4-29 L.A. Riots by Hyungwon Kang.

The Los Angeles Riots was an occasion that led many Korean Americans to seriously rethink their American Dream and contemplate about how to plant their roots in the American society. Many people with a greater purpose in mind joined together to prevent such a disaster from occurring ever again. Thanks to their efforts, Korean Americans who were uninterested in their local government and politics began to take interest one by one, leading to a surge of voter registration and election participation campaigns. After many years, Korean Americans began to be elected into offices one by one. But after 21 years, the reminders of the past are growing faint becoming nothing more than history.

However, we must never forget. We must remember what caused the riots, why Korean Americans were targeted, and what we must do to prevent an event like it from happening ever again. We must also contemplate on how to mitigate damage, should a riot occur in the coming years.


Riots are primarily caused by a friction between the races or the government, and the LA Riots was not an exception. But the underlying cause of the riots was poverty. Because of hardship, a neighborhood in the city became dilapidated, which brought inner-city crimes even closer than before. People hold grievances against each other, and once the racial factor comes in, a riot usually starts. Whenever a riot occurred, the group with the least voice in government and society became scapegoats. The 1992 LA Riots occurred in the same way and the Korean American community became the scapegoat.


The American society is a modernized tribal society, comprised of many ethnic and social groups. Depending on the groups’ population, they were labeled as the majority or the minority, and the impact on society was dependent on the group’s standing as well. How about the Korean American community then? Most Korean Americans came for the American Dream and their goals were to become affluent, buy new cars, new homes, and be able to afford education for their children.

The Korean American community in 1992 was nothing but shadows.

It is understandable that the chain of command and the police power was lost in the chaos of the riot, but when the city and the state governments were drafting defensive lines, Korean-American areas were left out. This was done because they believed that the Korean American areas would not cost politicians many votes to begin with, and they had other areas to defend. At the time, Korean Americans had little to no interaction with their local officials.

The Korean American community lacked leadership to voice their concerns.

To regain control of Los Angeles, the city and the state governments probably held emergency meetings. But there was not enough leadership in the Korean American community to choose someone to represent Korean American interests. In the aftermath, despite being victims, Korean Americans were not protected; they were chastised as “racists.”

What Have We Gained From the Riots?

The 1992 LA Riots was a major turning point in that led to the Korean American community trying to find a space in American society. This one incident shredded up the American Dream. From then on, Korean Americans learned that they must be recognized as good citizens by the greater society. They have constantly tried to speak out for their voices, and one of their major efforts was focused on political empowerment.

The Aftermath of the Riots

Government’s Actions
– Conducted a civic rights investigation, and arrested two police officers responsible for the beating of Rodney King
– Revised the police law, adding rights violations, racism, and abuse of authority in the clauses.
– The Christopher Commission was created to assess and fix any problems in the police. Many problems found, but reform was delayed after Riordan’s administration.
– The LAPD Police Chief at the time, Willie Williams was not chosen as the new chief by the Police Board.
– People lost trust in Mayor James Hahn, and he was not re-elected until 2001.

Responsibility and Criticisms

– African Americans felt that they were discriminated by Korean Americans
– African Americans felt that Korean Americans were not hiring them on purpose
– Many state that economic inequality and anger led to the riot, but the anarchy that followed further exacerbated the damages. The riots were started by African Americans, but many Latinos participated in the looting that followed.
– Racial profiling by the police
– Police’s ineffective actions after the riots (1/3 of those arrested were released due to insufficient evidence or identification)


– 45% of the damaged locations were Korean businesses.
– 40-50% were Latino-owned businesses that were looted heavily.
– About 2,300 locations were damaged.
– 58 Dead (50 homicides)
(40 by firearms, 7 by traffic collisions, 4 by arson, 3 by mass assault, 2 by stabbings, 1 by cardiac arrest)

6,345 arrested, 11,000 arrested after riots
A total of 3,767 buildings were burned.


Although FEMA and SBA loans were distributed, it is understood that not many Koreans benefited from the measure. Korean Americans protested in front of the Los Angeles City Hall.


The protest went on for weeks, but the City government remained silent. In the middle of the protest, employees threw pencil cases, ink, thumbtacks, and other various projectiles to the protesting Koreans.


At the time, the Federal government offered the Federal Crime Insurance Program (FCIP) in California, but Koreans did not sign up for the program. According to the Los Angeles Times, 1,200 people signed up for this program, but only 19 people filed claims.


Some government officials even went on to say that the victims are learning the consequences of not signing up for the insurance.


After the riots, a reporter from the LA Times wrote that Koreans are still ignored, and they are learning the consequences of not participating in the society.

During the Riots, the Korean American community was too ignorant of how things work in the United States. However, the fault of inadequate compensation can be blamed on all parties.
Insurance Companies’ Problem: When it came to applying for insurance, Southern LA was considered a dangerous area. As a result, the insurance rate was higher than that of other areas, and the quote time was ridiculously long. Korean storeowners who needed insurance quickly applied in various policies, some of which were backed by fraudulent companies.
The Government’s Problem: The Federal government included Southern California into the Federal Crime Insurance Program. However, they did not publicize this program widely enough. Many insurance agents were unaware that such a program existed in the area. Those who did know however, chose to market private insurances with a higher premium. As a result, a total of only 1,200 people registered in the program, and only 19 made claims related to the Riots. The FCIP is now obsolete.

The Southern California Korean Produce Association reported that over half of its members were uninsured.

Los Angeles was classified as a disaster area by the Federal Government. Once an area is declared a disaster zone, the residents are eligible to receive FEMA support. If the area is not declared as a disaster area, one must rely on their personal or business insurance alone. FEMA gives grants to individuals for home repair or temporary housing, and it is not given to businesses. Businesses can apply for the SBA’s low-interest loans. The repayment period is longer than that of other banks, and the interest rate is much lower.

To receive FEMA assistance, one must be a legal resident of the United States, either with a permanent residency or citizenship. To apply for SBA loans, one must be a U.S. Citizen. Despite the fact that LA was declared a disaster area, FEMA tried to compensate arson only. FEMA decided to decline coverage to residential and commercial looting. In addition, according to the US Congress, FEMA denied the claims of 50-60% of applicants, and FEMA was definitely not ready to deal with this issue.

America has a history of having riots whenever the economy becomes unstable. Minorities, and especially Korean Americans must prepare for the worst-case scenario.

But the most important thing to achieve is becoming a respected citizen in the greater society. To do that, one must simply register to vote, and vote as much as other people do. In the United States, over 80% of citizens registered to vote and at least 80% of the people vote in Presidential Elections.

Categories: Column / Opinion
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