Cultures


Thurz, African American rapper in late 20s, released debut solo album "LA Riot" last year.

Tomas Whitmore, biracial director in late 20s, friends and collaborator with Thurz.  

Aaron Harris, African American producer on Thurz's album. 40 years old, helped Thurz bring music samples and energy from 1992.

Jay Davis, biracial arts teacher in mid 30s at brand new Ambassador School for Global Leadership (on grounds where RFK shot) in Korea Town, championing LA riots history through art.

Jay Davis' art students, in late teens, who engage each other and teachers in personal narrative storytelling sessions.

Billy Yoon, in 60s, is an art teacher and 3rd generation Korean American, whose ancestors predate the Asian Exclusion Act of 1924. Accordingly having been more assimilated, he does not view himself as being a victim of the Riots.

Maggie Hazen, European American installation artist in early 20s from Christian Biola University, who created installation of Los Angeles at the Museum of Tolerance, in coalition with Korean Churches for Community Development & Hyepin Im.

Benson Lee, emerging Korean American film director ("Planet B-Boy"), in early 40s.

Juwan Chung, emerging Korean American film director ("Baby"), in mid 30s.

Christine Yoo, emerging Korean American film director ("Wedding Palace"), in late 30s.

Sam Geunjin Kang, musician, composer and Youtube sensation in mid 20s.

Dumbfoundead, Korean American rapper in late 20s from LA Korea Town, top rap battler in hiphop community, and Youtube phenomenon.

Pinnacle the Hustler, African American rapper in late 20s seeking hip-hop career in Korea, learning Korean perspectives while living there.

James Park, son of Korean gun shooter appearing in riots video during 1992, in early 30s.

Billy Chun, former employee at now defunct CRA (which redeveloped areas of LA after riots), member of unsuccessful pre-teen "429" hip-hop rap group with African American friends in 1992, in early 30s.

John Choi, candidate for Councilman in LA's 13th district (where the only Asian American was councilman, over 60 years ago), only 32 years old.

Frank Huh, president Korean American Grocers association (KAGROIC), victim whose store burned in LA riots.

Timothy Goldman, African American videographer who shot the Reginald Denny footage on ground level at Florence and Normandie flashpoint. Was pressured by FBI and local gangs to give up footage.

Lynda Williams, African American resident and small business owner in South LA.

Charles Burnett, African American independent filmmaker ("Killer of Sheep"), native of LA, and oft collaborator with Dai Sil Kim-Gibson.

James Oh, new Korean liquor store owner at Florence and Normandie flashpoint and emerging community leader.

David D. Kim, former leader in Korean American Chamber of Commerce during riots, helped bring President Bush to LA, attorney, also directed "Clash of Colors," his first documentary film.

Hyepin Im, founder and director Korean Churches for Community Development (KCCD), currently the foremost Korean American coalition-building community leader in LA.

Jane Oak, attorney and president Korean American Bar Association, took part in a multiracial coalition in City Hall against racist radio show.

Jerry Kang, UCLA professor of law and Asian American studies, and Korea Times–Hankook Ilbo Chair in Korean American Studies. 

Bong Hwan Kim, general manager of Department of Neighborhood Empowerment for City of LA, former co-chair Black-Korean Alliance, former executive director Korean Youth and Community Center in LA.

Do Kim, an original founder of now defunct Black-Korean Alliance, civil rights attorney, board president KW Lee Center for Leadership.

Ralph Ahn, son of Dosan Ahn Chang Ho (Korean American leader for Korean independence from Japan, part of Korean "pioneer" generation who came in early 1900s), in 90s.

Lynden Song, third generation Korean American, very opinionated, in 60s.

Matthew Song, fourth generation Korean American, son of Lynden, also opinionated, in 30s.

Helen Yue, second generation Korean American from pioneer generation, former small business owner, in 90s.

George Kim, former high level liason between Korean and American military in Korea, second generation Korean American, in 90s.

Three biracial girls who were part of Hines Ward's nonprofit and Pearl S. Buck Foundation, speaking of racism in Korea.

Choseonjok, Chinese Koreans experiencing arguably the most discrimination in Korea, with isolated position of identity.


The Way We Burned. LA Weekly, 2012.

Huffington Post, Kathy Choi w/ video

KPFK Radio Uprising with Sonali Kolhatkar.

LA Times.

KCRW Radio.

Race Discussions Blow Up at SXSW Premiere of LA Riots Documentary. Colorlines, 2012. 

Panelists discuss effects of LA riots on race relations. Daily Trojan, 2013.

Looking back at the unrest of 1992. Our Weekly, 2013.

L.A. Riots: They Way We Were, and Still Are. KCET, 2013.

Korea Times. 

KBS World Radio.

TBS Radio.

Arirang Radio.

Radio Korea.